Web Exclusive | June 2016 | By Bruce Horovitz

In Chicago, a Fast Casual Experiment

New food hall brings collective of fast casuals from local chefs.
Fast casual chef restaurants open new food stalls in downtown Chicago loop.
Graze Kitchenette, one of the stalls at Revival Food Hall, will serve high-quality burgers and smoothie bowls. image used with permission.

Chicago is widely known as a city of neighborhoods, where ethnic flavors emanate from block to block and locals swear by authentic Chi-Town favorites. But, similar to other cities, downtown Chicago’s sky-high real estate prices have long prevented many local operators from getting prime sites.

That’s about to change. Revival Food Hall, one of the most ambitious fast-casual destinations to plant its flag in Chicago, opens this summer—perhaps as early as August—in the heart of The Loop. The 24,000-square-foot food hall, located on the ground floor of The National, one of the city’s historic buildings, plans to concentrate on tenants whose chefs and recipes come from Chicago’s local neighborhoods.

“The culinary scene of Chicago is entrenched in the outlying areas,” says Bruce Finkelman, partner of the hospitality collective 16” On Center, which is developing Revival Food Hall. “We want to bring these same options downtown.”

The food collective will feature 15 fast-casual food stalls overseen by chefs from many of Chicago’s favorite neighborhood restaurants in a grab-and-go atmosphere. While customers won’t be able to snatch a $5 lunch from McDonald’s or Burger King in the food hall, they will be able to walk away with a $15 lunch created by a local chef who is making the difficult but increasingly lucrative pivot from fine dining to fast casual.

“The experience economy is what this trend is speaking to,” says Donna Quadri-Felitti, professor of hospitality management at Penn State University. “It’s about fun with a heightened culinary experience.”

“The experience economy is what this trend is speaking to. It’s about fun with a heightened culinary experience.”

Revival Food Hall will also include a handful of all-new quick-service concepts from several well-known Chicago chefs. Beyond that, the food-centric gathering spot will feature one pop-up stall that will rotate every three to four months and provide variety to the 5,000 professionals who work at The National building, as well as the 250,000 other Chicagoans within walking distance.

“The genesis of this was not to jump on a fast-moving trend train,” says co-partner Craig Golden. “The idea was simply to bring food we think is wonderful into downtown Chicago.”

Finkelman suggests that the employees will feel better about working downtown when they can enjoy amenities like good-for-you, chef-created lunches that don’t cost an arm and a leg. “Work is work,” he says. “But if we have to do it, it might as well be as pleasant as possible.”

One Chicago-born concept to open in Revival Food Hall is Graze Kitchenette. Its focus will be to serve dishes that seem to come from opposite ends of the food spectrum: decadent, grass-fed, antibiotic-free burgers, and smoothie bowls that blend a range of fruits and superfoods.

“This is what people want, so let’s give it to them,” says Sarah Jordan, the award-winning Chicago-area chef who developed the concept along with business partner Mason Edelson. The Instagram-photo-worthy smoothie bowls, in particular, are almost guaranteed to attract Millennials, Edelson says. “There will be beautiful photos posted all over the internet of our smoothie bowls.”

Most of the restaurants in the food hall will be “one-offs,” Golden says. “You won’t see these restaurants in any other malls,” he says.

But the eclectic nature of the food hall doesn’t stop at the food. There also will be a multi-roaster coffee shop and full bar, with innovative offerings for coffee and cocktail aficionados. There will also be a combination record and book store, Curbside Splendor, that will feature small, independent record labels and publishers from Chicago.

“We get that everyone won’t like what we’re doing,” Finkelman says. “But we hope some folks agree that this is a great offering not just for a food collective, but a comfortable place to while away 45 minutes before you have to go back to work.”

Comments

I'm on the school of hospitality management faculty and this article will be helpful to our our students as they move into the field. Very interesting concept.

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