Restaurant and retail openings are a dime a dozen in New York City, but a new market in Brooklyn is garnering special attention for its innovative concept. Twenty-two new businesses, including nine quick-service restaurants, opened shop over the summer in a collection of recycled shipping containers called the Dekalb Market.

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“The containers were very efficient for setting up a market quickly, and we want it to last several years,” says Jessica Tolliver, a spokesperson for Dekalb Market and its parent company, Urban Space.

Shana Silas, owner and chef of the market’s Mazie's Bites, says she was attracted to the space because of the sustainability component, and because it was designed for small-business entrepreneurs.

Silas ran a catering company for many years and says the Dekalb Market bridged the gap between preparing food for events and opening her own place. “For us it was the perfect entry point,” she says. “We didn't have to make a large investment in a brick-and-mortar location or commit to a full-on restaurant operation.”

While the shipping containers themselves might make for a good conversation piece, they do come with certain challenges. Husband-and-wife team Brian David and Molicia Crichton, who opened Nile Valley Eco-Juice and Salad Bar at the market, say the tight footprint of their shipping container could become an issue.

“Once we add additional employees and equipment, we might need to flip the arrangement around to make it work space-wise,” Crichton says, “but we're moving forward very optimistically.”

The market will be open year-round; even the upcoming chill of winter doesn't seem to bother the businesses located there. “There will be less sitting around, but the containers themselves are heated,” Tolliver says. “It's New York, and people do a lot of carryout anyway. We're expecting it to stay busy.” 

The market's eateries plan to pool resources later this fall and begin a delivery service. Patrons can call in orders for fresh juices from Nile Valley Eco-Juice and Salad Bar or the macaroni and cheese from Mazie's Bites and have it delivered for one fee.

Urban Space operates similar markets in London, but the shipping container model is its first in the U.S. There is, however, a similar market, Proxy Project, in San Francisco, and Tolliver says the concept might soon find more traction stateside.

“The sustainable component makes sense, and it is very efficient since the cost and time is minimized,” she says. “We think it will catch nationally.”

By Tara Zirker

Read more about the Proxy Project in San Francisco here.

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