After a career in the food industry that spanned from working in restaurants to owning restaurants to having a food truck, Chef Micah Martello went a different route in 2015 when he opened a stall in the St. Roch Food Hall in New Orleans. “I took a chance on it to see how it would work out, and I was really impressed.”
A native of New Orleans, Martello moved back to New Orleans in 2014 after spending several years in North Carolina. He ran his food truck in New Orleans for about a year before being contacted by the developers of St. Roch. “I thought it was a fantastic opportunity. I like the whole food hall concept. It enables tenants to split expenses and allows people to produce the kind of food they really want to serve. I feel like there’s been a fundamental shift in the food industry in the time I’ve been involved in it. There are economic factors and labor factors. I’ve been doing this my whole life, and the cost of running a restaurant has been continually going up to where margins are razor thin. But the food hall concept is changing that. It’s the old street food thing, where the middle man is eliminated. It’s all about the food and I really love the sense of community.”
Food halls have been an emerging trend for a few years now, and the appeal to vendors is that they don’t have to invest in a brick-and-mortar location in order to have a restaurant. Food halls have been around for years, especially in Europe, but the concept is becoming increasingly popular in the United States as consumers demand healthier and better-tasting “quick casual” food options in entertaining environments. Pamela Flora, director of research for Cushman & Wakefield, says the number of food halls operating in the United States is expected to exceed 200 in 2019, about double the number that were open in late 2016.
Food halls are an extension of the old mall food court concept with several vendors and a common dining area. But food halls take that concept to a new level, with more upscale offerings, often with locally-sourced ingredients. The food is innovative and interesting and appeals to a wide array of tastes. A group of friends can go to the food hall together, and each person can enjoy something completely different to eat. Food halls are often re-purposed buildings, or new construction, like the Cultivation Food Hall now open at The District development in Jackson.
“We think it’s one of the coolest places in Jackson to hang,” said Patrik Lazzari, director of operations for Cultivation. The space has an open, airy feel, as designed by Jackson-based Mary Saunders Ferris of the Ferris & Company Design Studio, a veteran in the world of luxury hospitality. “Mary deserves many props. She’s great,” said Breck Hines, who, along with Ted Duckworth, are principals of The District Land Company, LLC, who is responsible for the development of The District, including Cultivation Food Hall.
Lazarri also has a presence in Cultivation with his wife, Christina. The couple owns la Brioche Patisserie in the Fondren Corner Building. In Cultivation, they’ve opened two food concepts—Bocca, a classic Neopolitan pizzeria, and Whisk, a crêperie that creates authentic French crêpes in a variety of savory and sweet combinations. “We may expand to other things, and we’ll certainly have some sweets from la Brioche.”
When we heard about Cultivation Food Hall, we saw an opportunity to get involved in our local economy. We are both from Jackson, and while the coffee business is new for us, we have the passion and the capital. One of the great things about a food hall concept is that it allows people like us to take a leap without a lot of risk.
Should you need coffee to go with your sweet treats, Taylor Triplett and his wife, Ana Lampton, have you covered with il Lupo Coffee. “We have frequented food halls around the Southeast, and we always thought it was a cool concept and a great addition to any city’s landscape,” Triplett said. “When we heard about Cultivation Food Hall, we saw an opportunity to get involved in our local economy. We are both from Jackson, and while the coffee business is new for us, we have the passion and the capital. Tyler Emerson, who has experience in the business, has the passion and the expertise. One of the great things about a food hall concept is that it allows people like us to take a leap without a lot of risk.” Il Lupo is Italian for wolf. There is a saying in Italian, ‘in bocca a la lupo’ which translates to ‘into the mouth of the wolf’ which they say instead of good luck. When an Italian orders a coffee in the morning, they are met with that phrase, which pretty much means have a good day. Putting a Mississippi spin on the name, Triplett says it is also an homage to bluesman Howlin’ Wolf. They’ll serve a variety of coffee drinks and non-coffee drinks, including a variety of loose teas and beverages for children.
Rachel Phoung Le is a newcomer to the food business. Although her mother ran a successful pho business in her native Vietnam, Phoung says she didn’t learn to cook until she came to the United States. She began photographing food in restaurants, and tried recreating the dishes at home. Her food photographs became very popular. She moved from California to Jackson to be closer to her sister, and she started a few food pages on Facebook. When she heard that the first food hall in Mississippi was opening, Phoung Le knew she wanted to open her own place, Poke’ Stop. “The cost is high to start anything nowadays, but the food hall has made it easier and more affordable for new business owners like myself.” Phoung Le explained that Poke’ is like a deconstructed sushi roll. “It’s a Hawaiian dish with a Japanese flair. Poke’ is fresh, healthy and innovative – the next generation of sushi!” Her dishes use only sushi grade fish, locally-sourced produce and hydroponic greens.
Martello has done so well with his business at St. Roch Food Hall in New Orleans that he has opened Fete au Fete in the Pythian Market in the Central Business District of New Orleans and in the White Star Market in Baton Rouge. “It’s the same business, but all are unique in their own right, because each food hall is different.” Martello will open his fourth location of Fete au Fete in Cultivation Food Hall as well as a new concept, Local Honey. “Fete au Fete is basically upscale southern comfort food with a Louisiana twist. Kind of Cajun-Creole comfort food. Local Honey is lighter, cleaner, sustainably-farmed foods that are trending now. We have salads, bowls, smoothies, chia puddings, and we also cater to people with food preferences, like those who eat keto or Paleo diets. Local Honey is kind of the ying to Fete au Fete’s yang.”
In May 2018, Alivia Ashburn-Townsend traveled to New York, where she fell in love with the deli experience. A 15-year veteran of the Jackson food scene, Ashburn-Townsend wanted to honor the cuisine’s Jewish roots by providing authentic deli classics like potato latkes, NY lox, pastrami on rye, and matzo ball soup alongside sandwiches featuring Italian toppings like prosciutto, roasted red peppers, pesto, parmesan and other options. Ashburn-Townsend says a New York deli is what the local food community needs, especially in the absence of businesses such as Old-Tyme Deli, which closed in 2000. She knows her concept, Ariella’s NY Delicatessen, will fill the long-time void in Jackson’s otherwise rich culinary scene.
Chef Enrika Williams adores food. Since she was a small child growing up in West Point, she’s been intrigued by PBS cooking shows, her grandfather’s gardening and her grandmother’s uncanny and unfailing knack for entertaining in the truest traditions of “southern lady” charm. To fuel the fascination and power her imagination, Enrika attended the Art Institute of Atlanta and graduated in 2004. Since then, she’s honed her craft and worked under masterful chefs including Emeril Lagasse, Mel Toledo, Vincent Hernandez and Richard Blais. The opportunities to learn from some of the best chefs in America have allowed her to work in some of the best restaurants in the nation. She was even hand-selected by celebrity chef, Gordon Ramsay, to turn around the struggling kitchen at Hotel Chester in Starkville, Mississippi, for an episode of Hotel Hell on Fox.
Chef Williams’s concept, Fauna Foodworks, offers bohemian-chic cuisine inspired by her culinary travel experiences from Italy to Mississippi, and it offers a diverse menu filled with international street-style cuisine. Cultivation Food Hall also includes Gold Coast Bar. Managed by Johnathan Shull, the cocktail menu channels the spirit of the prohibition era into a menu of both classic and original cocktails named for notorious clubs that were once located along the “Gold Coast” of Mississippi’s Pearl River. A well-curated menu of wines, local beers and a daily happy hour are also available.
“We also offer a stylishly designed and dedicated event space we call ‘The Living Room,’” said Lazzari. “It is a great place for a variety of events including meetings, corporate events, birthdays and even weddings. People will be able to rent just the “The Living Room” space or the entire food hall.” Cultivation Food Hall will be announcing vendor food specials and other events soon, so check the website for updates.