Where Foodies Gather
Raleigh stands poised to welcome two food halls by the end of summer.
by Carla Turchetti
Photos Courtesy of Morgan Street Food Hall
When the Morgan Street Food Hall opens on July 23rd, it will bring a worldwide food trend to downtown Raleigh’s Warehouse District. Not to be confused with a food court (like those you find in a shopping center or transportation hub), a contemporary food hall is a place where local experimentation and innovation intersect in a food lover’s paradise.
The Morgan Street Food Hall is a project of the Hibernian Hospitality Group, led by chef/owner Niall Hanley. This is the group behind the Hibernian Irish Pubs, The Station, Raleigh Beer Garden, XOCO Mexican Bar & Grill, and more. The food hall concept will fill the 22,000 square feet of the former Jillian’s site with stalls and shops featuring local eateries and local food retailers—20 culinary concepts and two bars are on tap for the opening. There will be a shared seating area, which means at any given meal you can meet friends or family for pizza, sushi, curry, tacos, and smoothies—and find it all underneath one roof.
“I describe it as a collaborative interaction between the guest and the food vendors,” says James Sauls, general manager of Morgan Street Food Hall. “It’s not just about getting food, it’s actually watching someone prepare your food and having front-line folks—or even a chef in an open kitchen—interact with you, and that makes it a unique experience.”
Restaurant marketing experts say the food hall concept appeals to chefs because they can take more risks and experiment with tastes and ingredients without the boundaries of a brick-and-mortar concept. Menus can change, dishes can rotate, and the focus can be on the food instead of on front-of-the-house issues like hosts and servers. At Morgan Street Food Hall, management will handle the shared dining space and is responsible for the liquor license.
There isn’t much menu duplication among the vendors setting up shop in the food hall. “We asked for menus in the beginning, and that was very intentional so that we didn’t have overlapping concepts,” Sauls says. “But we want their menus to grow and morph over time, while still providing the staples that people expect from these vendors.”
When the Food Hall opens, expect to find Bella’s Wood Fired Pizza and Tapas; Makus Empanadas, featuring authentic Argentinian empanda recipes; Cow Bar, a handcrafted artisan burger enclave by Chef Dan Yeager; Iyla’s Southern Kitchen; local favorites Sasool and Raleigh Raw; and Hook & Cleaver, a boutique butcher and fresh food market. Four of the area’s most popular food trucks will also be setting up permanent space in the food hall: Cocoa Forte, Cousins Maine Lobster, Curry in a Hurry, and Oak City Fish and Chips.
After hearing Hibernian’s Niall Hanley give a presentation about his food hall plans, Deb Keller, owner/operator of the Cousins Maine Lobster franchise in the Triangle, introduced herself, handed him her business card, and went home with visions of food halls dancing in her head.
“I couldn’t get it out of my brain,” Keller says. “I told my husband about it and intuition just said: ‘Let’s go for this.’” She went to the Cousins founders, and they agreed it was a great fit.
In addition to the items customers seek from the Cousins Maine Lobster trucks, there will be two new offerings on the food hall menu—a lobster BLT and a harvest green salad, which can be served with or without lobster. “The salad has butternut squash, goat cheese, cranberries, and hazelnuts—and it is just crazy delicious,” Keller says.
Two bars will round out the tenant mix when the food hall opens: The Arbor includes both indoor and outdoor patios, and Auntie Betty’s promises a quaint gin and cocktail setting.
Casual and Communal
Food halls fill a unique niche by offering quick and sophisticated dining in a casual setting. With common seating areas, a patio, and two bars, the dining experience becomes very social and interactive.
“Our expectation from the guests is that they’ll move over and make friends,” Sauls says. “If you’re at a four-top and there’s two of you, there is an expectation that someone will sit down with you.”
In the urban centers where food halls originated—places like New York City, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.—food halls have become prime gathering spots. A similar scenario will likely play out in Raleigh, where the Morgan Street Food Hall’s neighbor is going to be The Dillon, a mixed-use city block in the Warehouse District that will include an 18-story office tower with retail space and two six-story apartment buildings. The Warehouse District is emerging as one of Raleigh’s most vibrant and exciting neighborhoods. And, thanks to the Morgan Street Food Hall, it will also be loaded with good taste.
Another Food Hall by Autumn
In downtown Raleigh’s Olde East neighborhood, the Transfer Co. Food Hall expects to open later this summer with 42,800 square feet dedicated to its tenants. This food hall is being developed inside the historic Carolina Coach Garage & Shop. Tenants will include Che Empanadas, Boulted Bread and Jubala Coffee, Locals Seafood, Saxapahaw General Store, and Videri Chocolate Factory. Transfer Co. Food Hall will be located at 500 East Davie Street. Transfercofoodhall.com