TurnStyle, New York's newest food hall in the Columbus Circle subway, opens tonight. It's not quite like other food halls that have been popping up in New York. Susan Fine, the developer of the project, even prefers to call the whole thing a "street" instead. More than 30 vendors — mostly selling food — occupy storefronts in a long, underground hallway that connects the subway to more exits to the street. Many of the vendors have doors into their spaces, and several even have seating or serve beer and wine, so people can hang out. "They are substantial and substantive — and have you ever been in an air-conditioned subway before?" Fine says. "Do you even feel like you're in a subway? ...I think it has more energy."
Fine helped revamp Grand Central about 30 years ago, and her company won a request for proposals from the MTA back in 2012 to build out the hall. After taking time to select vendors, construction started last June and sped through to today. "I want [people] to feel like they’re on a street in a hometown that they grew up in," Fine says. Here's a full list of the food vendors below, and five things you need to know about how they put it together.
1) Most of the restaurants had to commit to opening while the space still looked like a regular subway hall. The developer had to confirm 70 percent of the tenants before starting construction. It meant the restaurateurs needed to have a bit of a vision, Fine says. "They took the risk with us," she says. Of course, the upside is that more than 90,000 people — from commuters and tourists to Hearst magazine employees — walk through the stop.
2) Developers visited nearly 450 places before choosing finalists. "The right blend" was important, Fine says, and they wanted to make sure that the food tenants could maintain quality in unusual circumstances. Plus, with the huge number of people coming through, the variety was important. For after school students, they brought in The Doughnuttery. For the models going to Hearst magazines and health-conscious office workers, they brought in options like Pressed Juicery and vegan restaurant Blossom du Jour. A pizza place called The Pizza, from the team behind Ignacio's Pizza in Dumbo, stays open late for late night commuters.
3) Most big food chains were out of the question. Character mattered when choosing the vendors. Fine wanted to make it a quirkier, warmer experience. A few major brands like Starbucks and Pressed Juicery made the cut, but there's also a location of homegrown restaurant Bolivian Llama Party and West Village tea parlor Bosie Patisserie. Several of the concepts, including Georgia's Cafe, The Pizza, and Casa Toscana, are new to the hall. "This is not Penn Station," Fine says. "We do not have Dunkin' Donuts. We do not have Subway. We do not have what you think of as transit food establishments."
4) The restaurants had to make certain adjustments for being underground, including no gas stoves. Ellary's Greens, an organic and veggie-focused restaurant from the West Village, is the most kitchen-intensive tenant on site, making most of the food on-site. But because none of the tenants can use a gas stove, Ellary's makes any stovetop dishes like soup on an induction stove. "It presented some challenges as far as our build out goes," says owner Leith Hill. MTA's changing rules also meant Hill's team had to move their sprinklers several times.
Finding a way to get a pizza oven and deep fryers for doughnuts were also a challenge, and all the restaurants were required to use certain materials for their build outs, Fine says. "The MTA cares a lot about safety, as they should," Fine says. "The challenge, but it’s an important challenge, is to respect what the MTA needs to serve its commuters." Still, they managed to find the right equipment for the food vendors who ended up signing on.
5) They want it to feel young — and primed for small, impulse buys. Fine says that she made a few mistakes when putting together Grand Central's food market years ago, like including a caviar bar. "We were too high end," she says. When looking to do TurnStyle, she looked for more retail and food shops at lower price points, for younger people. Impulse buys — a juice here, a bag of nuts there — also mattered, since many of the people going to the hall will be en route to somewhere else.
Unlike the grand, landmarked bones of Grand Central, TurnStyle is still a subway station, Fine says. And despite a series of mirrors, graphics, and clean storefronts, it may still feel a little bit like one. "But hopefully this is not your same old subway anymore," Fine says. "We call it underground 2.0."
Full List of Food Vendors
MeltKraft — a grilled cheese shop made with dairy from New Jersey. A meatball grilled cheese and a rotating menu of seasonal milkshakes will be special to this location.
Blossom Du Jour — a vegan restaurant with kale and seitan. Will not open immediately.
Gastronomie491 — gourmet grocery store and cafe, with a location on the Upper West Side. Will not open immediately.
Semsom — Lebanese food from two sisters who launched the restaurant in the Middle East. Will not open for two weeks.
Bolivian Llama Party — Bolivian food that's popped up at Smorgasburg and Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club. It will pop-up for six months.
Greyston Bakery — the bakery arm of nonprofit Greyston Foundation, which provides social services like childcare.
Bosie Patisserie — a new outpost of a West Village tea parlor
By Suzette — crepes to go
Ellary's Greens — a cafe focused on vegetarian and vegan options. The restaurant is launching a new breakfast menu at this location with loaded bagels and fresh juices
Pressed Juicery — LA-based cold-pressed juice company
The Doughnuttery — mini-doughnuts, with flavors like lavender, pistachio and vanilla, and fruity cereal
Fika — a Swedish coffee shop with locations in NYC
The Nutbox — organic dried fruit, nuts, coffee beans, and more from a Brooklyn-based shop
2Beans — Chocolate and coffee. Will not open immediately
Dylan's Candy Bar — a candy store that launched in NYC
The Pizza — a new restaurant from the team behind Ignazio's Pizza in Dumbo
Casa Toscana — a cafe with packaged goods, gelato, coffee, and Italian sandwiches
Yong Kang Street — a dumpling and noodle house from Las Vegas opens an NYC location in TurnStyle