Those murmuring about the health of the food hall might have a little more to worry about. Four tenants at Gotham Market at the Ashland are closing. Mason Jar, one of its anchor tenants, has already closed, and John Stage’s three concepts — Flip Bird, Apizza Regionale, and Bar Granger — will close by the end of the month.
The closings come barely a year after the bright new food hall opened in the ground floor of The Ashland in Fort Greene, just steps from BAM, Barclay’s Center, and the newly opened Apple store. The market’s other anchor tenant, Boqueria, will remain open, as will its pop-up concept Hey Hey Canteen.
“We started something really good there and everyone worked really hard,” says Christopher Jaskiewicz, COO of Gotham Organization and President of Gotham Properties & Hospitality, which owns and operates the market. “John Stage and Mason Jar are incredibly talented and were great to work with, but we are making changes based on feedback from the community and neighborhood.”
While management of Mason Jar would not comment, it released this statement: “It was a pleasure to work with Gotham to open Gotham Market at The Ashland to create a new neighborhood destination. We’ll continue to operate our New York City location and welcome our Brooklyn-based guests to visit us anytime.”
To replace Mason Jar, Jaskiewicz has brought in Paul Longo (Ida’s Nearabout, Elder Greene), Kaelin Ballinger (American Beauty, Webster Hall) and James Cruickshank (Whitman’s, Lola) who have partnered to open a to-be-named modern American beer hall and kitchen in time for March Madness. The bar will pour 15 to 20 craft beers on tap as well as a roster of high-end cocktails. The menu (lunch, dinner and weekend brunch) will offer traditional beer hall fare like homemade soft pretzels, but will mostly focus on classic Americana — nachos, wings, burgers and more.
The closings at the Gotham Market at The Ashland come on the heels of rumblings about the inflated promise of the food hall. While food halls offer advantages over stand-alone restaurants — minimal startup expenses, short-term leases, and rents that are much more affordable than larger conventional restaurant spaces — some say that a variety of costs still make the enterprises difficult.
Julian Hitchcock, founder of F&B, a retail consulting and commercial brokerage firm, says food halls are ideal for today’s particularly brutal restaurant economy. “Have you seen NYC retail rents?” he says. “Food halls are an amazing way to bring new, exciting concepts and operators to the public. The NYC food scene is having a very challenging moment with a $15 minimum wage coming soon, food halls allow operators to share the costs on bussing, dishwashing, deliveries and more. Without food halls, this situation would be even more dire.”
But some operators say the deals are too good to be true because of hidden costs, mandatory “open store” hours that don’t match their needs, and the lack of autonomy of a stand-alone spot. “The food hall atmosphere doesn’t work for all types of food and concepts,” says Hitchcock. “The operators have to be able to share space, music, atmosphere with others. Concepts that have great food, delivered at a good price, in NYC will always flourish.”
Akhtar Nawab, the chef of Alta Calidad who has run businesses in four different food halls, says there can be a lot to gain, but that there are also some pitfalls. “You have to pay rent, then pay for your share of marketing plan, and also pay for CAM (Common Area Maintenance) charges, which have become a four letter word to many vendors,” he says. “Inexperienced operators don’t know what to look for. There are costs that are hidden.”
Despite closing all of his concepts at the Gotham Market, Stage maintains faith in the food hall concept. “It can be great for operators, but it has to be the right kind of concept,” he says. For new concepts like his Flip Bird, the Gotham Market was ideal because it offered an incubator-like opportunity, he says. “It gives you a chance to sort of try it out,” he says. Flip Bird, Stage says, was successful and he plans on moving it to another spot.
Apizza, however, which is a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Syracuse, NY, did not fare as well. “It’s a restaurant that really needs its own home, where you can sit down and feel cozy and warm by the wood fire and look over the entire menu,” Stage says. “It’s not a slice joint. It doesn’t work in a food hall.”
While there may be a few casualties, Jaskiewicz says the food hall will continue to thrive. “There is no chance that the food hall concept will die,” he said. “But I think that no one can assume that a concept will succeed only because it’s in a food hall.”