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Food Halls Are Having a Moment in Kansas City

Co-owner Davis Engle (middle) and General Manager Dominic Hoferer (right) talk about the construction progress of Parlor KC. Co-owner Davis Engle (middle) and General Manager Dominic Hoferer (right) talk about the construction progress of Parlor KC. (Ryan Hennessy | Flatland)
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4 minute read

The Lenexa Public Market may have put downtown Lenexa, Kansas, on the map. It’s one part food hall, one part retail, but it’s the food hall concept you need to hear about, as developers from Atlanta, Denver, and New York City are looking at Kansas City as the next great food hall destination.

Food halls all have a unique identity. Made in KC on the Country Club Plaza will be a retail-minded, mini food hall, opening this summer. Parlor KC in the Crossroads, opening this fall, is based off the latest and greatest national concepts. And then there’s the mega design of Mission Gateway, slated to open in 2020.

The basic food hall template is five to 10 restaurants in a large building. Those shops surround a common area that customers walk through or sit down inside. And although some blueprints resemble any mall food court in America – there is a cultural difference.

“It’s so much more than [a food court],” Lenexa Public Market Manager Carmen Chopp said. “I think all you have to do is step into the space and spend a little bit of time here to know the difference, which is,  all of these folks are local. There’s no national brand here.”

It’s a Saturday morning in early May, and a customer wearing a white golf cap talks with the three member crew of Red Kitchen Tamale. The employee doing most of the talking wears a shirt that says, “Today is the Best Day Ever.”

Across the way, Mad Man’s BBQ is serving omelets with brisket. This is the third time the restaurant served breakfast, and the cashier proudly says they’ve had more customers every time.

The customer in a white cap hands a tamale to a woman wearing a black golf cap, and they sit down at a large oak table. Adjacent from the couple sits two kids playing a board game, waiting for their parents to get back with the food.

One of Lenexa Public Market’s tenants is The Roasterie, which will celebrate its 25th anniversary this September.

“In ‘93 and ‘94, when I was just starting, there was no pop-up. I would have died for that opportunity,” The Roasterie Founder Danny O’Neill said. “Oh my gosh, I learned the hard way so many times.”

The Roasterie is one of five shops that doesn’t sell food. Another is Planting the Seeds, which sells plants and gardening equipment, and has attracted an unexpected customer. Chopp explained that Topp’d, a pizza restaurant, sometimes buys herbs for its pizzas and salads from Planting the Seeds.

“That, for me, is one of the best parts about this job is seeing all that collaboration,” Chopp said.

Coming to The Plaza

Made in KC is the Plaza’s chance to bring a local feel back to the shopping district. The plan is to open early July, but it may be sooner.

“To call what we’re doing down on the Plaza a ‘food hall’ is a little bit of a stretch,” co-owner Keith Bradley said. “We’ve been calling it a mini-food hall…but we’ve also used the term ‘marketplace.’”

Bradley is one of three owners alongside Thomas McIntyre and Tyler Enders, who saw the food hall concept prosper in New York, Chicago and Denver.

Made in KC, like the Lenexa’s Public Market, sees specialty food as a way to expand the retail store’s experience. That national push for experiential retail has dovetailed with an explosion in food halls.

“With the trend in online retail not going away anytime soon, or ever, you really have to do something else to attract the customer,” Bradley said.

Made in KC will have a café, plant nursery, local artist space known as “a shop within a shop,” a taproom that serves local beer, wine and cocktails, and three food or drink options: bubble tea, ice cream and a third that is still being determined.

“There’s a little something for everyone,” Bradley said.

Made in KC has shops in Briarcliff; Overland Park, Kansas; Crossroads and Prairie Village, Kansas. The downtown location on Baltimore Avenue is the only current one with a café. They also have merchandise in 11 Hallmark stores.

“We hope being on the Plaza will draw a much larger audience and really represent Kansas City in a wide way,” Bradley said.

Coming to Downtown

Parlor KC is coming this fall, perhaps as soon as August, to the East Crossroads. The design is based on what co-owner Davis Engle witnessed in Atlanta and Denver.

Engle, of Meriwether Companies, picked the Parlor KC tenants after he moved to Kansas City from Atlanta and began frequenting coffee shops and bars to ask for unique ideas from people he met.

“Out of the first five that we signed, four of them were word of mouth,” Engle said.

Karbon (Middle Eastern cuisine) and Providence Pizza, which has a sister store in Grandview, Missouri, will both be on the first floor. The upstairs has Mother Clucker (Nashville-style hot chicken), Vildhäst (Nordic food, like open-faced sandwiches) and Sura Eats (Korean cuisine).

There will be two bars, one on each floor that is managed by Parlor KC. They will also manage the servers and busboys.

“That typically is a big part of a restaurant’s [profits and loss],” Engle said. “If you’re a restaurateur, you can literally start your business for under $20,000 [at Parlor KC].”

Beside bringing the national trend to KC, the secret weapon of Parlor KC may be it’s general manager, Dominic Hoferer. He grew up in Brookside, but has spent the last decade in New York City attending culinary school and working in restaurants.

In 2016 and 2017, Hoferer managed Eataly, a renowned italian food hall at the One World Trade Center. He wants Parlor KC to be an incubator for their tenant’s talents.

“This is a creative license to do what they want,” Hoferer said.

Engle said he is confident the Parlor KC food hall will be replicated after its success, and that a project in the works, may justify his optimism.

Mission Looks to Land on the Food Hall Map

The Mission Gateway project is big for Mission, Kansas. The 40,000-square-foot design, announced last month, includes a food hall, 168 apartments, outdoor patio, concert venue and a rotating art exhibit. Not to mention Tom Colicchio, eight-time James Beard Award winning chef, who will be the food hall’s curator.

“Mission Gateway will bring together local/regional chefs and restaurateurs to create a total unique experience incorporating a diversity of cuisines, great service and a variety of interactive entertainment,” project developers wrote in an email to Flatland.

The quantity and type of restaurants at the food hall are still in the exploratory phase. The overall project design is somewhat similar to the Lenexa Public Market. Mission Gateway may have the perfect case study in Lenexa for a standalone district, and the development could use a path forward after a series of fits and starts.

GFI Development Company, LLC and Cameron Group, LLC bought the Mission Mall in 2005. The mall was then knocked down and the lot has since sat vacant. There were talks of an aquarium in 2009, and unsuccessful negotiations with Walmart between 2012 and 2015.

The project’s developers hope that Mission Gateway will become a destination for customers like the Legends District, Zona Rosa and even the Power & Light District.

Food halls adopt the identity of a place. And with developers identifying the Kansas City area as the next big spot for food halls, a series of municipalities and neighborhoods will have the opportunity to define the national trend.

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