Long live the food hall, industry experts say, even though the first food hall slated to open in the Charleston area is dead.
The food hall operator who was supposed to set up 16 stalls at Garco Mill, a mixed-use restoration project between Virginia and O’Hear avenues in North Charleston, “frankly got overwhelmed with his existing businesses” during COVID-19, one of the building’s developers said.
“So everything got put on hold,” state Rep. William Cogswell of WECCO Development of Charleston said, explaining the 25,000 square feet set aside for the food hall has now been converted into office and restaurant space.
It’s possible that the 12,500 square feet reserved for food service could host a smaller food hall, rather than one or two restaurants, but Cogswell said nothing’s been decided.
“We’re going to work with local restaurant groups to see who might be the right fit,” he said. “Candidly, we haven’t been actively soliciting: Everybody seems to be trying to deal with the current economic situation, so we haven’t been pestering them.”
When Garco Mill announced in early 2018 it had partnered with the company behind Atlanta’s popular Krog Street Market, plans called for a full lineup of “regional, specialty retailers and restaurants.”
“We are incredibly excited to become a part of the Charleston culinary scene,” David Cochran of Paces Properties told The Post and Courier at the time. “The food hall at Garco Mill will provide restaurateurs and retailers with an opportunity unlike any other.”
North Charleston isn’t the only Southern city to lose its projected first food hall to the pandemic. An 18-vendor food hall that was supposed to open in Richmond, Va., was called off last summer in deference to “the unknowns that the restaurant industry is facing for at least the next year.”
“The business model hit a complete standstill all over and we’re not sure when it will come back,” Cogswell said.
Still, the 223 food halls already operating across the country have weathered the pandemic relatively well, research firm Cushman & Wakefield reports. At least 75 percent of food halls kept up operations during lockdown, functioning as ghost kitchens.
(Workshop, the downtown Charleston venue that recently announced it plans to close in coming months, was closer to a food court than a food hall since it didn’t mix food service with food retail: Butchers, cheesemongers and kitchenware dealers tend to turn up on the tenant lists of successful food halls.)
Cushman & Wakefield predicts food halls will flourish in the near future because they’re sized to promote social distancing, designed to facilitate the social experiences that customers crave, and better positioned than full-fledged restaurant spaces to bounce back when one renter fails.
As Cushman & Wakefield sees it, “Food halls will be where the industry rebuilds first.”