Forecasting Mercantile and Mash’s first year

Locale Market in St. Petersburg is the city's first food hall. (Hanna Raskin)

Mercantile and Mash today opens to the public, after a busy week that included the departure of the project’s executive chef (newly-appointed chef Tim Morton starts work on Oct. 1.) But according to restaurateurs who recently opened their first food hall in St. Petersburg, Fla., the last-minute shuffle may represent the first of many adjustments.

“Retail is a different world,” says Michael Mina, who last week invited a group of Association of Food Journalists members for lunch at Locale, his nine-month-old market featuring a coffee stand; full bar; pasta station; cheese counter; seafood case; an ice cream parlor and bakery, in addition to shelves stocked with panty staples and artisan snacks. “We’ve gotten through our first year, and I can’t believe the changes.”

Mina operates two dozen bars and restaurants from Seattle to Miami, but he’d never created anything along the lines of the newly-popular emporium model before launching Locale with partner Don Pinatoba. According to the owners, Locale has emerged as a gathering place for the community.

But it’s taken a few tweaks, they say. For example, cheese and charcuterie didn’t catch fire as predicted. So Mina and Pinatoba rededicated part of the area originally reserved for those items to housewares.

“When you do a chef-driven market, people expect it,” Mina says. “They want to know what equipment you use.”

The owners discovered that shoppers were hungrier than anticipated for premade salads. Earlier this month, they added 100 linear feet of refrigeration to accommodate more grab-and-go items. There’s still space to add more fixtures as customer desires become clearer and staffers become more comfortable with their responsibilities, Mina says.

“One of the things we wanted to do was have it become a place that’s constantly changing,” he adds.