Kendall Dix had a dream. Or, really, he had a nightmare, one familiar to any line cook: He woke at night, clammy, feeling the years slipping past, knowing that soon enough he’d be that sweaty old man still trapped by the brutal economics of a kitchen job. Then, in 2015, he met with a company seeking food stalls for a soon-to-open retail space.
The head of that company, Will Donaldson, planned to revive an iconic New Orleans public market, St. Roch, offering fresh foods alongside a very of-the-moment addition, small stalls featuring up-and-coming culinary talent. Talent like Dix, who began to churn through ideas. Eventually, he settled on what he thought was a winner: bagels and smoked fish. Then he saw the terms of the lease.
But what really is a food hall? How does it work — and who does it work for? That, I think, we’ve never really established.
This is, yes, a food hall story — another food hall story, after we’ve tumbled through snarky shots at their ubiquity into defensive listicles insisting that some food halls are still worth your time. But what really is a food hall? How does it work — and who does it work for? That, I think, we’ve never really established.
Dix’s reluctance proved foresighted. Donaldson left chaos in his wake: Some of the chefs who signed up with St. Roch Market ultimately limped away, exhausted and broke; Donaldson was later sued for allegedly infringing on a trademark belonging to the City of New Orleans. Through it all, the food hall has thrived, and Donaldson has expanded into a national chain. All along, he has been spinning a story of the great opportunity he provides to young line cooks like Dix.
There is no settled definition of what makes a food hall, but the contours are familiar: an edge of rustic industrialism; perfectly Instagrammable; individually unique…