Vendor turnover at food halls like White Star Market in Baton Rouge is a natural part of the business model, operators say, and, to an extent, can sometimes be a good thing.
Food halls are to designed to be something of an incubator, where food vendors can test out concepts under one roof at lower costs than opening standalone restaurants. Some concepts will work, and owners will branch out on their own, whereas others may not. Either way, new ideas will often come and go.
White Star, which is closing in on its first year in operation, has seen four vendors leave—Fete au Fete, Southern Plate, Jolie Pearl and Counterspace BR—since it opened last May, while new vendors have taken their places. Owner Clark Gaines says this is typical of the food hall business, and others agree.
“Turnover is natural and can be positive,” says Will Donaldson, who co-founded the St. Roch Market food hall in New Orleans in 2015. “The whole point of the platform is to give vendors an opportunity.”
Donaldson—who now has two food halls in New Orleans, one in Miami and more planned in Chicago and Houston—says his business aims to turnover probably two vendors per food hall each year to “keep it fresh.”
Vendors also seem to agree with the business model.
“The beauty of a food hall is vendors don’t spend a lot, so it’s easier to pack up and go,” says Jay Ducote, of Gov’t Taco at White Star. “That’s by design. Easy to open and easy to close. Food halls are meant to have turnover. As a vendor, I’m excited about that. Fresh concepts breathe life into a food hall.”
Chef Micah Martello of Fete au Fete—the most recent vendor to leave White Star—says his end game is to open brick-and-mortar locations, which is part of the reason why he left, but he’s grateful for the opportunity to test out his concepts at food halls.
Martello also has locations at food halls in New Orleans and Jackson, Mississippi.
“Food halls are truly designed for turnover,” he says. “They allow entrepreneurs to go in and build a brand and refine their techniques. I’m forever grateful to White Star.”
Operators in the food hall business also note that this industry is still relatively new, so there’s a learning curve there. But it seems the food hall business model, which has been expanding rapidly across the country, doesn’t seem to be slowing anytime soon.
“Every place has challenges,” Martello says. “But is White Star here to stay? Oh yeah.”