The owners of Chicago's French Market want to attract more dine-in customers inside their space at Ogilvie Transportation Center. Thus, they've added more comfortable seating, installed new light fixtures and commissioned a new wall mural. There's also a free mobile phone charging station and WiFi in the West Loop market now.
Opened in 2009 in the commuter-friendly location, the Bensidoun family owns and operates the market as they do others in France and across the U.S. These new changes, which began rolling out last month, are connected with the 20th anniversary of Chicago's relationship with Paris as a sister city. Sebastien Bensidoun serves on the sister city committee, and made note of the market's new 62-foot-by-11-foot mural. The art features both cities' skylines.
"I wanted our artwork —our grand mural in the dining space— to reflect the connection between the two cities," he said. "Sharing the cityscapes of both cities seemed like a simple way to do this, and a nice conversation starter."
Many people who visit the market would take their food to-go, Bensidoun says. So now he has replaced the tables and chairs to try to make it feel more like a Parisian bistro. There's now seating for 150 in the market, and another 150 on the concourse, as well as outdoor space. Frietkoten Belgian Fries & Beer last month began offering daily happy hour specials in another attempt to keep diners at the market.
The French Market now has more than 30 vendors, with locations from well-known restaurants like Pastoral, Saigon Sisters and Lillie's Q. The two newest vendors are Aloha Poke and Vegan Now, and they showcase the market's variety. Aloha Poke, from ex-bartender Zach Friedlander, draws long lines and 45-minute waits. Those trendy bowls of Hawaiian-style poke are drawing tons of hungry customers during lunch hour.
"We bring different cultures and communities of people together, and we're working to create both cultural, economic connections and opportunity for our customers, plus both small local businesses and entrepreneurs of various backgrounds," Bensidoun said.
Vegan Now is a spin-off of the 30-year South Side staple Original Soul Vegetarian. The name's an attempt to demonstrate an urgency of switching to a plant-based diet while describing speedy service. Co-owners Lori Seay and her brother Arel Brown see the French Market as a unique opportunity to market themselves to a broader audience, possibly leading diners to the brick and mortar restaurant. The new location allows them to offer a sampling of their menu that includes their popular veggie gyros. The public aspect of the market has also benefitted Seay, who says that when French Market customers see others eating vegan food, it helps legitimize vegan cuisine and makes them feel more comfortable trying vegan items.
"It's been a great marketing tool," she added. "I would suggest to any restaurant that if they can get into the French Market, they should do it."