Time Out Market, the fourth food hall to open this year in Chicago, debuts Thursday on Fulton Market with 18 restaurants, three bars, a demo kitchen, and a rooftop deck. The company behind Time Out entertainment magazine assembles some of Chicago’s most acclaimed chefs including Beard Award winners Abe Conlon (Fat Rice) and Jimmy Bannos Jr. (Purple Pig), Brian Fisher of Michelin-starred Entente, and respected chefs like Bill Kim (Urbanbelly) and John Manion (El Che Steakhouse & Bar). The goal is to give chefs a creative outlet to try new dishes while turning the food hall into a stop for culinary tourists who might not have a lot of time to visit popular restaurants scattered throughout the city.
Being part of a community of peers excites the chefs. Dana Salls Cree, the acclaimed pastry chef who left One Off Hospitality Group to start her own ice cream company — Pretty Cool Ice Cream — lauded the chance to interact with other chefs without being in a bar setting. She quit drinking alcohol more than five years ago. As the industry “shifts into a healthier lifestyle,” Cree said sober, face-to-face networking opportunities are essential to promote diversity and break up “the old boys club.”
Food halls are a tricky endeavor. Just last week and just up the street from Time Out Market, Fulton Galley unexpectedly shut down five months after opening. That pulled the rug from underneath five restaurants inside the food hall.
Time Out has stability as the company operates food halls all over the world: Lisbon opened in 2014, Miami and New York opened in May, Boston in June, and Montreal opened last week. Chicago will be the company’s sixth, which also has plans for Time Out Markets in Dubai, London, and Prague. They all bring together well-known chefs and serve food on real plates with real silverware in an urban setting. It even offers valet parking for $17.
Those international connections are important for the chefs. Kevin Hickey (The Duck Inn) has two stalls inside the Time Out Market. Duck Inn Dogs will serve encased meats. He debuted the concept last year at Revival Food Hall in the Loop. Decent Beef is a tribute to Chicago’s Italian beef sandwich. Time Out offers chefs the chance to travel globally, perhaps building a worldly fanbase.
“I want to be in Paris so bad,” Hickey said. “I’ve been to Paris three times in the last four years and the Chicago hot dog is everywhere.”
Hickey said the French do their best to copy Chicago-style dogs, but they’re not that authentic. He’d relish the opportunity to introduce Parisians to authentic Chicago-style hot dogs. His enthusiasm is contagious.
“I will fly out to Paris and follow you for that,” said HaiSous’s Thai Dang, seated next to Hickey.
“You don’t have to, Thai, you can just walk across the food hall,” Hickey replied.
The chefs at Time Out Market are bound by non-disclosure agreements. They can’t reveal details about their contracts including what percentage the market takes in food sales. The chefs did say they all signed one-year contracts to be at the hall. A few blocks south at Politan Row, the vendors there signed either six-month or year-long contracts. Chicagoans are seeing the first signs of turnover this month.
Unlike Politan Row, which looked to take a chance on mostly unproven chefs, Time Out searched for heavy hitters with established restaurants. They leaned on Time Out Chicago’s editorial staff to bring popular Chicago restaurants into the fold. Dang called it an honor to be part of the mix. He spoke of moving to Chicago and reading the magazine, how it helped guide him, and how its stories about established chefs gave him something to aspire to. Since he and wife Danielle Dang announced in March they were bringing Vietnamese street food to the market, Thai Dang said he’s seen business increase at his Pilsen restaurant. He expects the synergy to continue.
“For us, everything has been great,” Dang said. “Our involvement with Time Out has been amazing so far.”
Ed Kim, the chef behind Mott St in West Town and his family’s burger spinoff, Mini Mott, pointed out that while Time Out’s chefs aren’t newcomers, they aren’t part of large restaurant groups either. Kim also knows and respects the chefs involved. Seeing that many were already onboard gave him assurance: “We know they put their homework into this,” he said.
Chefs, like Cree, are also pleased that Time Out has its own marketing. She and business partner Michael Ciapciak (Bang Bang Pies) rely on Instagram for Pretty Cool Ice Cream’s marketing. Sometimes looking at social media “likes” can be harrowing and takes away time from concentrating on making delicious food.
The chefs also raved about some of the kitchen equipment Time Out purchased for its chefs. They wouldn’t be able to afford high-tech ovens and other gadgets on their own. There’s also excitement surrounding the market’s programming with events like classes, kitchen demos, and more. Time Out can also make use of its magazine’s event listings by hosting its own events and posting them on its giant video screen mounted at the center of the hall.
Pretty Cool Ice Cream has a Logan Square shop and customers can also find Cree’s frozen confectionaries at stores like Local Foods off the Elston Industrial Corridor and at various Foxtrot locations. For Time Out, Pretty Cool will offer an exclusive flavor. The “Chicago Mix” takes the classic caramel and cheddar corn combo and makes it cool. Cree said it looks like macaroni and cheese.
Time Out shouldn’t be just for tourists who don’t like to travel far from downtown. With chefs offering exclusive dishes like Cree’s new ice cream flavor, long-time fans should have incentive to visit too. Kim is working on an exclusive dish for Mini Mott, honey butter fries. They’re based on honey butter potato chips, a once-trendy item in South Korea. Hickey is using shaved beets that are marinated in mushroom jus as a vegan alternative for Italian beef.
Cree tells a story about how Haagen-Dazs makes the overwhelming majority of its profits from the sales of its core six flavors: “All the other flavors are just to remain relevant,” Cree said.
That relevancy, or buzz, is key for a restaurant’s survival. Cree said she’s already talking with Hickey about making Duck Inn’s orange soda into a Pretty Cool flavor. She’s also been talking to Urbanbelly’s Kim about replacing the soft serve he uses with Pretty Cool. The opportunity to collaborate is big for Hickey. He called Time Out “one big Wet Hot American Summer camp.”
“I think everyone wants the other concepts to succeed,” Ciapciak added.
Time Out Market Chicago opens at 8 a.m. on Thursday at 916 W. Fulton Market.