Last year, Urbanspace, operators of two New York food halls, announced it was opening in Chicago inside the Willis Tower and the company followed in March with news of a second Chicago hall coming to 15 W. Washington Street in the Loop. Now the company is slowly revealing the food lineup which will include two New York imports.
Roberta’s, the Brooklyn pizzeria known for its gourmet and perfectly charred thin crusts, will have booths in both food halls. Urbanspace is also bringing in Black Iron Burger, a New York staple since 2009 in its East Village.
Many Chicagoans are familiar with Roberta’s. Ownership has been scouting Chicago for years to measure interest. In 2017, Dusek’s in Pilsen hosted a Roberta’s pop-up and it drew long lines. It popped up again in March. Roberta’s is one of New York’s essential pizzerias with house-cured meats and Neapolitan pies. The Brooklyn location, surrounded by shipping containers, helped define Williamsburg as a dining destination, opening in 2008. Roberta’s then opened an LA location in 2018 inside a shopping mall. The pizza icon also has a New York food hall location in Urbanspace Vanderbilt.
“Roberta’s has nailed it, not only do they have brand recognition, but their product is really good,” said Urbanspace CEO Eldon Scott.
Urbanspace hasn’t revealed much more of its vendor lineup in Chicago, but Scott said it’ll focus on local restaurants. The Budlong, which serves Nashville hot chicken across the city — including at Revival Food Hall and Merchandise Mart — will also be part of Urbanspace in the Loop. That hall will have 20 vendors across 12,000 square feet. Scott said nearly all of the Loop’s vendors have been finalized. He’s shooting to open it by the end of the year.
Chicago’s existing food hall operators have strayed away from bringing in out-of-town restaurants. Locally owned 16” on Center opened Revival Food Hall in 2016 under the premise that customers could find a lineup of great neighborhood restaurants under one roof. West Loop’s Politan Row (which opened this year) has operators from New Orleans, who carefully curated its 100-percent Chicago lineup to bolster its credibility among locals. Despite its international presence, the team behind Time Out Market in Fulton Market is going for a uniquely Chicago feel when it opens this fall.
On Thursday morning, Urbanspace announced a contest where the winner would operate a booth inside the Loop food hall with free rent for three months. Management will announce the winner on October 15. They’re looking for applicants from restaurants, cafés, pop-ups, and catering concepts. Urbanspace is accepting applicants now until October 1. They’re asking for food photos and a menu. The website also encourages video submissions, which Scott said gives chefs a chance to show off their personalities. Urbanspace used a similar competition to find chefs in New York. For the Chicago contest, officials from Kendall College will help judge to ensure they are local voices onboard, Scott added.
Food quality is obviously the No. 1 aspect, but Scott was candid about the need for a chef and restaurant to have marketing potential in the age of social media. Ugly food photos don’t bode well for future success. Neither does having poor business acumen.
“We sometimes find really neat concepts,” Scott said. “They look fantastic, but they’re not quite there on the execution.”
After the Loop location debuts, Urbanspace’s 14,000-square-foot Willis Tower location, with more than 20 vendors, should open early next year. Stay tuned for more updates.