Just over two months after downtown food hall Wells Street Market reopened in the Loop, ownership announced the hall will again close on Friday, September 18. Even though a news release cryptically mentions the possibility of reopening “when life goes back to some sense of normalcy,” there seems to be more permanence this time. The food hall had debuted back in June 2018, part of a Chicago food hall boom ushered in by Revival Food Hall in the Loop.
When the market reopened in early July, it featured a limited vendor lineup, which included donut maker Firecakes, acclaimed chef Takashi Yagihashi’s Tabo Sushi, Nashville hot chicken slinger Fry the Coop, and a bar. Wells Street was the first Chicago food hall to reopen for indoor dining during the pandemic. COVID-19 present food halls with a challenge: How do operators make customers feel safe inside large space with communal seating?
As health experts continue to rail against indoor dining, Wells Street hoped to add more vendors to its lineup. Food hall GM John Williamson hoped to welcome other restaurants — like Jimmy Bannos Jr.’s (Purple Pig) Piggie Smalls and Tempesta Market — back in the following months. Other food halls have also seen a diminished group of vendors, such as Fulton Market’s Time Out Market Chicago, which reopened in August with eight of its original 17 restaurants.
The public health crisis has delayed a few food halls, like two locations of Urbanspace. Another hall, Fulton Galley, closed in November 2019 after only five months in Fulton Market. That closure wasn’t tied directly to the pandemic as ownership experienced troubles at other locations across the country. Wells Street Market follows Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises’ Foodlife into the annals of Chicago food halls that have closed during the pandemic. But Foodlife was controlled by Lettuce Entertain You, and Wells Street Market housed restaurants from different companies.
Food halls market themselves as incubators, places where inexperienced chefs can learn without needing to spend to money to open their own restaurants. Vendors share the expenses, which makes food halls attractive to would-be restaurant owners looking for a break. While Fry the Coop and Firecakes — two successful operations with multiple locations — returned in August, smaller vendors that were part of the market’s opening lineup, like pierogi vendor Chow Brothers and health-focused FARE, were gone. Wells Street first opened with 10 vendors, including Pork & Mindy’s, the shuttered sandwich spot from Food Network star Jeff Mauro.
As Downtown Chicago is depleted of tourists and office workers who would normally fill spaces like Wells Street, fans can bid farewell to the hall this week. The bar is even selling off unopened bottles of liquor. Last call is Friday.