Food halls were a craze in Chicago before the pandemic; the most celebrated entries included Time Out Chicago and Politan Row Chicago. But as COVID-19 took hold, the logistics of indoor communal dining doomed many existing food halls and future projects. Now, one of the city’s most anticipated food hall projects is finally going forward. Urbanspace — a New York-based food hall chain headlined by Brooklyn’s famous Roberta’s Pizza — has announced a mid-September opening timeframe for its location at 15 W. Washington Street in the Loop.
The 12,000-square-foot Loop location, known as Urbanspace Washington, was originally slated to open in early 2020, the first of two Urbanspace locations planned for Chicago. A second 14,000-square-foot hall, inside Willis Tower — part of the larger $500 million Catalog project — is now expected to open in early 2022, perhaps March. Urbanspace management revealed its full lineup of 12 restaurants (plus a bar and a beer vendor) for the Loop. Highlights include the return of Isla Pilipina, the Lincoln Square Filipino restaurant that closed in 2020 after 17 years; a new Chicago location of Evanston’s Edzo’s Burger Shop; and a stall for food truck Happy Lobster.
The bar and beer programs will be managed, as previously announced, by the owners of Sparrow in Old Town and Little Victories in Wicker Park. Footman Hospitality will run a cocktail bar called the Peregrine Club and the Beer Stall.
Among the tenants of Urbanspace Washington are Rafael Royal and his sister, Elizabeth Royal, who are about to open their second food hall stall. Last year, they’d started a virtual restaurant, Bianca’s Burgers, pumping out Instagram posts to attract customers (Bianca is Elizabeth Royal’s 16-year-old daughter who assists the test kitchen in tasting). They eventually migrated to the Revival Food Hall, where business really took off. But they recently had to change the concept to Bianca’s Bodega and serve sandwiches and salads. This was due to the return of Hamburger Stan, a tenant that closed down during the pandemic, returned, and non-compete clauses only allow for one burger vendor in the hall. Rafael Royal holds no ill will and says he and Elizabeth get along well with all the tenants at Revival; there’s no sense at cannibalizing business. “Everybody is just a friend and we all want to see each other do well,” he says.
In fact, the Royals are following Hamburger Stan’s owner, Jared Leonard, to Urbanspace where Leonard is opening a location of his Nashville hot chicken sandwich shop, the Budlong.
At Urbanspace Washington, Rafael Royal will launch Bianca’s BBQ to show off Chicago-style barbecue: rib tips and beef back ribs. There will also be smoked chicken with Carolina white sauce. Rafael and Elizabeth Royal have spent more than two decades working at restaurants. Food halls have provided them a chance to work for themselves. They’re full of ideas, and find it liberating to have independence, rather than work for a big company.
The food hall world has been turbulent. Politan Row, which claimed it would reopen in the West Loop in the spring, remains closed. Wells Street Market has been converted into a commercial kitchen space with a bar. Down the line, Rafael Royal would like to open his own diner in Ukrainian Village or Pilsen. But for now, food halls are working for him. He has another stall planned for Urbanspace Willis Tower where Bianca’s Burger will return next year.
“I’m tired, but happy,” he says.
Urbanspace Washington, 15 W. Washington, planned to open mid-September.
Urbanspace Willis Tower, planned for an early 2022 opening.