From hot dogs to Italian beef to Polish sausages to pork chop sandwiches, Chicago’s love affair with meat is well documented. So it might be a surprise to learn that the city’s also home to a world-class vegan food scene, one that’s about to get a major upgrade.
XMarket Vegan Food Hall is slated to open in late August in Uptown. The space will seat 375 people and include six restaurants, a wine and beer bar, a coffee shop, and a bodega-style grocery store that includes a vegan cheesemonger. Its developers envision it as a kind of vegan piazza where people can meet, attend events, watch sports, and enjoy delicious plant-based food.
The space was formerly a location of PlantX’s vegan grocery chain, XMarket, and shares the building with the company’s delivery operations. However, the shop closed last year spurring the owners to take an even more creative approach to the space. At 6,500 square feet, management is touting it as the largest vegan food hall in the Midwest. In comparison, Revival Food Hall in the Loop is 24,000 square feet.
“We wanted to do something more innovative since that’s where the whole vegan space is going,” Alex Hoffman, the CMO of PlantX, tells Eater. “Everything is so fun and different. We had the space, so we wanted to create a more experiential environment rather than just a typical grocery store.”
There’s not a lot of competition in the sphere. Ikea has announced plans to outfit three of its stores with food halls with a majority of plant-based options. A Portland hub for food carts closed down during the pandemic.
Hoffman says the company is looking to host “some of the biggest players in Chicago’s vegan space.” PlantX has yet to announce the food hall’s lineup of restaurants, One of the vendor spots will be kept as a rotational three-month pop-up. The idea is to give new bold and unique vegan dining concepts a space to experiment and take risks.
“It’s like a vegan restaurant incubator,” she says. “It’s free range to try new concepts at different times of the year in our space.
The state of food halls in Chicago since the pandemic has been murky. Revival Food Hall in Loop and Timeout Market food hall in Fulton Market continue to chug with somewhat musical chair lineups. Urbanspace Washington, near Daley Plaza, also remains open, though a planned location in Willis Tower appears dead.
PlantX’s food hall will also showcase a centralized 30-seat bar offering plant-based bar food, beer, wine, and cocktail offerings. (Yes, vegan booze and wine do exist). A cafe and coffee roaster will also be on-premise serving PlantX’s Portfolio Coffee. The hope is to offer a space that will draw in vegans and omnivores alike to gather and maybe try out a dish they’ve never eaten before.
There will also be an event space component that Hoffman says plays a large role in where they want the food hall to go in the future. That might mean a place to host watch parties for sports, listen to live music, watch a comedy show, or hear a storytelling event. “It’s a place where we want people to come, hang out, spend their weekends and evenings, and just make it their local spot,” she says.
A vegan food hall is a natural progression to Chicago’s robust vegan scene, including restaurants like Fancy Plants Kitchen (which just debuted a cafe in Lincoln Park), Soul Veg City in Greater Grand Crossing, and Bloom Plant Based Kitchen in Wicker Park.
PlantX’smanagement sees its food hall as a complement and promises to not only be the largest of its kind in the Midwest but also set the benchmark for all food halls across the country.
“Chicago has emerged as one of the largest vegan and health-conscious communities in North America, making it an ideal location to introduce our all-in-one vegan food hall concept,” PlantX CEO Lorne Rapkin says in a press release. He later added, “We are planning an amazing culinary experience that will set the standard for food halls for vegans and non-vegans alike.”
While Chicago is a city famous for its love of meat, it’s also played host to some of the best vegan dining in the world. Hoffman says that the company is not only aware of that, but wants to lean into it. So, along with serving up a variety of different types of vegan cuisines and concepts, there are plans to pay homage to the Windy City — a place that the food hall and so many vegans alike call home — in delicious and familiar ways.
“Chicago’s known for its hot dogs and all that, so we’re making sure that’s included in our offering,” Hoffman explains. “There’s definitely a reason we wanted to link up with all these local [vegan restaurants]; it’s because they’re bringing that Chicago-style offering to the vegan world.”
XMarket Vegan Food Hall, 804 W. Montrose Avenue, planned for a Wednesday, August 23 opening.