Time Out Market Chicago has added two new restaurants, both from its Miami food hall, indicating a shift in a strategy that depended on local chefs.
Food halls were an emerging trend before the pandemic as chefs saw opportunities to gain valuable experience running a restaurant without spending lots of money on a lease in front of customers in high-traffic Downtown Chicago neighborhoods.
Sure, the elevated food court concept had plenty of critics who had memories of Sbarro's slices languishing under a heat lamp at a mall. But office workers and downtown tourists, the latter with limited time to explore Chicago’s neighborhoods, soon gave spaces like Revival Food Hall core customers. Revival also gave visitors — even workers commuting from the suburbs — a chance to try their food and to be exposed to their brand.
But the pandemic cut off that supply of office workers, and food halls shifted strategies. Revival turned to takeout. Some, like Politan Row in West Loop, closed (though Politan is technically been “hibernating” since October 2020). Fulton Galley closed in November 2019 before COVID restrictions were even enacted.
Time Out Market Chicago in Fulton Market also shifted philosophies. The big-name chefs, many of the Michelin-starred restaurants or James Beard Award winners, vacated the hall. Time Out began to fill the space with more neighborhood restaurants and finally gave Black chefs an opportunity in 2021. It also installed a new fine-dining restaurant with a tasting menu. Valhalla from S.K.Y. chef Stephen Gillanders debuted in September 2022 on the hall’s second floor.
The media company-owned food hall doesn’t report closures or when a vendor is asked to leave for low sales. Even with high sales, others have left Time Out due to the market’s tweaked agreement in which they ask for higher fees and deposits. Vendors have told Eater that Time Out takes 30 percent of sales as part of their agreement. That’s slated to increase to 35 percent, according to one vendor.
On an early August visit, there were four vacancies and the midday lunch crowd was non-existent. Stalls that once housed operations like Soul & Smoke, Big Kids, and Luella’s were empty. The buzz was low compared to the crowds when it first opened in November 2019 with the chefs who led heavyweight restaurants like Fat Rice, Entente, and Purple Pig.
Time Out is shifting again with the addition of two new restaurants. The company has imported operations that have been successful at their other food halls across the world. Sua will serve Spanish food from Basque Country cooked over flames — think “grilled romaine salad with anchovies to grilled scallops with stewed beans.” Chef Aitor Garate Berasaluze has worked with Time Out at its Miami food hall and formerly worked at Leku, one of Miami’s essential restaurants.
Also, opening is a new out-of-town sandwich slinger called Gutenburg. The food hall that once promised a curated Chicago experience is now selling German-style hot dogs and smash burgers. Jorge Kauam is a Venezuelan native and the chef at Mokau Chocolates. He opened a Miami location in April. There’s still plenty of vacant space to mold inside the market. Time Out just announced that Lizzy J Cafe, a beloved Lincoln Square restaurant that closed in spring 2022, will pop up on Labor Day weekend and will eventually open a full-service location on the second floor. Lizzy J should open in mid-September.
Bringing in new vendors from different markets isn’t new. Galley deployed the same strategy in Detroit before closing. Urbanspace, a New York-based company, uses a mix of local and out-of-town vendors. While a Loop location remains open, two sources have told Eater that Urbanspace has canceled plans for a Willis Tower location; the food hall hasn’t returned a request for comment.
Another new development is Plantx, the upcoming vegan food hall planned for Uptown. Albany Park’s Kale My Name was announced as one of the hall’s first vendors. The food hall has since pushed back its opening date, originally slated for August 23, to September 13, according to VegOut.