There’s a sign at the entrance of the Food Hall at Crockett Row that reads, “Excuse our dust. We’re making exciting changes!” More than half of the stalls sit empty, and enormous black sheets cover the mess of construction.
By mid-April, eight new original concepts will occupy the empty stalls. The new-look Hall will include tenants serving pizza and pasta, frozen custard, coffee, salads, a cheese-centered concept (think: queso, grilled cheese sandwiches, and mac ’n’ cheese), East Coast-style sandwiches (subs and hot sammys), and a mini-mart bodega designed for the nearby residents –– a taco concept is the only one that will not launch with the others. It’s expected to take an additional month.
The décor has already begun to change. The walls between stalls are coming down to give the place more of a streetscape feel, said a spokesperson who talked to me on the condition of anonymity for privacy. The bar concept will stay put, but its plastic cups will be replaced with glasses, and the stainless steel bartop is now wooden with black trim. Lounge furniture will give the hall the comfy feel of a coffee house, they said. There will be a printer and a workstation, all of which are designed to keep people –– specifically nearby residents –– at the hall longer.
“Our goal is to make it the neighborhood spot for everyone,” the person said. “The whole idea is to make the hall warmer, more comfortable –– a place you’d want to visit three times a week.”
As for the current occupants of the hall, they’ll be staying –– the ones that are left.
On a recent weekday lunch, the dining room was mostly empty. Only about 10 of the 40 or so tables were occupied.
The Food Hall opened in December 2018 to much ballyhoo. For Fort Worth chef Victor Villarreal, whose Abe Froman’s pizza concept was placed atop the Food Hall’s PR marquee, the hall was a place he could finally have a restaurant concept to call his own.
In July 2019, the hall started to unravel. Celebri-chef John Tesar, with his Knife Burger concept, was the first to bail.
“Restaurants can’t make any money at a food hall,” he said in a recent interview with me. “Only the owners of a food hall ever make money.”
Abe Froman’s, Ben’s Pretzels, Butlers Cabinet, The Dock, EB2 Elotes, GiGi’s Cupcakes, Monkey King Noodle Company, and Rollin’ n Bowlin’ Açaí Bowls all followed –– more than half of the original occupants are gone, along with a couple that replaced the ones that left.
Villarreal said he’s never made money at the hall –– and based on his conversations with other vendors, no one else has, either. His problems arose when the owners of the hall hired a consultant, who wanted to fundamentally change Villarreal’s business.
“They wanted to change the concept of my restaurant to cheap pastas and salads,” he said. The consultant, Villarreal added, “wanted me to do CiCi’s Pizza.”
Villarreal and others said the only restaurants that have survived are the ones that have other sources of income: catering business, other locations, and/or other concepts. He believes that had the owners of the hall invested money in marketing its vendors instead of remodeling, the first iteration could have worked.
“It wouldn’t be a problem if they would have talked to us, but they left us in the dark,” he said. “Why are you going to knock down all those walls to make it look new when you could spend that [money] to get people in?”
Part of the reason the first version of the hall sputtered, the spokesperson said, was because some chefs were cooking only for themselves and not the general public.
“You have to prepare things that people want and like,” the person said. People weren’t buying the fanciful, hyper-creative gourmet fare, they said.
“What’s good for one vendor is good for all vendors,” the person said. “People didn’t have that culture and mentality, which hurt it a little bit.”
Now with décor and concepts designed to satisfy the masses, operators of the hall hope that when the dust settles, the people will come back.