It’s a rainy Sunday afternoon in Plano, Texas. While it seems that many typical brunch patrons in the Legacy West shopping center have stayed home to avoid the weather, a quick walk to a three-story building, simply marked “Legacy Hall”, boldly disproves that notion. One step into this new iteration of a “mess hall” and visitors are immediately surrounded by a myriad of outlandish and gourmet restaurant options–and it is clearly catching the eye of locals.
Legacy Hall is just one example of many similar food halls that are beginning to make a presence across the country. It is a complete re-imagination of a seemingly antiquated concept. For years, the restaurant industry has been inundated with food truck concepts. Food trucks dominated the landscape as the new way to eat novel food items in a convenient way without the typical barriers to entry that are involved with traditional storefronts.
The “food hall boom” has been on the rise since the beginning of 2010 when there were barely 25 food halls around the country. Major metropolitan areas have been some of the greatest beneficiaries of these mess halls. In New York City, where retail space remains competitive and expensive, food halls like Chelsea Market are attracting crowds of people eager to indulge in trendy poke bowls and avocado toast without dealing with the daily grind and gridlock involved in a lunch break.
Even traditionally food-truck friendly cities like Austin are slowly shifting to food halls, with a fourth food hall in the city limits currently under development. By 2020, some estimates predict an incredible 300 popping up in the US.
In Plano, bartenders and servers at traditionally popular locations have seen the popularity of Legacy Hall grow exponentially.
Kate Alonzo, a waitress at nearby North Italia, said that the idea of having live music, craft cocktails, and endless choices for food has become a lot to compete with.
“They have everything you need for a Sunday afternoon in one place… it’s hard not to want to visit,” Alonzo said.
Part of what sets these new-age food halls apart from food trucks and traditional restaurants is the entertainment element. A food truck is brilliant in the mobile simplicity of being able to bring alternative options straight to the customer. Where the food truck lacks in creating an experience, the food hall is able to excel.
The three-story food hall in Plano touts an impressive lineup of premium food choices, a beer garden, a craft brewery, and the Lexus Box Garden, an outdoor stage surrounded by the walls of Legacy Hall that can fit up to 1,400 people. Legacy Hall has driven revenue by hosting concerts, weekly contests like trivia night, and even political rallies that have drawn thousands of paying customers from across the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.
Most importantly, the food, and how it’s presented, remain top priorities in sustaining the success.
“You can’t put lipstick on a food court, call it a food hall and make it work,” insists Garrick Brown, head of retail research for the real-estate firm Cushman & Wakefield. “[Food halls are a] reverse of what the old model was. This is not food as an amenity, this is food as the primary reason for people being there.”
Thousands of visitors flocking to Legacy Hall is no fluke. The management company behind the hall, a subsidiary of Front Burner Restaurants, has recruited the top hospitality talent in Dallas to make their vision a reality.
Gavin Mulloy, who garnered a reputation for booking talent at several of the most popular venues in Dallas including The Bomb Factory, was one of the first to join the Legacy Hall team and has already made an impact through booking Texas Country artists on their main stage and hosting a Mario Kart party on the big screen.
In Dallas, Klyde Warren Park has become known as the unofficial mecca of food trucks and trendy eats in the city. Part of an effort by the City of Dallas to resurrect its downtown area, the park is a popular destination for locals and tourists, playing host to yoga events on weekends and home to several outdoor sculptures. What food halls like Legacy provide is a more accessible alternative–no matter the occasion. It provides a place to grab a craft drink during a storm or a place to watch a football game without dealing with the downtown gridlock. What this hall, and many like it truly provide, is an immersive, wholly-encompassing community experience.
It is clear that the food hall concept is not a blip in the radar of restaurant proprietors. Part of the success of food halls like Legacy is the marketing, and how people perceive an idea like this will better suit their needs.