After the last recession, the food truck scene boomed as laid-off corporate workers leaped into culinary passion projects and entrepreneurs sought relatively inexpensive ways to break into the restaurant industry. With this economic crisis, food halls could play that same role. At least that’s the way the team behind Western Market is positioning its forthcoming food hall in Foggy Bottom, which is set to open later this year with at least a dozen vendors.
“You have a lot of really qualified people out there that have been sniffing around for quite some time who’ve decided to take this opportunity to control their own destiny. The food hall presents a really low barrier to entry,” says Michael Morris of Cana Development, which is working with Westbrook Partners and MRP Realty on the new venue at 2000 Pennsylvania Avenue, Northwest.
Western Market had already signed on Annapolis-based Mason’s Famous Lobster Rolls, vegan Israeli fast-casual restaurant Shouk, and a new all-day cafe and bar from the team behind Elle in Mount Pleasant. Now, they’re announcing four new tenants: fried chicken sandwich purveyor Roaming Rooster, sub and “Fauci pouchy” destination Capo Deli, a sushi counter from the owner of Glover Park’s Sushi Keiko, and a new vegan concept from the couple behind Baltimore’s Gangster Vegan. (More details on each below.) The building is also home to Bindaas, Duke’s Grocery, and Captain Cookie & the Milkman.
Roaming Rooster co-owner Biniyam Habtemariam sees the food hall as the next frontier in the same way he did when he launched his food truck in 2011. “When we started, we wanted to get in the restaurant business, but it’s expensive. The food truck was a great way to experiment on the menu, to see the market and all that. But now food trucks are evolving to a food hall,” he says. “We’re thinking that’s going to be the next thing.”
In light of Covid, plans for the food hall are being retooled with sanitation stations at each entrance, increased cleaning protocols, touch-free appliances in restrooms, and socially distanced seating arrangements. The outdoor seating area is also being greatly expanded with tables lining the exterior of the building and a large al fresco plaza on the south side of the property.
Cana Development operates food halls in other cities and has been experimenting with technology that may be rolled out in Western Market as well. For example, in Philadelphia, they’re testing Snackpass, a takeout app largely used on college campuses that allows users to earn rewards and gift meals to friends. “Think of it like Venmo married Caviar and they had a baby,” Morris says. Meanwhile, in Baltimore, they’re working with various point-of-sale system groups to create a universal ordering platform, so you could get takeout or delivery from multiple vendors at once.
“We can go test all of these things out, and if they’re successful, and they’re working, we’re going to bring everything to every market we’re involved in,” Morris says.
Here’s more about the latest vendors announced for Western Market:
Capo Deli: The Italian market near U Street will carry over almost its entire menu of pre-made meals (lasagna, pasta salad) and subs, including cold-cut combos, chicken parms, and cheesesteaks. The walk-up counter will also continue the popular “Fauci Pouchy” to-go cocktails, emblazoned with the face of Dr. Anthony Fauci. The drinks currently come in flavors like vodka-elderflower-lemonade and espresso martini.
RAWish: Taneea Yarborough and her husband James went vegan after she was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2018, then breast cancer a year later. While she was undergoing treatment, the former school principal opened Gangster Vegan in Baltimore, helping to bring healthy plant-based food to communities that don’t always have easy access to it. Now cancer-free, Yarborough and her husband are preparing to open a spinoff vegan spot in DC, where they live. While Gangster Vegan is strictly raw, RAWish will incorporate some cooked ingredients (like toast or granola). The made-from-scratch menu will also include salads, smoothies, grain bowls, and juices.
Roaming Rooster: What started as a single food truck in 2011 has expanded to a fleet of four, plus a commissary kitchen and carryout spot on Bladensburg Road. The forthcoming food hall spot will have the same fried chicken sandwich menu as the trucks, specializing in free-range, grain-fed, antibiotic-free birds. Try honey butter, buffalo, and Nashville hot versions plus sides like fries or coleslaw. Other potential new additions: draft beer and milkshakes.
Onkei: This six-seat sushi counter and sake bar will be a more casual and affordable version of Glover Park’s Sushi Keiko. Expect your standard rolls and nigiri plus signature raw dishes like salmon ceviche and hamachi sashimi with goma ponzu. You’ll also find some hot plates like chicken karaage and donburi rice bowls alongside sake, Japanese beers, and wine.