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While the food hall concept has been creeping across the country—there were 70 projects in the U.S. in 2015—Northern Virginia didn’t see its poke bowl fruition until The Block’s opening in December 2016, flush with modern Asian concepts, a bar and an activated charcoal ice cream.
Food halls are both destined to explode, with 300 expected by 2020, according to a retail report, but also, according to The New Yorker, a bubble ripe for bursting and an “inflated promise” of “local, artisanal purveyors, dazzling the visitor with a vision of a thriving economy of small businesses operating side by side.”
And sometimes it doesn’t work for many reasons, both complicated and glaring: Mike Isabella’s nine-month foray in creating nine concepts of his own reflection shuttered in the wake of his #MeToo reckoning, replete with a belated apology and bankruptcy.
In his ashes, as Nicole Jones, put it: “It’s just kinda funny that a queer woman is taking over the first space that you come into at the Isabella Eatery, and I’m sure it wasn’t by accident.”
The chef and owner of Stomping Ground was the first to announce her seasonally inspired biscuit cafe would open a stand at the former Tysons Galleria food hall. Now called A Taste of Urbanspace, and open just in time for the holiday shopping season, it’s also filled with a Lao concept, Sen Khao, from Padaek’s Seng Luangrath, plus duplicates from local brands: Ice Cream Jubilee, Donburi and Andy’s Pizza.
The end of this year saw the slow trickle of Ballston Quarter coming to life with the entertainment-game bar-upscale-diner chain Punch Bowl Social. The 18-vendor food hall Quarter Market is expected early next year. Common Ground, a food hall by Social Restaurant Group (Bar Bao, Pamplona), is heading to Rosslyn’s Central Place in the first half of 2019.
For the last few years, food incubators helped entrepreneurs enter (or realize it’s not for them) the food space, and all the kitchen drama is kept in the walk-in. Chefscape, set to soft-open at the end of the month in Village at Leesburg, will feature four concepts—Muggerz BBQ, Johnny Ray’s Sultry Soul Food, Rooted + Bloomed and Sandwich Bistro—in a mini-food hall, which will also feature a retail space for member products and a farmers market.
On a much smaller scale, Old Town Alexandria’s Pendleton Carryout Co. started with Roman-style, by-the-square pizza and dumplings, and just expanded with dessert from Killa Cakes and a burger. The tiny counter operation, opened this fall, will continue rotating vendors, and breakfast could be next.
Not every brand looking to multiply opened in a food hall. This year, Cheesetique opened a fourth location in Mosaic District, Taco Bamba opened a fifth location in Fairfax’s University Mall and the group behind Liberty Tavern and Lyon Hall opened two spots in Falls Church, a second Northside Social and Liberty Barbecue.
While the new brings excitement, a familiar face feels like home. And Northern Virginia grew its family tree this year.