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Columbia Business Monthly

From the Upstate to the Lowcountry, food halls are becoming an increasingly popular dining option

By Elizabeth Pandolfi

South Carolina may only just be getting in on the national food hall craze, but this is one dining trend that seems to be catching on. Gather GVL and The Commons are slated to open in Greenville this year, while Charleston’s Workshop is still going strong. Not to be left out, Columbia’s Soda City Market has started a campaign to get a food hall operator to open an establishment in the Capital City.

Often explained as the food court’s younger, hipper cousin, food halls—like Charleston’s Workshop and The Commons—are open eatery concepts in which fast-casual, artisan and high-end vendors have stalls offering small menus. Customers can enjoy foods and beverages from multiple different kitchens, while the sellers enjoy low startup costs and lower risk than they would with a stand-alone location. 

Like so many trends, food halls were initially seen as a passing fad, at least outside of dense urban areas. However, according to a report on the topic by Cushman & Wakefield, the number of food halls in the nation is expected to more than triple, from 70 in 2015 to more than 300 in 2020. 

Here’s a look at three food hall-style offerings in the very hungry Palmetto State.

The Commons - 147 Welborn St., Greenville

Housed in a row of former warehouses, The Commons is part food hall, part retail and office space for local makers and businesses. 

What makes this space special, besides the tenants, is its location: it’s right within the bounds of the future 65-acre Unity Park, and will have pedestrian access to the Swamp Rabbit Trail. That kind of potential foot and bike traffic is absolutely critical to a food hall’s success—in fact, that’s one major reason food halls are more prevalent in urban centers.

The Commons was first envisioned in 2015 by partners Drew Parker of Parker Group Real Estate, Ray Foral of Ridgeline Construction, and Rion Smith of Outdoor Sports Marketing. After overcoming several challenges, including the City of Greenville’s proposed demolition of the building to make way for Unity Park, The Commons is tentatively slated to open by the end of this year. 

As of now, The Commons’ food concepts are taqueria Automatic Taco, bakery The Bake Room, cafe Methodical Coffee, and the fast-casual restaurant GB&D. 

Gather GVL - 126 August St., Greenville

While not technically a food hall—Gather GVL will be an open-air collection of food concepts housed mainly in shipping containers—this site, which is being called “Greenville’s Kitchen Table,” will house 13 different food concepts. It’s located right next to Fluor Field and within walking distance of the new Greenville Children’s Theatre, Falls Park, and the West End. 

Father-and-son co-founding team Doug and Mack Cross envisioned Gather as a kind of “food park,” in between a food hall housed in a building and more mobile food truck gatherings. “We wanted something early on that we could take to any site,” Mack Cross says. “We wanted to be on the cutting edge, so we found this shipping container concept and adapted it to Greenville and to our site.” 

Part of the inspiration for Gather was to give families with young children a place where they could eat affordable food and socialize in a relaxing, comfortable environment. But in addition, both Crosses see this site as an opportunity to strengthen the downtown business community by opening it up to more people. “That’s something that’s important, philosophically, for us: to lower the barrier to entry in downtown Greenville,” says Mack Cross. “It’s gotten so expensive that all you’re seeing are business owners who are extremely well-capitalized or chains. We want to give the opportunity to people who wouldn’t otherwise have one, and we’re trying to do that by being creative.” 

Concepts going in at Gather, which the Crosses are hoping to have open in fall of this year, include Al Taglio Pizzeria, HenDough Chicken and Doughnuts, Greenville Beer Exchange, and Rocky Moo Handcrafted Ice Cream Sandwiches. 

Workshop -  1503 King St., Charleston

Opened in 2017, Workshop was conceptualized not just a food hall, but as a culinary incubator. 

The operation is managed by the team behind Charleston’s iconic Butcher & Bee, with the idea being that business owners, whether new or experienced, who have a concept they want to try out could take out a short-term lease on one of Workshop’s stalls, then move on to their own permanent space. 

“Tenancy lengths vary from three months to a year,” says Laura Ryan, Workshop’s marketing and communications manager. “The turnover is intentional. Short-term tenancies have perks, especially if you’re someone who’s eyeing a brick-and-mortar space and working through that leasing process. This is an opportunity to make money in the meantime, or it could also work as a jumping off point for some concepts.” 

Currently, Workshop features seven vendors, including sushi bar Sushi Wa Izakaya, wood-fire cooking concept Free Reign, and Cajun concept Cafe Roux. 

Spartanburg’s New Biergarten: Fr8yard - 125 Main St., Spartanburg 

Although it’s technically a biergarten, Fr8yard offers many of the perks of a food hall and then some. 

This entirely outdoor biergarten-restaurant-entertainment complex offers a full menu (from brats to melts to savory sides), beer and cocktails, yard games, huge TVs for watching sports events, and live music. They bill themselves as family- and dog-friendly, echoing the fairly recent trend of spaces aimed at giving people a place to have a drink and stay a while (similar to Greenville’s Birds Fly South and the forthcoming Holland Park complex on Laurens Road). 

Developed by Hub City Hospitality, the restaurant group behind Tex-Mex cantina Willy Taco, Fr8yard opened in 2018 right in the middle of Spartanburg’s Main Street and has added a whole lot of life to the already revitalizing downtown. 

 And Fr8yard shares something with the soon-to-open Gather GVL: shipping container construction. The kitchen, bar, and restrooms are all housed in shipping containers, with long outdoor tables for customer seating.