Food hall brings upscale cuisine to a hungry market in Pullman

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Food halls — upscale relatives of the humble food court — have become common in and near Chicago’s downtown, but not on the Far South Side. So a first-of-its kind project in Pullman bears watching.

Thursday marks the formal opening of the One Eleven Food Hall at 756 E. 111th St., where three independent restaurateurs have set up shop. They are drawn by the region’s growing daytime population, a community looking for better places to eat and a business model that lowers the financial risk.

The project’s nonprofit developer, Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives, received $4.5 million in federal New Markets Tax Credits that allowed it to lease the space for below-market rents. It also secured $500,000 from the city’s tax-increment financing program and provided microloans for restaurant equipment.

Tiffany Williams, owner of Exquisite Catering, said the site suited her plans to expand beyond catering. The developer “built out the space to our specifications while keeping the rent at an affordable rate and short-term,” she said. “We can see what works here and change our menu quite a bit.”

Her signature items include braised brisket with espresso barbecue sauce and “the Dopest Mac & Cheese.”

Joining her business are the vegan and “soul vegetarian” restaurant Majani, which also operates in South Shore, and Laine’s Bake Shop, which is expanding from a location in Morgan Park and sells some items at Starbucks and Whole Foods.

The food hall had a “soft opening” May 6 to work out any kinks. Diners can sample any or all restaurants in their visit. Unlike a food court of chain restaurants, food halls emphasize unique menu items with locally sourced ingredients.

Williams said business has been good throughout the day. “People have been ecstatic about new dining options,” Williams said. “I’ve never felt so welcomed into a community.”

The restaurants occupy 2,300 square feet within a 10,000-square-foot plaza called 111th Street Gateway Retail Center. Separate storefronts are leased to a Potbelly sandwich shop, a Blue Door wellness center operated by BlueCross BlueShield of Illinois and a dry cleaner.

Ciere Boatright, CNI’s vice president of real estate and inclusion, said the food hall builds on the developer’s prior success in Pullman. Since 2010, CNI has backed some $350 million in public and private investments creating more than 1,300 jobs.

“The whole idea is to catalyze development in underserved areas,” she said, adding that the tax credits and other financial incentives “helped us try some creative things” at the retail center.

The available space for the restaurants seemed too large and risky for a single operator, Boatright said. But three operators create business for each other, she said.

“All of them have made a real commitment to the community” by hiring local residents, Boatright said.

 

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