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Cafeteria cool: Inside local food halls

Glorified food court or a novel way to dine out? Food halls are popping up—and increasingly popular—with locals.

Best characterized by their convenience-meets-quality approach, food halls add variety to the mix—the concept is, by nature, a collection of multiple eateries—and for many groups, it means there’s something for everyone.

The first food hall to hit Buffalo was the Expo Market, which opened in 2016 on Main Street downtown. PK Eats, a “micro” food hall, opened in January on Hertel Avenue.

“We can offer fast, fresh food made to order,” said Brandy McLaughlin, general manager of Expo. “We offer different types of cuisine under one roof. It’s nice because with no reservations, people can get in and out quickly, especially during lunchtime when people don’t have a lot of time.”

Paul Tsouflidis, who owns Expo and PK Eats, said he believes food halls and shared spaces are the future of dining, and are beneficial to all involved.

“On the customer side, there are more options—a whole bunch of vendors with different foods and offerings,” Tsouflidis said. “On the restaurateur side, the shared space represents a lower cost of entry into the hospitality business.”

They also provide options for people who have special dietary requirements.

“Nowadays, people are gluten-free or vegetarians and they have options in a food hall. You can’t have a group of 40 people be extremely happy with choices in a restaurant like you can in a food hall. It opens up way more choices for customers, and they can still sit together.”

Expo is currently home to GBGB, Breezy Burrito Co., Sun Cuisines, Newbury Salads and Souvlaki Fast. Perks Café is set to open in May. At PK Eats, diners can find Newbury Salads and Sun Cuisines Express.

Tsouflidis said he believes the food hall model will continue to improve with time, and that they will eventually become a mixture of restaurants, retail spaces and pop-ups.

Another food hall set to open soon is Mercado Place, which will be located at the Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls, USA. Ryan Vecchies, director of operations at Mercado Development, said they are targeting the end of June for opening the “chef-inspired” food hall, which will include 15 or so vendors.

Patrons at Mercado Place will be able choose from barbecue, poke, pizzas and pastas, salads, fried chicken, lobster rolls, and gourmet burgers, to name a few. There will also be a coffee roaster and a smoothies and juice vendor. All will be anchored by a horseshoe-shaped bar offering craft beers, liquor and wines.

“It’s kind of ahead of the curve, especially around here,” Vecchies said of the food hall model. “It’s something new to the area and I find that really interesting.”

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