By Mark Belko
It might not rival Eataly or San Francisco’s Ferry Building, but Downtown Pittsburgh is about to get its first food hall, one of the hottest trends in the foodie culture.
Oxford Market, a 12,000-square-foot space packed with restaurants, chef demonstrations, wine tastings and other offerings, is expected to open this summer in One Oxford Centre.
The food hall marks one of the first big moves by San Francisco-based Shorenstein Properties, the new owner of the iconic Grant Street skyscraper, to upgrade the real estate built in 1983.
“It provides an amenity for One Oxford Centre and sends a resounding message that they are updating to the modern era,” said Herky Pollock, executive vice president of CBRE, the Downtown real estate firm handling the building’s leasing.
Shorenstein has reached a deal with Eurest, the $1.4 billion food and vending division of Compass Group North America, to bring the food hall into the building.
Oxford Market will be located in the 45-story skyscraper’s plaza level, taking up space once occupied by the Easy Street restaurant, which has closed, and management offices. It also will use Oxford Centre’s outdoor space during warmer weather.
The food hall will feature a variety of restaurants offering Mexican and Italian fare and other international dishes as well as specialty concepts involving salads and other healthy meal options.
Another section, Create Exhibition, will give local and Eurest chefs opportunities to showcase dishes and recipes. There also will be wine tastings and other special events.
Eurest is planning to partner with a number of Pittsburgh restaurants and celebrity chefs as part of the endeavor. In addition, there are plans for a small market selling fresh fruits, vegetables, baked goods and other items.
LaToya Evans, a spokeswoman for Compass Group, could not provide the names of potential restaurants or chefs Thursday, saying that discussions are still taking place.
“The goal is to cater, of course, to residents and employees in the Downtown area and to give them more fresh food options and variety in terms of what they are doing with their meals,” she said.
Mr. Pollock said food halls represent a move away from traditional food courts “oftentimes fraught with fried and unhealthy food” to more modern alternatives that appeal to a more health conscious crowd.
“There’s much more attention paid to food quality. It oftentimes includes no GMO, or organic or cutting edge food items you would never find in an older food court,” he said.
Food halls, he said, are a “wildly growing trend” that can be located in office buildings or at freestanding sites.
A study by the real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield found 96 major food hall projects totaling just over 2.4 million square feet of space in the United States by the end of last year’s third quarter.
It also was tracking another 28 projects in the planning stages that could add another 908,000 square feet of food hall space through 2019.
“New proposed projects are being added at the rate of nearly one per week,” the report stated.
The study concluded the trend is being driven by a number of factors, including the emergence of the “foodie” culture over the past two decades; demographics that resulted in millennials driving demand and preferences; and the strong growth in urban markets.
Among the most well known food halls in the country are Eataly, with locations in cities like New York, Boston, and Chicago; and San Francisco’s Ferry Building. Smallman Galley in the Strip District is the only food hall in Pittsburgh.
Oxford Market is part of $50 million in renovations that Shorenstein, a real estate investment company, is making in the Downtown property it bought for $148.7 million. Two current tenants, Au Bon Pain and a sushi restaurant, are expected to remain in the plaza level with the food hall.