The Conservatory food hall with all its options.EXPAND
The Conservatory food hall with all its options.
Photo by Kate McLean

The Helping Hand of Food Hall Operators in Houston

It was only a matter of time until the popular food hall trend would trickle down to Houston. Food trucks are drifting further away from the city and into the suburbs. But in the same way the food truck model helped springboard up-and-coming restaurateurs, so now do food halls, with the added benefit of an in-house operations team to help them along.

One previous food truck and Conservatory tenant likens the movement from food trucks to food halls to the civilizing of the wild west.

Houston food hall operators Anh Mai, Conservatory food hall, and David Goronkin, CEO of My Fit Foods and operator president of their subsidiary Oz Rey LLC (soon to open Finn Hall in 2018 in the JPMorgan Chase building) and COO of theri holding company MV Amanth, both define their primary goal is to help curate talented up-and-coming restaurateurs.

“There are a lot of chefs that are great at putting out good product, but might not necessarily have a marketing or accounting background, we aim to make sure they are successful,” says Mai. He and his business partner in Prohibition Supperclub & Bar and Conservatory food hall, Lian Pham, plan to open Bravery Chef Hall in 2018, a 9,000 square foot chef driven food hall, also downtown, with five different concepts.

Goronkin adds: “We too are restaurant operators and understand what it takes to be able to operate a business such as this, so our approach is to partner with the operators and provide them with a lot of great services.”

Some of those services will include an on-site event coordinator, on-site management and even delivery services throughout downtown. The Conservatory also offers vendors help with marketing, menu pricing and making sure their overall concept is working.

Some Conservatory independents have benefited from investment by Mai. He explains, “There are some concepts we saw potential in, so we basically invested and partnered up with the goal of not just opening in Conservatory, but expanding from there.” The Conservatory, while originally was mostly independent vendors, is now a mix of independent concepts and restaurants he has invested in.

Goronkin explains that while they don’t have a share in any of the independent operators at Finn Hall, they do benefit from their success. “We are aligned, so, the more successful they are, the more successful we are, we are highly motivated to ensure that the operators have a successful experience.” Goronkin also added they, “take a hands-on approach to the operations of the food hall.”

What is the extent of hands on and how much control do food hall owners have over tenants? That depends. Goronkin confirmed that, “vendors have absolute control, but we have a process of collaboration on their menu, whereby we can ensure we have diversity in the food hall.” A similar story for The Conservatory as Mai explains, “We have a lot of vendor rules and regulations that we designed to make sure they are successful in addition to advising them on their menu and concept.”

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