Monday, August 1, 2011

The Emeryville Public Market Wants to Be Cool

By John Birdsall
Mon, Aug 1, 2011 at 1:24 PM

In case you haven’t made a run for chow mein lately, the Emeryville Public Market is in the midst of a makeover that could actually end up making the food court cool while retaining longtime food vendors who, well, aren’t.

Last week I got a private tour of the market — still open during construction — by guys from Main Street Property Services, Inc., the Lafayette-based retail leasing company overseeing the Public Market’s rehab. The idea is to introduce a measure of counter-culture radness into a 24-stall food court that’s survived — even thrived — by selling big portions of cheap food, and doing it fast. The Crispy Fry, whose neon sign promises both Chinese cuisine and fish and chips; Sorabol; Wazwan; Bangkok Thai Cuisine; and a sizable grocery, Emery Produce, with its lure of an entire three-shelf display of twisty-stalked lucky bamboo plants.

Some of these vendors will stay, others are packing it up.
  • H3h/Flickr
  • Some of these vendors will stay, others are packing it up.

Upping the radness quotient here will be critical, since an anchor tenant is a supercharged, 18,000-square-foot Guitar Center, expected to open in part of the old Borders space next spring. (Main Street Property Services is being coy about going public with news about the other anchor tenant, saying only that it’s a well-known national retailer with major counterculture appeal.)

MSPS’s Steve Mesita says he’s talking with food-truck vendors who might want to transition to brick and mortar, existing local restaurants like Berkeley's Sumo Grub, and to the Firehouse Art Collective, both for curating art and music events and for organizing one- and two-day underground-esque food and crafts markets (the new Public Market will have commissary kitchen space small food vendors will be able to use for special-events prep).

As for the food hall itself, some existing vendors will stay (The Crispy Fry — the market’s sales leader, is moving to a central stall), others won’t (the Bay Café Hofbrau is already shuttered). And the tables, chairs, and other design elements are all in line for upgrades.

Will it work? Considering the way food trucks that have transformed lunchtime-dining on the streets of Emeryville east of the tracks, the Public Market’s owners must be holding their breath.

Get in touch at John.Birdsall@EastBayExpress.com, and follow me on Twitter @John_Birdsall.

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