Who would have thought that the humble food market might be the key to urban renewal? It’s an age-old idea that’s just waiting for a timely update. Here’s how...
The project: Food market.
The brief: A modern hub for time-tested or just-opened food businesses to test themselves and enrich the community.
Specifications: Seasonal produce is a must but our market should also cater for all ages and have an educational bent too.
Food markets are almost as old as agriculture itself and, with a little canny planning, they can still anchor a neighbourhood, bring footfall and employment, and make us healthier. To be clear, we’re not talking about modish food halls where hipsters pay over the odds for bread or sink strong cocktails to bad dance music. Instead, our imagined market would offer a year-round reflection of the best seasonal produce from honest and interesting growers.
Our open-air affair sells both fresh ingredients and the finished dishes, a mix of places to sit and snack, and a mezzanine level of spaces for talks, classes and demonstrations from the area’s food folk. The traders are vetted for tradition and promise. And while there’s a seafood stall that’s taken a bountiful berth for generations, there are also small, affordable spaces for jam-makers or upstart entrepreneurs selling home-cured ham or freshly picked peaches. Plus, since it’s a community space, there’s something for everyone: the oldies seem to like the coffee and the kids can’t resist the sweet shop or ice-cream kiosk; even the dogs scrabble to see the place since we started leaving water bowls and treats out.
Yes, there’s nice branding, maps, signage and a monthly magazine with interviews and ideas from the chefs and producers but markets should be about more than just looks. So we’ve implemented a scheme to limit food waste so that surplus is donated to the hungry, while cultural events, from concerts to readings, often find their way into the market hall too. There are also classes for children to help them learn about how to grow food at home and the importance of eating well.
This is primarily a place for locals as much as passing trade. There’s a sense of close-knit community and the importance of family businesses – many have tabs with shops and strong bonds that have lasted for generations. But we’re not inward-looking. In fact, our cargo bikes and cars mean that people around the city can have that coffee and those pastries pedalled over for breakfast or anything else from the market in time for a picnic. But is that all our market delivers? Not by a long shot.
There’s fresh produce as well as ready-made meals on offer, such as wraps, bao, gumbo, ramen and moreish toasted-cheese sandwiches. Everything is made from produce that’s for sale: buy the ingredients to make the treats at home.
The building makes the most of an old shell to bring new life into a neighbourhood. It might be a former bus station or factory, or just an old market that fell out of favour. A lick of paint and some clever carpentry will set it right. The mezzanine adds height and doubles the space for stalls and practical demonstrations, classes and Q&As.
We also look for traders with a story to tell and history in the neighbourhood. Honest and interesting products are prioritised over fancy franchises and fast-food pedlars. It’s fine to have a street-food success on your hands but it’s important to temper new ideas with businesses that have been going for generations too. Also hold the celebrity chefs: our traders are out to help customers eat well and find fresh produce, not launch their own careers.
There’s a mixture of seating: communal, bar, bench and high tables. Most is fixed but a few can be moved to help customise the arrangements. Also there’s an understanding that spaces can’t be reserved if you’re not in the process of eating or ordering. It stops whole sports teams or big groups from claiming tables that an elderly couple could do with. Our regulars are the respectful sort.
A high ceiling offers a natural flow of fresh air. It’s protected from the elements but things are kept breezy and the aisles allow space to pass, queue and peruse comfortably. There are no live animals – other than well-trained dogs with their owners, of course – and the place is scrupulously clean.
Regular competitions encourage younger traders with bright ideas to pop up for a month to test their business models. There are various stall sizes for a range of rents that reflect what people can pay and prioritise the individuality of the offer rather than the bottom line of the businesses.
We’re open all day for coffee and cocktails. Late-night revellers sometimes pop in for a bite to eat when they haven’t been home yet, while others come here for a nightcap after dinner or to grab a few bits for tomorrow’s breakfast.
Card or cash payments allowed. Donations to help diminish waste and feed those more in need are welcome; the market does right by the less fortunate. It also awards grants to upcoming chefs and food businesses from the neighbourhood.
We have nice branding and tote bags, a neighbourhood food guide that shows off the restaurants in the area and Q&As with interesting producers and chefs. It’s a place to sell but acts as a platform to help up-and-coming brands too, with free consultancy on packaging, running a food business and expanding your product line.
Finishing touches. Traders in aprons. Shop signage is old-style and proud. Woven baskets. There’s water and treats for dogs and a sweet shop that the neighbourhood children can’t resist.