Downtown Chicago Will Soon See Its First Food Hall Opening Since the Pandemic

Helena V Berbie

With downtown workers returning to office towers in the Loop, they’re going to need a place for lunch. They’ll soon have a new option: Urbanspace, the city’s first new food hall to open since the pandemic, will debut later this month at State and Washington. The food hall will feature 12 restaurants with familiar local names like Isla Pilipina, the beloved shuttered North Side Filipino restaurant; Edzo’s Burgers, the popular Evanston griddled patty specialists; and Sushi Dokku, a mini version of the West Loop Japanese restaurant.

September 22 is the targeted opening day for Urbanspace Washington, 15 W. Washington Street. A New York company operates Urbanspace with locations in New York, Virginia, and London. A second Chicago location could open in February inside the city’s largest skyscraper. A Willis Tower location will feature some of the same vendors, including Brooklyn’s famous Roberta’s Pizza. Management isn’t ready to reveal the full lineup for the Willis. Both spaces will also feature bars run by Footman Hospitality, the owners of Sparrow in Old Town, plus Bangers & Lace and Little Victories in Wicker Park.

Overlooking the Chicago operation is part of the city restaurant royalty. Gabriella Lenzi Littleton heads up both Chicago food halls and grew up watching her family run one of Chicago’s most popular steakhouses, 80-year-old Gene & Georgetti. She says she learned much from her family including how to troubleshoot. Littleton also worked at EJ’s Place in suburban Skokie. Both Littleton and Urbanspace President & CEO Eldon Scott say they want to make sure Urbanspace provides the ideal infrastructure so their vendors can succeed.

“The beauty of a food hall is you can cut out so many of the things that aren’t fun about owning or operating a restaurant,” Littleton says.

Food halls rely on indoor dining and communal seating inside one large space. Littleton knows there are pandemic concerns, but she points out that the food hall’s 12 stalls are all equipped with ventilation hoods: “They’re super powerful hoods that suck air out of the place,” Littleton says.

She adds: “I think there’s something to be said for dining at a place like being a little bit safer versus a very small restaurant that doesn’t have a great HVAC.”

A flat bread stuffed with meats and veggies.

Bhoomi focused on Indian grilled meats.

Urbanspace kept its Midtown, New York location open to service office workers, filling the same need they will fill in Chicago. One of the more unique features of the hall is that customers can select food from all restaurants in a single order; they won’t have to make multiple orders if one person wants Roberta’s thin crusts, another wants Budlong’s Nashville hot chicken, and another wants grilled kabobs from new Indian food stall Bhoomi.

“Our main mission is to support entrepreneurs and chefs,” Scott says. “And the best way we can do that is to bring them customers and put them in contact among other entrepreneurs and chefs.”

Downtown Chicago rents are still high compared to the rest of the city, and that’s cost prohibitive for first-time restaurateurs. Food halls can offer salvation, Littleton says: “The rising rents are out of control,” she says. “I want to help.”

Urbanspace Washington, 15 W. Washington Street, planned for a September 22 opening.

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