Work converting a chunk of Boise’s BoDo district into a food hall is proceeding, with the Warehouse expected to open in May. The project is being led by Rob Gerbitz, president and CEO of Hendricks Commercial Properties and the Geronimo Hospitality Group.
What is a food hall?
The Warehouse won’t be Idaho’s first food hall — Chow in west Boise opened in 2018, while 2nd South Market in Twin Falls opened earlier this year. However, the Warehouse will be the first food hall in downtown Boise.
While a food hall might superficially look like a food court — after all, it’s a big room with a bunch of food vendors in it — a food hall is something more, Gerbitz said.
“If you call a food hall a ‘food court,’ you’re definitely insulting the food hall,” Gerbitz said.
The major distinctions between the two is that a food hall doesn’t have national chains, and instead has smaller local or regional vendors, Gerbitz explained. “They don’t have 500 stores,” he said. “In most cases, they won’t have any other than this.” Food halls tend to have a higher caliber of food and are a destination unto themselves. “No one goes out to the airport for those restaurants unless you’re getting on or off a plane,” he said. “There’s a food court in every mall, and we all know how malls are doing.”
Gerbitz opened a similar food hall in Indianapolis in January. “Three years ago, there were probably 80 food halls in the country,” he said. “Now there’s close to 400.” And it fits with today’s eclectic food tastes, he said. “A family of four, one could get a grilled cheese and tomato soup, one for Asian, one for seafood, one for a hamburger, and they could eat at their table what they really felt like eating.”
Gerbitz sees the Warehouse as a way to revitalize BoDo, which he bought about five years ago. “When we originally got the offering, I was not particularly interested,” he said. “It wasn’t something we really wanted to do. But the guys we were working with said, ‘no, you really have to look at this, it’s something you could really transform.’”
The goal was to make BoDo look less like a suburban mall and get back to the history of the area, which was the warehouse district for the railroad, Gerbitz said. That meant getting rid of some of the retailers the building had, which he felt were better suited to someplace like Meridian. “They’re not meant to be in downtowns,” he said.
“We had a fair amount of national and international retailers, and they weren’t selling very well,” Gerbitz said. “I knew that prior to buying it.”
Selecting the vendors
Curating the vendors in a food hall and figuring out how they fit next to each other is a selective process, Gerbitz said, noting that he doesn’t have long-term agreements with his vendors in Indianapolis. “We turned more people down than we accepted, not because they were bad,” he said. “We had a dozen hamburger concepts. You can’t have that many. It doesn’t work.” Even in the first year in Indianapolis, he pared down the vendors from 26 to 20.
So far, vendors that have pledged to operate in the Warehouse include Waffle Love, Paddles Up Poké and Totally Toasted grilled cheese sandwiches.
One of the vendors will be the Asian fusion Wok N’ Roll, which has been operating as a food truck for the past two years, said founder Jessica Senet. “The decision to join the Warehouse was one I did not expect to make,” she said in an email message. “Honestly, since I have spent most of my life working in restaurants, I did not have the usual goal of starting a truck as a means to open a restaurant. I originally thought that the truck itself was my end game. But I started learning more about food halls as I came across them during vacation and was very intrigued by the concept.”
Currently operating her food truck with just two employees, Senet said she would be adding more employees and having a seven-day-a-week operation. “It was a big decision, as fitting a space with a fully functioning commercial kitchen is not a cheap task, but we have cultivated a decent following just rolling around town for the last two years. It will be awesome to be able to provide a space where people can come grab a bite whenever they like instead of having to track us down and catch us on our service days,” she said, adding that she intended to continue operating the food truck as well.
Senet was particularly interested in Gerbitz’s take on the food hall. “The one thing that really sold me on the Warehouse was that it has the necessary food truck vibe that is a vital part of our brand, but it delivers it in a brick-and-mortar style,” she said. “It’s the perfect fusion of my worlds, and is probably the only way I would have considered a brick-and-mortar at all.”
Renovating the building
Currently, Gerbitz is focusing on renovating the building, inside and out. In fact, much of the outside work is done. “They’ve put on a whole new exterior,” said Todd Dvorak, director of public and media relations for Strategies 360 and a spokesman for the project. “It has brick and windows and molding that’s really designed to honor that warehouse district.”
On the street level, the entrances are easy-access and have garage doors that can be opened up, and of course there will be open table seating, Dvorak said. “And it needs to be clean and look like it’s a place that’s taken care of,” Gerbitz said. “Vendors put that pressure on us.”
Now Gerbitz is starting work on the vendor space buildouts. “One drawback to food halls is it’s really complicated and can be a little time-consuming,” he said. “A 300-square-foot vendor is not that big a deal, but they need all the things required for code and the operation of their business.”
Beyond the Warehouse food hall itself, Gerbitz is working on two entertainment venues in the building.
The first would be the Treefort Music Hall, taking the place of Office Depot. “It will be completely reconverted, with a full-time bar on the roof and an outdoor deck,” Gerbitz said.
The second would be a movie theater, taking the place of Edwards Downtown, the lease of which ended in the fall, Gerbitz said. He’s working with a theater operator he wouldn’t name that focuses on national and international films with some “art house” movies, and with much more of a “boutique” experience than typical movie theaters, he said.
Gerbitz said he isn’t concerned about competition from The Flicks four-screen art house theater, just a block away. “I don’t worry about other ones being around, I just hope they’re good,” he said. “The more you have that are good, the more people want to come down and see everything.”