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An unusual food hall concept inspired by the tech startup world is coming to Minneapolis, and a search for would-be cheftrepreneurs is on.

Four experienced chefs who don't have the means to own a restaurant have a shot to open one in a new food hall.

The Pittsburgh-based Galley Group is opening its first Minneapolis food hall this summer in the Nordic, a new mixed-use development in the North Loop (729 Washington Av. N., Mpls., galleygrp.com). There are two Galley Group food halls in Pittsburgh, one in Cleveland and one in Detroit. Another will open in Chicago this year. The Minneapolis site doesn’t yet have a name.

The concept departs from the typical food hall, in which individual vendors handle all the details in their own micro-restaurant. This food hall will provide most of the infrastructure needed to run a restaurant, including equipment, front-of-house staff, marketing and public relations and business support.

There’s just one thing Galley Group can’t help with.

“We don’t teach people how to cook,” said co-founder Ben Mantica. “That’s not our thing.”

The bar at Ohio City Galley in Cleveland. Galley Group is bringing its food hall concept to Minneapolis summer 2019.
The bar at Ohio City Galley in Cleveland. Galley Group is bringing its food hall concept to Minneapolis summer 2019.

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Mantica and co-founder Tyler Benson, were officers together in the U.S. Navy, and were inspired by the street markets they encountered in Singapore, Japan and Thailand.

When they came back to the U.S. in 2015, “all there was in the States were these 1990s-era food courts,” Mantica said. “They just didn’t have the same quality or the same vibe. Basically, they were just boring.”

He and Benson wanted to make something that reminded them of their travels, but neither of them had any restaurant experience. So they put resources into helping chefs recreate the busy markets they’d come to miss.

“Similar to what tech incubators and accelerators have done to launch amazing companies, we wanted to create a similar program for chefs,” Mantica said.

Bursting with culinary talent, the Twin Cities is a prime spot to launch their next project, they said.

“Minneapolis is really on the map for the culinary scene, so our hypothesis is there are a lot of executive chefs and sous chefs who have the experience to launch their own concepts, but they just don’t have the resources to do so,” Mantica said. “That’s where we come in.”

In addition to four restaurants serving brunch, lunch and dinner, the 200-seat Minneapolis food hall will also have a 22-seat bar with a local beer and cocktail program. The hall will face a public plaza, which has another 80 seats and fire pits.

As to which chefs serving what cuisines and will occupy the food hall, that all depends on who applies. The application is available as of Thursday at galleygrp.com/apply.

Some of the chefs who were selected in other cities were successful enough to open their own brick-and-mortar restaurants independent of the food hall. And some of the food hall concepts failed.

“That’s just the reality,” Mantica said. “Some were extremely profitable and everybody made a meaningful step in their career. But not every restaurant concept works.”

When the Galley Group food hall opens this summer, it will join another North Loop food hall that’s currently under construction, Graze, at the corner of 4th St. and 5th Av. N. The Dayton’s Project, another food hall, is expected to open sometime this year in the former Macy’s/Dayton’s in downtown Minneapolis (700 Nicollet Mall, Mpls.), and Malcolm Yards (501 30th Av. SE., Mpls.) is coming to an old machinery building in southeast Minneapolis in 2020.

A rendering of the outdoor plaza at the Nordic, a new development in Minneapolis
A rendering of the outdoor plaza at the Nordic, a new development in Minneapolis

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Even former food courts in the Minneapolis skyways are flipping into food hall concepts, like Elevate (100 Washington Av. S., Mpls., 612-455-3750). In St. Paul, Keg and Case Market (928 W. 7th St., St. Paul) and the Market House Collaborative (289 E. Fifth St., St. Paul, 651-202-3415) have become foodie destinations. And Revolution Hall at Rosedale Mall (1595 Hwy. 36, Roseville) is showing how food can revitalize dormant retail spaces.

With the field getting more and more crowded, it’s possible the Twin Cities could soon max out on choose-your-own-adventure dining venues, said Nordic lead developer and United Properties vice president of development Gordy Stofer.

“We’re all venturing into the unknown on that,” Stofer said. “I’m hoping [food halls] don’t become, in the worst case, what food courts became in the ‘80s and ‘90s.”

But the Nordic, with a 60,000-square-foot WeWork co-working site and 57 residential units, has the ever-important built-in daytime audience, Stofer said. Plus, at night, the building offers parking, something hard to come by in the neighborhood. In addition, the way chefs can use it as a stepping stone fits thematically with the co-working space, another creature of the sharing economy.

“I see Galley Group as an extension of that,” Stofer said. “It’s constantly rotating the chefs, so it’ll always be sparking intrigue in the community for restaurant-goers who want to learn what’s next.”