The first will open in Fulham this spring, followed by a second opening, in summer 2018, opposite Victoria station. The final opening will be in the West End, in the former BHS building near Oxford Circus. Billed as being the largest food hall in the UK, it will house local producers, retailers, restaurants and street food vendors as well as four bars, a demo kitchen and space for events
Ahead of the imminent Fulham opening, Big Hospitality spoke to founder Simon Anderson about the realities of the huge project.
How long do you have the properties for and how did you get them?
We have them on long term leases - these are permanent markets. Part of our team has an extensive property background, and they've been involved in large property and retail developments for the past 20 years or longer, and their experience really gave us the access we needed.
Do the sites need a lot of renovation?
All three sites will need a fair amount of work. The Oxford Circus site has been stripped out, which makes it look quite cool and industrial. It’s all concrete and stripped back walls. We have got a considerable refurb budget for it, but we're going to utilise a lot of the things that are already there, like escalators and lifts. The Fulham site is grade II listed, and we are bringing back its beautiful features and putting our kitchens into them. In Victoria, under years and years of club grime (part of the space was previously nightclub Pacha) are amazing features that we will use. It’s one of the fun parts of the project - having these buildings that have had so much life and history and re-purposing them for a new venture.
How will the offering differ at each site?
Fulham has a more local feel. We've brought in a local hero who's well known in the area, and a full range of traders that cover all the bases. We've seen what the area already has. For example, there are a lot of burger operators around us so we won’t be doing burgers. We've tried to make sure there isn't any competition between any of our traders a rounded offering. Victoria has a heavily populated office area so we're focusing on elements that work well as grab’n’go, which will add a cool element. At Oxford Circus the world is our oyster. That will be a showcase for everything great about London.
Will the traders be on rotation?
It’s a challenging time for restaurants, it’s difficult to find sites. We're being pinched from every single side, whether its rent or rates, or the uncertainty about Brexit. We're trying to provide a low barrier to entry to get people able to trade without massive amounts of investment on their part. We offer a range of lengths of lease periods with us, the shortest being six months and the average is about a year
What sets your market apart from other London markets?
I went to a KERB where we talked about the amount of traders out there and how there aren’t enough pitches for them all. We’re providing another avenue for a lot of these people as well as restaurants to take that next step up from trading off the street. Our scale and our ability means we provide more permanent kitchens. Taking on long leases means we can invest in the spaces. We're open seven days a week, which is different to a lot of places.
Will you struggle during quieter periods like weekday afternoons?
Natural fluctuation throughout the week is something that every restaurant business has to take into consideration and manage to the best of their capability, in terms of cash flow, staffing, and all those issues. We're prepared for those times and are making the spaces as welcoming as possible for the quiet periods.
How will you attract the weekday trade?
We'll be open for breakfast in the all sites so we’re putting in coffee shops and traders with breakfast offerings. We want to put lots of power in the place so people can sit and do a bit of work or come for meetings. Hopefully we'll be busy enough during core times so quiet periods will be used for the mise en place.
What gave you the idea for the project?
It's something that we saw making a real impact in other countries. A lot of the response councils and offices we have spoken to say they've been wanting this to happen for a while and can't understand why it hasn't been brought to them before. Culturally, people love choice. They like going to places where they are not tied to one style of cuisine and it’s a different way of dining. It’s of the moment.
How has the reaction from the councils been?
It’s been very positive. We obviously have to be very respectful, especially at the Fulham building. It still has the original shop front and the ticket office in place, and we have to be very respectful of its Grade II listing. Everything has been very positive because it is a new and vibrant thing that adds something different to the city and people are excited about it.
What will the Oxford Circus site look like? It’s set to be the UK’s biggest food hall.
It will be three storeys, 37,000sq ft, taking up about half of the BHS building. The ground floor will be mostly retail, where you can buy food to take home, then the first floor will have most of the vendors on it. The second floor will have a glass ceiling. It will be an amazing addition to Oxford Circus.
Are you confident it will attract enough trade?
Despite all the square footage around Oxford Street, only 0.3% of it is food. We are excited to provide somewhere new for people to go, and offer space for brands that would never be able to afford the rent of a West End location otherwise. Everyone is already signed up for Fulham, and the project is only going to get better.