What: A large food hall on Brighton seafront that has a comparable operational model to the likes of Boxpark and Market Halls. Set within a 15,000 sq ft Victorian building that has been being restored by Brighton & Hove City Council for nearly five years, Shelter Hall Raw is a heavily adapted version of what was originally planned. The pandemic started to hit as the building work commenced early this year necessitating a drastic rethink: the build had to be delivered quicker and for less cash and it also needed to be as COVID-19 proof as possible. The plan is to trade as Shelter Hall Raw until around the end of the year before closing and re-opening as originally envisaged in early 2021, at which point the venue will revert to being simply Shelter Hall. Smack bang in the centre of Brighton lining up with the end of West Street, the pretty, red-brick building is accessed from the lower promenade. The street-level rotunda upstairs has been let to Riddle & Finns owner Robert Shenton on a separate lease and is expected to open later this summer
Who: Former Deliveroo managing director Dan Warne is leading the project aided by an equally heavyweight senior team that includes sector veteran Graham Turner, Lucy Knowles (former group marketing director for SSP), Ian Banks (former CFO at Soho House) and Isabella Hersom (former operations manager at Boxpark). Olivia Reed - who is well-known in the city having held senior roles in Brighton and Hove restaurants including The Salt Room and Terre a Terre - is overseeing day-to-day operations as restaurant director.
The vibe: The project was clearly delivered on a significantly reduced budget and time scale but the finish is professional with a number of clever design elements. This coupled with a high-ceilinged space that was impressive in the first place has resulted in a venue that the city can be proud of now and will likely be even more proud of when it re-opens next year. The food stalls and the main seating areas are largely constructed from chipboard and corrugated see-through plastic while the brick-built bar has a more finished look and will presumably remain when the venue throws open its doors once again next year. The eponymous rawness of the ceiling and brick work have been softened by hanging fabrics that depict Brighton landmarks. Toilets aside, the mezzanine area is not opening until next year.
The food: The initial plan was to open with 10 traders but Warne and team have opted for just six operators. This is partly because the mezzanine is not open yet but also - one suspects - because the reduced capacity of the venue means there simply weren’t enough customers to go round. As originally planned, Shelter Hall Raw champions local operators and has recruited three businesses that already have a strong presence and reputation in the city: Neapolitan pizza group Fatto a Mano, Carlito Burrito and Lost Boys Chicken. Making up the line-up are Brighton Coffee Works, Cuban-style sandwich maker Toasted by GB Charcuterie and hummus and falafel specialist Smorls. In the lead up to the project rumours were swirling about other Brighton and Hove restaurateurs and chefs being involved who would offer something a little more high-end and creative. As it stands Shelter Hall Raw is offering little that’s not already available in the city - the brand’s are essentially offering abridged versions of their restaurant menus - but given the circumstances it’s a solid and sensible line-up. More traders next year and plans for a rotating spot for people to try new things will give the city - which is not short on talented chefs and restaurateurs - a much needed springboard for new ideas.
And another thing: Ordering at Shelter Hall Raw is almost exclusively digital. As you’d expect from the ex-boss of Deliveroo the technology has been implemented flawlessly. As customers enter the venue they are invited to log-in to the WiFi which takes them to the venue’s ordering platform. Then it’s simply a case of signing up, setting up a payment method and ordering to numbered tables (it's also possible to order from outside the venue for click and collect and most of the traders have a presence on Deliveroo). A single in-venue order can contain food from multiple traders and the bar making for a hassle-free experience that’s a marked improvement to most other food hall venues, which typically require the customer to queue for each individual trader and then return to pick-up their food. The approach is also safer, cutting down on traffic and giving Shelter Hall Raw an easy means of capturing customer data.