CHICAGO (CBS) — Food halls; a trend that popped up all over the Loop in the past decade.

They’re like fancy food courts where dozens of restaurants serve thousands of people for lunch, but now many people are working remotely and eating at home, and on Friday the popular Wells Street Market will shut down.

CBS 2 Morning Insider Lauren Victory take us inside the food hall concept and COVID-19’s effect.

Business at Fry the Coop was sizzling when it first opened at Wells Street Market last year.

“We immediately like, took off,” owner Joe Fontana.

Their Nashville hot chicken became one of the hottest commodities in Chicago’s financial district.

“They would tell everybody in their office about it and the next day, they’d come back with like seven people,” Fontana said. “For two, three hours a day, it was like absolutely crazy in here.”

Eight months after joining other success stories at Wells Street Market, COVID-19 hit. Since then, the food hall had been squeaking by with limited outdoor seating.

Now, each restaurant’s sublease has been pulled, and Wells Street Market’s doors will be closing for good.

“All of us where hoping to see this area come back a lot quicker than it has,” said Britni DeLeon, co-founder of FARE restaurant.

Popular vendors like FARE never even tried to re-open after being forced to close in the early stages of the pandemic. Even once they were allowed to open again, keeping up with fresh food and appropriate staffing was too tricky.

“There was just so much uncertainty that it didn’t feel right to come back,” DeLeon said.

Sarah Griffin, general manager of Revival Food Hall, about six blocks away, said the business is slowly coming back to life, but many downtown businesses that the food hall relies on are still closed.

“As people return to ‘normal,’ and they return to working in the Loop and visiting in the Loop, we want to be that space, that location that everyone goes to,” she said.

For now, Danke is the only lunch spot open at the 24,000 square foot space.

Others will phase in when ready.

Customers can only carry out. No seating is allowed to prevent the spread of the virus.

“We definitely are feeling this, and we’re in this with our hospitality brethren,” Griffin said.

Wells Street Market opens for its last day at 7 a.m. Friday. From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Fry the Coop will give out free sandwiches, fries, and drinks.

The food hall will turn off the lights at 7 p.m.

Meanwhile, Fry the Coop may be forced to close the its Loop location, but is about to open two suburban locations

FARE signed another lease downtown before the pandemic, and the fate of that brick-and-mortar spot is unclear. Owners are currently looking for a neighborhood location, away from the Loop.

The fate of food halls in general is to be determined.

Perhaps one good sign, UrbanSpace on Washington Street still says “coming soon.”

 

Lauren Victory