“You used to put Gucci into a building to attract tenants,” a real estate expert told us. “Now, you need Union Square Hospitality Group and Momofuku.” Related Cos. executive Kenneth Himmel certainly understands that. According to Bloomberg, Himmel has been on a hiring spree over the course of the last year, trying to recruit chefs for the upcoming Shops at Hudson Yards.
For those of you who don’t know what Hudson Yards is, you will. Currently, it’s a massive construction zone in West Chelsea, but once completed, it will be more than 17 million square feet of commercial and residential space that will attract 24 million visitors annually. It’s a $20 billion project, and the food is going to be one of the most important parts. “It almost begins with restaurants,” Himmel said. “You cannot talk today about shopping centers or executing great urban mixed-use projects without them.”
Food used to be an afterthought. Look at suburban malls. The best you can do is a slice of pizza from Sbarro. My mall at home got a 16 Handles a few years ago and based on how excited everyone was about it, you would have thought the shopping center had recruited Jennifer Aniston to hand out free In-N-Out animal style burgers all day to shoppers, in a bathing suit.
Not anymore. People are demanding better food, and chefs and real estate developers are answering the call. In the last year, two major food halls have opened up in both Grand Central and Penn Station, creating oases in food deserts. The eating at Governor’s Ball this year will pretty much equally as exciting as the music, thanks to a curated lineup of food stalls by The Infatuation. No more going hungry until you get home. Stadiums are stepping up to the plate, too. Madison Square garden is now home to David Chang’s fried chicken sandwich joint, Fuku, among other more elevated offerings.
So far, Himmel has recruited Thomas Keller, Costas Spiliadis of Milos, and Jose Andrés. He has room for “six or seven additional ‘signature’ restaurants and a similar number of smaller concepts.” He’s also said that Danny Meyer‘s Union Square Hospitality Group is developing a 46,000 square foot food hall, though a spokeswoman for USHG has said there’s currently no deal in place.
A decade ago, this would have been preposterous. According to Himmel, he tried to get Meyer to work with him on the Time Warner Center, which Related opened in 2003, but he wasn’t interested in not having a storefront. But that’s before chefs were celebrities, and before everyone was doing all their shopping online. Now, you need great food to bring customers and office tenants. And Himmel is being diligent and aggressive. He’s been “dining incognito a lot this year,” occasionally “ordering from the menu like food critics on an expense account.”
With perseverance and determination like that, the mini-city is going to have an awesome array of food choices.
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