Food hall in Cook County Hospital development to open with roster of minority-owned vendors

Dr. Murphy’s Food Hall opens Aug. 3 in a refurbished hospital building with a lineup of not-your-usual-suspect vendors, some of whom are first-time operators and 75% of whom are minority and women-owned businesses.

Visitors to the food hall will face a wide-range of food-options, from Nepalese street food to Mississippi Delta cuisine, Vietnamese dishes to Southern barbecue, New York style pizza, Mexican taqueria dishes and baked goods.

Opening in the former Cook County Hospital building (1811 W. Harrison St.), the food hall is named for Dr. John B. Murphy, a pioneering surgeon who studied, practiced and ultimately taught at Rush Medical College (like Cook County Hospital, part of the Illinois Medical District) in the late 1800s. The hall is being operated by Hospitality HQ, whose CEO, chef Akhtar Nawab, owns such restaurants as Alta Calidad in New York, Otra Vez in New Orleans and Prather’s on the Alley in Washington D.C.

Chef Akhtar Nawab, CEO of Hospitality HQ, which is opening Dr. Murphy’s Food Hall, says the business model can handle the safety restrictions required in the pandemic era. “We feel that the food hall will be an even stronger model than it has been in the past,” he says. (Jessica Ebelhar)

The coronavirus, and the social-distancing rules designed to blunt its impact, have raised questions about the future viability of food courts. Nawab and his group think the future is bright.

“We see it a little differently,” he said. “We feel that the food hall will be an even stronger model than it has been in the past. Moving forward, food halls definitely will have a more prominent position in the dining world.”

“With a lot of restaurants — even large spaces seating 250, 300 people — there are limited configurations of the floor plan you can achieve while allowing socially distancing,” Nawab said. “But food halls — Dr. Murphy is 10,500 square feet, and we’re actually able to create floor plans, with modular seating, so that people are comfortable and can feel safe.”

“You can order in queue, managing social distancing, with plexiglass dividers to manage the transaction safely,” he said. “Or you can order ahead through the website, and pick up at the concierge area. We also will have curbside pickup and delivery. So we’ve created a few ways for people to safely get what they want.”

“I’m originally from Louisville, so I spent a lot of time in Chicago,” Nawab said. “When I was a kid, my father practiced for a time at the old Cook County Hospital. So it’s interesting, even compelling, that there’s this connection.”

“I can’t remember what the hospital was like then; I was too young,” he said. “But when I toured the place before agreeing to open here, it was in such dilapidated condition, it’s remarkable how far it progressed, how good it is now.”

The refurbished building also will be home to medical office space, a daycare center and a 210-room, combination Hyatt Place and Hyatt House hotel, which opened earlier in July.

The vendor lineup is low on recognizable names, which Nawab said is exactly how the group wanted it.

“We really seek out artisanal-style vendors,” he said. “We’re not looking for vendors with six, seven, eight locations, but first-time or second-time operators who really have the energy and determination to say something — just like any chef who has a skill set they want to show and talk about.”

To get the diverse range of less-experienced operators, Hospitality HQ provided some with vendor grants to defray opening expenses.

“That was one of our objectives,” Nawab said. “We’ll cover initial startup costs, take some of the upfront-money burden away for a time period, and allow (vendors) to focus on the business. We’ve seen a lot of our friends struggle, and unfortunately even those who got PPP money are burning through that pretty fast. So we asked for those with little resources, or whose businesses had been totally crippled, to speak up. We still recognize that you have a skill set, we recognize you have a voice and something to say.”

This will be the group’s second food hall. Inner Rail Food Hall, in Omaha, was first, and Lyric Market, in Houston, is planning to open in December.

Read Full Article