What’s for dinner? Everything!
By Michele D. Baker | Photography courtesy of Cultivation Food Hall
Cultivation Food Hall in Jackson offers everything from kebabs to cookie dough in a stylish, airy space where deliciousness is the norm.
A contemporary twist on the old mall food court, food halls are an emerging trend across America. The appeal for vendors is that they don’t have to invest in a brick-and-mortar location to have a restaurant. The benefit for consumers is a wide variety of healthier and better-tasting quick food options ranging from bruschetta to rice bowls.
Open since January 2019, Mississippi’s only food hall is the centerpiece of Jackson’s The District, a carefully curated collection of boutique restaurants, local businesses, fitness centers, banks, a hotel, and luxury living spaces developed by The District Land Company, LLC.
Cultivation Food Hall is a contemporary open space with clean lines, floor-to-ceiling windows, and understated, yet elegant fixtures designed by Jackson-based Mary Saunders Ferris, a veteran in the area of luxury hospitality. The hall is essentially a large, airy space where the startup risks are shared and the rewards can be delicious.
“A food hall is a restaurant incubator for small or up-and-coming brands trying to establish themselves,” says Nick Secoy, general manager. “It’s a place for Emeril [Lagasse] or Mario [Batali]’s sous chef or a line cook trying out a new concept.”
Restauranteurs use the highly creative, low-risk format as a growing and learning tool. Short-term leases and flexible rent and profit-sharing plans allow for a wide range of food entrepreneurs to make a successful entry into the notoriously difficult restaurant business. Six of the eight food stall spaces are run by independent restauranteurs; the remaining two stalls and the speak-easy style bar are run by Cultivation Hall until they can be rented out to new tenants.
All restaurants share a large kitchen and refrigeration space; prep areas; dumpster service; plates, glasses, utensils and barware; and point-of-sale service to take payments. Chefs and staff alike team up to wash dishes, bus tables, and sweep the floors. The Hall provides the lighting, music, and entertainment in the “living room,” a common space stocked with comfy couches and tables.
One of the most established tenants is Rachel Phuong, owner of Poké Stop, a new Asian street food concept. The rice bowls are similar to deconstructed sushi; gluten-free and vegetarian options are also popular. (Phuong also owns Stuffed Asian Street Food.) “I love the food hall culture and the diversity of it all,” she says.
General manager Secoy compares it to a small community. “It’s like being in a rural area where people are small-town friendly,” he says. “It’s comfortable, creative, and constantly evolving as chefs and their restaurants move in and out of the space, cultivating fresh ideas around food and beverage.” The passion of the restaurant teams is infectious, and their inventive and delectable efforts are being noticed. TheManual.com — a national men’s style, food, and culture website — named Cultivation Food Hall one of its 10 destination-worthy food halls throughout the United States. Forbes gave the hall a shoutout, and it was named Best New Restaurant by Jackson Free Press. Food & Wine even mentioned the hall in an article titled “The Best Coffee in Every State 2019.”
In early 2020, COVID-19 precautions forced the food hall to close for two months. “It really affected our business, and we had to look at staffing,” says Secoy. “We knew it was the right thing to do to make a sacrifice for the greater good.”
Fortunately, the restaurants in the hall were able to adapt quickly by pulling together to implement safety and social distancing procedures, and the hall is once again open. “We were able to pivot and rebuild our core team,” he continues. “We can see the top of the hill and there’s momentum.”
In February 2021 the final food stall was filled with Kei Kebabs, the brainchild of a former Gold Coast bartender trying his hand at Persian fare. The support of the group and entrepreneurial spirit of these budding chefs are just two of the reasons for Cultivation Food Hall’s continued success despite social distancing rules, supply-chain shortages, and all the other challenges faced by budding restauranteurs.
“After 20 years in the restaurant business, it’s so enjoyable to watch these chefs succeed,” says Secoy. “They bring their passion, and we do the rest.”