Marble City Market has its ups and downs as Knoxville’s premier food hall

  • Regas Square started with 101 luxury condos, with plans for three restaurants on the ground floor.
  • In February 2021, Knox News announced that a food hall called Marble City Market would occupy the ground floor.
  • After multiple delays, Marble City Market became Knoxville’s first food hall when it opened on November 5, 2021.
  • Since opening, Marble City Market has lost five of its original 11 vendors, though management doesn’t seem concerned.

Marble City Market aimed to expand downtown boundaries with chef-focused concepts, but the public focus of Knoxville’s first food hall has shifted as vendors continue to leave.

The count is now at five, with Paysan Sandwich Shop and Fantail Fish & Fries becoming the newest of the original 11 sellers to announce their releases.

Among the remaining vendors, the average price for a main dish is around $13, and most often that price doesn’t include sides or a drink.

As the food hall continues its search for replacements – and customers demand more affordable options – we look back at the complicated history of the Marble City Market and the food hall vendors moving in after these recent departures.

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Regas Square is starting to take shape

January 2014: Ownership group Regas Property LLC is spending $2 million to buy properties that include the Regas Restaurant building at 318 N. Gay St. and a nearby parking lot along West Depot Avenue, Nick McBride told the Knox County Deeds Registry at Knox News.

March 2016: Knoxville City Council approves $4.95 million tax incentive package for the Regas Square development which at the time was designed with ground floor retail and three restaurants in mind. The new building would be built on the former Regas restaurant parking lot along West Depot Avenue.

July 2016: The developers reveal details about the project, billed as a $36 million investment it could extend the limits of the city center across the train tracks to the north. Pre-construction condo prices ranged from $189,900 to around $1 million for a penthouse suite, according to previous Knox News reports.

February 2017: A crowd of over 100 people watch the development of Place Regas inaugurates at 333 W. Depot Ave. The project was due to end in 18 months.

With 101 luxury condos located above, Marble City Market became Knoxville's first food hall when it opened at 333 W. Depot Ave.  November 5.  However, the food hall has since lost five of its original 11 vendors, who cited a combination of dwindling foot traffic, poor communication, lack of marketing and empty promises from management.

May 2019: The Regas Square development is completing its first condominium sale, a spokesperson told Knox News. Amenities for residents include underground parking, fitness center, private storage and city views.

Marble City Market plans revealed

February 9, 2021: Knox News reports Marble City Market will occupy more than 15,000 square feet of space on the ground floor in Regas Square. Building owners reveal the concept will be managed by food hall curator Hospitality HQ, who are beginning to seek out local and regional chef-led concepts to fill the food hall’s 11 stalls.

February 11, 2021: Tom Wolf, one of the owners of Regas Square, tells Knox News a “big name” supplier is in the works and describes the food hall as having a modern West Coast feel with clean lines and light colors. The food hall is expected to cost Wolf and his three partners more than $5 million.

May 11, 2021: Marble City Market unveils its initial list of food and drink vendors: Peasant Sandwich Shop, Fantail Fish and Chips, Penne for your thoughts,At Po’Richard, Seoul Brothers, Smash Knoxville,Corner pizza and Frank & George Bar.

May 20, 2021: Knox News begins its months-long reporting on each individual culinary concept that plans to open in the Marble City market. Following the supplier’s initial disclosure, Gekko Poke & Ramen, Lake & Oak BBQ, Myrtle Bakery and The Donut Theory are added to the opening day program.

October 2021: The head office of the reception comes out a call for applications. Just two weeks before the opening of the food hall – although this date has been pushed back – the food hall had 12 positions available, in addition to 30 to 40 openings at the vendors. Hospitality HQ joins Knox News’ ‘The Scruffy Stuff’ podcast to get a preview of the opening of the food hall.

Knoxville’s first food hall finally opens

November 1, 2021: Knox News receives an exclusive visit of the almost complete Marble City Market and learns some key details, including the decision to design the food hall look in complete contrast to what was previously popular in downtown Knoxville restaurants.

“So much heart and effort and work from everyone has gone into creating this space, but none of it matters until people are there,” he told the time Stefanie Hess, partner of Regas Property. “When you walk in and feel the energy of these people connecting and being in this space, that’s what makes this space really matter.”

While Hospitality HQ doesn’t share the costs providers pay to join, company co-founder Michael Wetherbee says chefs can typically open in a food hall for “$50,000 or less.”

November 5, 2021: The food hall finally opens after multiple delays. Crowds of people throng the food hall throughout the weekend to see what the fuss is about.

Drama heats up at Marble City Market

April 6: Knox News reports that Dustin Cochran, owner of Myrtle Bakery at the marble city market, bought The Donut Theory Laura Crawford’s concept and will keep the vendor’s stand running. Cochran also reveals plans to open a cafe inside the food hall.

April 28: After almost six months of activity, Po’ Richard’s becomes the first vendor to leave the food hall, citing the decrease in foot traffic and lack of promotion from food hall management. Management responds by suggesting that landlords weren’t involved enough and also shared that 25% of sellers’ gross sales go to things like rent, utilities, equipment maintenance and marketing.

May 12: The people behind Smash City, a Marble City market stall hailed by management as a shining example of vendor success, announce plans for a pop-up to fill a void left by Po’ Richard’s. Smash City owners Paul and Ashley Moody, who also have a spot at a Nebraska food hall run by Hospitality HQ, decide to temporarily open their Lanai Hawaiian Kitchen concept at the Marble City Market.

May 24: After hearing multiple concerns about the food hall from vendors and customers, Knox News releases an episode of “The Scruffy Stuff” podcast examining if Marble City Market lived up to the hype. The podcast includes suggestions, from adding healthier options to hosting more events, to setting up a station for utensils and condiments.

May 31st : Kati Roll Wala, an Indian cuisine concept, is announced as the permanent replacement of Po’ Richard’s.

June 23: Knox News reports Lake & Oak BBQ has left the food hall at the request of the reception headquarters, who cited the vendor’s failure to maintain health standards. When it comes to health inspections, the food hall was considered a single business, despite several vendors having their own stations throughout the building. Hospitality HQ assures Knox News that two departures are not a concern.

In a statement to Knox News, L&O partner Stephanie Williams said the restaurant decided it was “best for us to focus on our efforts in the Atlanta area,” noting that the recent health inspection was based on the “collective efforts” of the management and vendors of the food hall.

June 24: Knox News reports that the same folks behind Smash City are bringing a healthier option to the food hall in the form of Fresh cuisine from the valley, which would fill a void left by the departure of the sellers. Knox News learns that Hospitality HQ has made changes based on feedback, adding healthier options and a utensil station.

June 28: Hospitality HQ ad The Corners Pizza has left the food hall and that the management company’s own taqueria concept will replace it. When asked why Hospitality HQ wouldn’t consider a local supplier, Wetherbee told Knox News “it says a lot that not only do we manage (Marble City Market), but we operate on the same ground Everyone”.

Po' Richard's staff members prepare food samples during a VIP event at Marble City Market November 3, two days before the opening of Knoxville's first food hall at 333 W. Depot Ave.  Po' Richard's was the first vendor to leave the food hall, citing decreased foot traffic and a lack of communication, and four other vendors have since left or plan to leave.

July 15th : Paysan Sandwich Shop and Fantail Fish & Fries, two concepts involving Chief Matt Gallaher, announce they will also leave the food hall. While Hospitality HQ again says these fourth and fifth departures are no cause for concern, Gallaher shares his frustrations with management’s “blank check” on suppliers and a continued lack of communication, adding that “I don’t think that they care about Knoxville.”

Hospitality HQ responds by saying it has launched a monthly town hall for suppliers to address their concerns, in addition to weekly communication. To boost business early in the week, Marble City Market is starting to offer 20% off lunch and dinner orders on Mondays and Tuesdays when customers use Apple Pay.

The Future of Knoxville Food Halls

Ownership group Regas Property, which owns the building and is under contract with Hospitality HQ to run the food hall, has yet to meet with Knox News to discuss vendor turnover, despite multiple attempts to interview.

As Marble City Market seeks replacements for Paysan and Fantail, another food hall with separate ownership plans to open just south of the Tennessee River from downtown Knoxville.

Although subject to delays, this food hall plans to open in June 2023 on the former site of Kern’s Bakery on Chapman Highway, with 75,000 square feet of space to accommodate restaurants, bars, shops and more. .

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