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VOL. 130 | NO. 244 | Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Plans Forming for Memphis’ First Food Hall

By Madeline Faber

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A norm on the East and West coasts – and an even older tradition in Europe and other international cities – indoor food markets are making their way to the Southeast in cities like Nashville, Atlanta, Little Rock and St. Louis.

Rebecca Dyer inside 409 S. Main St., where she has plans to establish Memphis’ first indoor food hall.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Now Memphis is set to join the fray as first-time entrepreneur Rebecca Dyer plans the city’s first indoor food hall in an historic Downtown warehouse.

The three-story structure, 409 S. Main St., is at the corner of Huling Avenue and was briefly owned by Visible Music College. On Nov. 20, Dyer with La Famiglia LLC purchased the 41,072-square-foot building for $1.2 million.

In January, she’ll launch a $1.5 million renovation aided by architect David Schuermann and contractor Metro Construction. With her background as a project manager for Accredo Healthcare Inc., Dyer’s ready to stay on top of a September 2016 opening for the event venue and a fourth quarter opening for the market.

Think of a farmers market on steroids. That’s Dyer’s vision in bringing together 10 to 12 vendors slinging everything from rotisserie meats, ramen, breakfast food and dessert to wine and beer, cheese, bread, fresh cut flowers and artisan soaps.

The vendors will take up 400-square-foot to 500-square-foot bays and do their own build-out but bear a cohesive design. Dyer provides the water and gas, and the Memphis entrepreneurs bring their own equipment, menus and pricing. Communal seating will take up the middle of the floor.

Rebecca Dyer on the presently unused third floor of 409 S. Main. She purchased the building for $1.2 million last month and will launch a renovation in January.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Dyer will be the only employee, and the vendors will operate as independent contractors. With short-term leases and low overhead, she hopes to encourage an eclectic food market made of established restaurateurs, food truckers seeking a satellite and first-timers trying out a new concept.

She’s also in talks with a well-known Downtown chef who would use the market as an incubator to test out new menu items.

“We encourage the entrepreneurial spirit,” she said. “We want them to leave us after two years so I can bring in something new and fresh.”

She first had the idea for a Memphis food court after visiting the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia a decade ago.

“I loved the sounds, smells, foreign accents, all the activity,” she said. “But in 2005, Memphis wasn’t where it is today.”

When a friend visited a food hall in New York City and returned to Memphis with the same enthusiasm, Dyer realized her opportunity.

She started looking for properties in earnest over the summer, with two other family members who make up La Famiglia. The South Main property was donated to Visible Music College in early 2015, and the school will still collect revenue for events booked through July 2016.

Dyer said that keeping the integrity of the building is key, so the iconic exterior murals from the building’s days as White Wilson Drew Co. and Lucky Heart Cosmetics are staying. The 100-year-old hardwood floors will be restored and the exposed brick will be highlighted.

“We want to keep it rustic,” she said.

The third floor will be converted into a full-service event space with a built-in catering kitchen, bride and groom lounge and combined dressing room and bathrooms.

Dyer said the building’s view over Memphis’ skyline would only be enhanced when she builds out the rooftop. She anticipates that the event space could hold around 400 people.

The future of the second floor is still taking shape. She’s considering using it for vendors seeking long-term leases or for artists looking to rent studio space with ample natural light.

When it comes to parking, Dyer hopes that patrons will use the trolley that stops at the front door. For events, the parking lot at Huling and South Main can be rented with or without an attendant.

“For now, it’s a blank canvas.”

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