Downtown Erie's Flagship City Food Hall lineup changes as opening draws near –

Two years and five months ago, the Flagship City Food Hall was little more than a concept being introduced to the public for the first time.
Today, the 8,000-square-foot project being developed by the Erie Downtown Development Corp. is moving quickly toward an opening date sometime next month.
Construction workers swarmed last week over the property along North Park Row. Some installed tile. Others sanded rough edges, while electricians worked from scaffolding to complete their work.
2020 coverage:Beer, wieners, tacos, shawarma, desserts: Erie’s Flagship Food Hall announces vendors
Hundreds of workers who have had a hand in the project will be among those invited to try the food and get a look at their completed efforts at a special pre-opening event in mid-November.
The food hall that they visit, expected to open a few days before Thanksgiving, will offer a slightly different mix of vendors than the lineup announced in October of 2020.
Originally, plans called for Red Letter Hospitality, the North East restaurant company that owns Molly Brannigan’s, The Cork 1794 and the Skunk & Goat Tavern, to serve as the manager of the food hall and to operate three of the nine vendor spaces, including a taco and bowl stand, a delicatessen and a combination bar and pizzeria.
Those plans have changed.
Earlier coverage:Erie group rolls out plan for $30 million culinary arts district
Anne Lewis, director of marketing for Red Letter, said the hospitality company learned in September that the EDDC’s had re-evaluated its planned schedule for how long it would need outside management for the project.
She said in a statement that Red Letter Hospitality “was informed they (officials with the EDDC) were going to bring management of the food hall in-house. As a result of this decision, the EDDC also elected to bring the management of the bar and pizza oven in-house.”
She wrote: “We truly enjoyed our time working on the Food Hall and Market and look forward to seeing the success of the transformative investment in downtown Erie.”
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John Persinger, CEO of the EDDC, said it had always been the group’s plan to eventually manage the food hall. With the support of the EDDC’s board, the decision was made to take on the task of managing the food hall and the market sooner than originally planned.
Despite staffing issues and other challenges facing the restaurant industry, Billy Lewis, co-owner of Red Letter, said his company had been willing to move ahead with its plans to fill two vendor spaces in the food hall.
But Red Letter also was open to stepping back.
“In July, we said if you can find two more entrepreneurs to go in and take these stations, that would be fine on our behalf,” Billy Lewis said. “We would never have done that if they couldn’t find other vendors.”
But the EDDC has found other vendors and has also hired two new employees to help manage both the food hall and the Flagship City Market, which is expected to open later this year at the western end of North Park Row.
Related coverage:Flagship City Market: Butcher, distiller and a grocery named for downtown Erie venue
Additions to the original lineup of vendors include Dina’s, a Dominican concept restaurant, owned by Dina and John Csir, that will invite patrons to customize their own meals by choosing from a selection of stewed meats, beans and other ingredients.
Another vacancy in the food hall will be claimed by Blue Willow Bakery & Cafe. The team of Stephan DiTullio and Nick and Lori Sala plan to offer baked goods and sandwiches.
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Management of another element of the food court, a new pizza oven that’s a central piece of a new U-shaped bar that will seat more than 30 people, will be led by a new EDDC employee.
Mark Inscho, who will serve as director of food and beverage operations after spending 10 years at the Erie Club, said he’s looking forward to the new challenge.
“I love it,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun.”
Persinger said the EDDC also has hired Corey Cook, a longtime UPS employee, to serve as the director of operations and logistics. Cook, who will work with vendors, also work eventually to develop a plan to launch a delivery service that would deliver food from the food hall and groceries from the food market to selected downtown locations.
But first, there is construction to finish over the next couple of days and equipment and furnishing to install in the food hall, which will seat about 150.
Chris Potter, an Erie native and New York City restaurateur who will be the co-owner of Noodlelove, an Asian fusion restaurant in the food hall, said he’s excited by the project’s unique design.
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Instead of a more conventional food hall design — featuring a central dining area, surrounded by food vendors — the Flagship City Food Hall is a product of the brick archways and other design elements of the century-old building.
The building reveals itself to visitors one turn at a time as they walk through the building, Potter said.
“You have to walk through to get the experience,”  he said. “I really like it that not everything is the same. There is a lot of character.”
Contact Jim Martin at 814-870-1668 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @ETNMartin.


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