Food Hall Concept

The ABDA Design Challenge – How to create a Food Hall in the centre of York

It’s time for us to reveal the next instalment of our design challenge. This month we challenged ABDA designer, Michael Hall to take us to the North of England and create a stunning food hall in the city of York. Over the last few weeks we’ve been intrigued to see this completed design as we’ve heard little snippets of information from behind his computer about what he had in mind. The finished result is absolutely stunning, and we loved learning more about the ideas and inspiration behind this project. We caught up with Michael who took us through his thinking.

What brief were you set for this design project?

My mission was to develop a new food hall concept which is aimed at a more senior demographic in York. Otherwise the brief was open so I had the freedom to be as creative as I could and put my own stamp on it.

What was your inspiration for the design you have created?

I’ve been to York in the past but it’s not a city that I know loads about, so I kick-started the project with some general research about the place. This involved exploring who visits York and what they come to see, as well as delving into the history of the city. It was also key that I learnt more about the senior demographic and the places they like to visit and dine in. During the research, I found out there was a lot of chocolate heritage in York so bringing in the story of where chocolate comes from was an exciting starting point for this design.

Tell us about any other research you completed for this design.

It was important to look at the competition that is already in York and websites such as TripAdvisor came in handy to find the most popular restaurants. The Telegraph had an article on the ten best places to eat in York, so I looked at the décor, food offer and location of each of those venues. My next piece of research was to check planning applications for any new developments in the city, but many had already been taken. Therefore, I had to imagine a venue for this project, and I created a building based on Terry’s Chocolate Factory near the Merchant Houses on the river. I imagined having a derelict factory that I had the freedom to develop.

What demographic would you aim this venue at?

So, whilst my brief was generally seniors, I think this is aimed at a certain group known as “hipster seniors”. This demographic like to keep fit and generally travel and explore new destinations. They are health-focused, potentially vegan or vegetarian. However, I think this new place would also appeal to families including grandparents looking to take out their grandchildren. York is known for welcoming large tourist groups and I see this as a venue which could cope with this. With York attracting such an international crowd, I knew I’d need to explore different flavours whilst still offering some of those classic tastes of Yorkshire.

Tell us about the different food offerings and why you chose each of these.

As it’s a food court it has a number of cuisine choices: –

  • Seth’s Yorkshire Kitchen – Think classic Yorkshire; Emmerdale Farm back in the day and traditional Sunday English food. I even named it after one of the TV programme’s most iconic characters to help diners build a picture of the type of food they can expect to enjoy. Hopefully many of the senior generation will remember and relate to this heart-warming character.
  • Gourmet Luncheon – This section is pitched for international travellers. Guests will collect a picnic basket and be able to pick and mix foods that they can enjoy either at their table or sat outside by the river. It could even be served with a picnic blanket. I’m thinking sandwiches, ham, cheese, quiche, wine and afternoon tea. I don’t even see it as country house style tea, I’d want it to be served in a flask for something a little different and to add to the Yorkshire experience. It gives a little hint as to what local people may do on a weekend.
  • Botanical Plantation – This was picking up on current trends for more exotic foods and would be based around a cocoa plantation, where Terry’s sourced their cocoa beans. Dishes would be plant-based, healthy and vegan and there would be plenty of salads with an opportunity for customers to assemble their own. I saw this as an additional way of bringing in more income. Local residents could simply shop for their fruit and vegetables there or diners could choose items to be cooked and brought to the table.
  • Terry’s Chocolate Van – This is for those looking for a sweet treat and also picks up on the history of the company which ran the fictional factory. The van would be located on the ground floor so it could be somewhere people took items away in a ‘grab and go’ style. Imagine treats such as Chocolate Orange cookies, coffee and cakes.
  • Cocoa Roaster – This is part of the machinery you see when you first walk in and as well as serving coffee it would include old equipment from the factory to showcase the building’s history.

Describe some of the key features of your design.

It’s created over two floors, in a big building as I want to create drama around the venue. This is a place to experience and explore, not just dine. With any food hall, it’s important to consider the customer and so I’d have the ground floor as the designated food area and upstairs as more of a bar for those looking to relax. The further you go into the building the more you are away from the bigger crowds and the whole building opens out onto the river where diners can sit on a decked area.

In our research we discovered that a Terry’s Chocolate van would deliver chocolate, so I wanted to convert an old van into a barista coffee servery.

The seating is varied throughout the venue. For example, in the plantation area I’ve suggested rattan furniture with padded seating so guests can be comfortable. Also whirling ceiling fans and balcony veranda pick-up on elements of exotic tropical plantations. The Merchant area and the upstairs seating is more fully upholstered and includes sofas for people to relax and unwind.

In principle, the whole place is quite neutral in colour and made from natural materials. The colour then comes from the plants and the greens of the trees, as well as via the food.

How would the different elements you have designed help drive revenue?

It caters for lots of different customers and demographics from local senior citizens and families to international touring groups. My aim was for this to be somewhere that people want to go as part of the whole York experience. For example, you would go to York for The Shambles or Minster, you would also go to experience this exciting venue and learn a bit about the chocolate history of York.

Can you give us some examples of how you have considered the customer journey when creating your design?

I imagined that on the front we’d build a new dramatic glass entrance on Bridge Street which would have a tropical forest so it would catch the eyes of passers-by. When customers walk in, I wanted them to have a clear choice of where to go. On one side would be the smell of cocoa and coffee to instantly set an enticing scene of the plantation. And on the other side would be the sights and theatre of the main food and cooking offers. Each section would have its own personality. For example, in the Gourmet Luncheon we may have cured meats hanging, Seth’s Yorkshire Kitchen would have pots and pans hanging from the ceiling and Botanical Plantation would showcase unusual plants. You would basically get a feel for what the food offering is without seeing the name or menu. Customers would make their order at the counter but would be given a number to take back to their table. However, these won’t just be numbers – it could be on a miniature picnic basket in the Gourmet Luncheon, a saucepan in Seth’s Yorkshire Kitchen or a plant pot in Botanical Plantation. It’s these little features that will make guests smile and remember the experience.

What is your favourite part of the design for the food hall?

It’s the atmosphere and wow-factor of the plantation area. I’ve tried to showcase typical Yorkshire food but set in a more exotic location. There’s so much to see and experience and I can just picture a child’s excitement at being there.

Is this the kind of venue you would like to visit?

Yes, I absolutely wish this was a real venue I could eat out at. What started out as a venue that was aimed at senior citizens has become a destination which I think everyone would want to go to. The demographic and the city of York have been a huge inspiration and designing it was lots of fun too!

let’s have a chat about your next project…