RIVERSIDE: Eclectic food mix proposed near Fox theater

From PE.com 1/22/16

RIVERSIDE: Eclectic food mix

proposed near Fox theater

A developer’s plans for “Mess Hall on Market” would include more than a dozen dining choices in downtown Riverside.

Urban food halls like L.A.’s Grand Central Market or the newer Anaheim Packing House have been a draw for diners who like a variety of food choices clustered in one place.

Riverside is poised to jump on the trend when it opens Mess Hall on Market, a downtown restaurant space down the block from the Fox theater that will house up to 15 vendors such as creative chefs, coffee and dessert stalls and a wine bar.

It’s still just a concept, but developer Jerry Tessier, who is negotiating with the city to build the project, has a clear idea of how he wants it to take shape.

“We’re not looking for corporate chains,” said Tessier, of Pomona-based Arteco Partners. “You really need to create fresh and new items for people to experience.”

City officials and others say a big selling point of the food hall will be its proximity to the Fox Performing Arts Center. The space, in the building next door that includes a parking garage, black box theater and museum exhibit space, has been empty since the building was finished in 2013.

City Councilman Mike Gardner, who represents downtown, said officials talked with several “big-name, chain restaurants” but weren’t able to snag the kind they wanted.

Early feedback from people who go to concerts and events at the Fox and black box theater – called the Box – is that they like the idea of grabbing a bite or a drink before or after a show from a place that’s less formal than a sit-down meal, Gardner said.

The focus will be on dining, but the vendor mix could include produce, a cheese shop or a butcher, Tessier said. He’s interested in partnering with Riverside City College’s culinary school and offering pop-up stalls that let entrepreneurs try a food concept with less risk and at a lower cost than a brick-and-mortar restaurant.

At 12,000 square feet, the Mess Hall would be significantly smaller than other food halls in Southern California. Tessier, who developed the Pomona Fox theater and the Claremont Packing House in Claremont, has done this sort of thing before.

The Claremont development is a restored citrus packing house that features a comedy club, community art studio, knitting store, coffee and ice cream shop and restaurants serving crepes, pizza and Mediterranean food.

Sal Medina’s Packing House Wines was one of the first businesses in the Claremont building when it opened in 2007. He said he likes how it’s evolved into “a building that you can lose yourself (in) for a day” with eating and browsing the stores.

Packing house visitor Caitlin Ocegueda, who was there chatting with friends over coffee recently, agreed.

“I come here all the time,” said Ocegueda, a recent Cal Poly Pomona graduate. She takes a yoga class there in the mornings and planned to have dinner at one of the restaurants that evening.

Shelby Willard, a journalism student at Cal Poly Pomona, called the building unique.

“I like the setup of it,” she said.

Both women said they’d check out a Riverside food hall if they were in the area.

Medina said he may want to be a tenant in the Riverside project, which Tessier said will have vendor stalls grouped around open space with tables.

“That’s what people today are looking for is that communal dining space,” Medina said.

Homegrown entrepreneurs are interested, too.

Ronaldo Fierro, who runs the Salted Pig restaurant and W. Wolfskill cocktail bar in downtown Riverside, said he has talked with Tessier about a space in the Mess Hall.

Fierro’s not worried that the new venture would take business from his establishments.

“We’re really excited that it’s happening,” he said. “Downtown can handle three to four times as many restaurants with the population down here.”

Updated information 10/6/16

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