In case you missed Eater's recent in-depth look at San Diego's ambitious new food-hall, Liberty Public Market: The Ultimate Guide, the 22,000-square-foot artisan mecca in Point Loma's historic Liberty Station officially soft-opened on March 21. Since then, thousands have flocked to San Diego's first grand-scale food emporium to explore, taste and experience offerings from its merchants and vendors, including The WestBean Coffee Roasters, Wicked Maine Lobster, Cane Patch Kitchen, Cecilia's Taqueria and FishBone Kitchen.
After a much-hyped (and long-awaited) opening, there has been a steady stream of locals and visitors alike stopping by to check out the scene; weekends are still bustling while business seems to ebb and flow during weekdays. Though there have been some complaints — lines and long waits, lack of seating and too much prepared food — most impressions have been positive and favorable. Eater spoke to Blue Bridge Hospitality principal David Spatafore and Executive Chef Tim Kolanko for their take on how the market has performed thus far.
With 12,000 visitors descending over opening weekend, Spatafore tells Eater that, while the vendors jumped up to the plate and delivered a fantastic opening weekend, soft opening was like learning to surf in 12 foot waves, saying "Tens of thousands of people have come through our doors since opening, every day there has been at least 1,000 visitors, and we’re looking at two to three times that on weekends. It was exciting to see San Diego embrace us so wholeheartedly, and we are thankful to our amazing tenants!".
ESD: Due to such high volumes of traffic, have there been issues with lines or accessibility?
DS: We’ve seen so much excitement around the market — most lines become an opportunity to socialize and people are happy to watch what’s going on and see the market in action. Even though the wait times have been reasonable, some vendors have learned how to adapt — introducing beepers so people can grab a drink and wander the market while they wait for their food.
ESD: Are there plans to include any additional latecomers to the vendor line-up?
DS: We’ve definitely seen a surge in interest in the remaining spaces, and we’re looking forward to announcing some new vendors soon.
Executive chef Tim Kolanko says the public response to progressive new restaurant concept, Mess Hall, whose daily menu is designed around ingredients sourced from artisans within the market, has been overwhelmingly positive — with visitors more adventurous than anticipated.
ESD: How has the produce available onsite been incorporated into the menu?
TK: We shop there every day so whatever looks good is what inspires the menu. We just got in some huge organic carrots from Be Wise Organics that inspired a new vegetarian dish; we spice roast them whole in the wood fire oven.
ESD: Any insider tips to help visitors navigate the space? We heard patrons can enjoy table service if they find a free spot to sit down beside Bottlecraft.
TK: The only table service is in Mess Hall dining room and by reservation in the Bar at night. The insider tip is to use the walkway between Stone and the market to get to the butcher, produce and fish area to shop when the market is really busy. It’s easier than managing the crowds to get through to those areas from the main entrances. My other tip is to get a pizza to go at the Mess Hall bar and take it outside to the patio to eat.
Veteran vendors Venissimo Cheese, new concept Liberty Meat Shop, and food truck transplants Mastiff Sausage also gave Eater the scoop on how things have been unfolding behind the scenes.
Veteran Vendors: VENISSIMO CHEESE
With cheese flying off the shelf and selling out of their 'grab and go' items within the first hour, long-time purveyors Gina and Roger Frieze hired two additional staff to help during opening weekend, but say the "LPM" experience has so far been incredible.
How would you describe the atmosphere among vendors at the market?
This project has been long overdue in San Diego, we’re just so excited to be part of this market. It’s such a friendly vibe, we’re all trying to help each other out every day. We work closely with Mess Hall — they are constantly buying a ton of cheese — we helped out Pasta Design with cheese when they ran out the other day and we supplied Cecilia’s Taqueria with olives when she ran out; it’s just a great community within the market.
How has the experience compared to opening your other brick & mortar locations?
This has honestly been one of the easiest build-outs ever, making it one of the most fun. I think it's a combination of us finally getting the hang of it after so many shops and of the market really helping out to maximize efficiencies. We got to be really creative with signage and design and let our true personality shine through in the space.
Food Truck To Brick & Mortar: MASTIFF SAUSAGE
Mastiff founders Eric Gallerstein and Jacob Bartlett say the transition from food truck to brick-and-mortar has been more of an 'addition', since their truck is still in full swing. While they experienced heavy traffic over opening weekend, they have already introduced new menu items and expanded offerings to keep the case full and their customers happy. Expect to see housemade sauerkraut, hot sauces and whole grain mustard in the coming months. Bartlett said,
"It's been great to be surrounded by so many different small businesses and artisans, which has made for a really fun and exciting environment. Since we're doing more and more catering and less 'public services', it's a lot easier to answer the question: 'where can we find you?'. It sure is nice to have a regular schedule and location!"
New Concept: LIBERTY MEAT SHOP
With than 45 years experience in meat industry, Liberty Public Market has been an exciting new endeavor for Tommy Battaglia, whose space is reminiscent of an old fashioned butcher shop. Battaglia said that while creating a traditional brick and mortar can be costly, with no guarantee of foot traffic, people wandering the market have turned into sales and repeat customers, with the store already boasting regulars. Says Battaglia,
"The soft opening hit us pretty hard, having thousands of people coming through the doors without ever announcing the market was opening was certainly unexpected, but welcome. Everyone wants to help each other succeed, and that makes for a great environment for patrons and stall owners alike."
Have you made it to the market for a visit yet? What are your thoughts? Leave your suggestions in the comments.