everything's happy underground

Veteran operator breathes new life into downtown’s first food hall

Veteran operator breathes new life into downtown’s first food hall

Houston, Crisp Woodlands, pizza, June 2015
Crisp's pizza will be available at Underground Hall. Courtesy of Crisp
Underground Hall downtown food hall logo
Underground Hall will open next month. Courtesy of Underground Hall
Underground Hall downtown food hall exterior
Work has already begun to transform the space. Courtesy of Underground Hall
Houston, Crisp Woodlands, pizza, June 2015
Underground Hall downtown food hall logo
Underground Hall downtown food hall exterior

The space that had been home to Conservatory won’t stay empty for long. Underground Hall will soon take its place.

The new food hall is being led by Daut Elshani; he’s a hospitality veteran who previously served as director of marketing for the Salt ‘N Pepper Group (Third Floor, Beer Market Co., Pub Fiction) as well as the director of hospitality for the recently opened Buffalo Bayou Brewing Company brewery in Sawyer Yards. Having supervised the construction and hiring that helped make the new Buff Brew a smash hit, Elshani tells CultureMap he wanted a new project. Coming back downtown, where he helped Salt ‘N Pepper open both Moonshiners and Boots ‘n Shoots, appealed to him.

While Conservatory is in the process of relocating to the former Chapman & Kirby space in EaDo, Underground Hall will give new life to the space with new vendors and a new vibe. The location’s relatively turnkey status helped make it a compelling project, Elshani says. With only minor cosmetic changes planned — new paint, new lighting, etc — he expects to be open before Rodeo season starts at the end of February.

In some ways, Underground Hall will build on Conservatory's template. Elshani will continue to make craft beer one of the space's primary offerings, and the venue will stay open late on weekends. Beyond changes to the interior, Underground Hall's beverage offerings will include more cocktails than Conservatory had.

So far, Elshani has signed two vendors, and he’s planning his contribution to the space. Heights-area pizzeria Crisp will brings its signature pies to the food hall, and Beer Market Co will oversee the space’s extensive tap wall. Conservatory’s Noble Rot wine bar will become Underbar, which will continue to offer wine alongside a selection of cocktails and spirits.

From there, he’s ready to hear pitches from different potential vendors who want to be part of Main Street’s bustling nightlife scene. Elshani says he wants at least Asian-style concept and is open to specialty fare like a healthy-eating restaurant or Nashville hot chicken.

Houston’s food hall scene has changed dramatically since Conservatory opened in 2016. Three other food halls — Finn Hall, Understory, and Bravery Chef Hall — have opened downtown with at least two more, Lyric Market and Post Houston, scheduled to debut in the next year or so. Elshani thinks Underground can appeal to patrons with a casual, welcoming atmosphere and by staying open late on weekends to serve the crowds that flock to bars on Main Street.

“All the other food halls that I’ve visited and seen were very much chef-driven, upscale,” he says. “Whether it was their design or their offerings, I think they can be intimidating to the everyday Houstonian who wants a range of choices but still has that casual vibe. I want to attract residents and industry workers and everyone else in between.”

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