Introducing Lyric Market
Houston's massive new food hall raises the bar for downtown dining
The food hall trend has been slow to arrive in Houston. Whereas New York City had more than 20 as of last summer, the Bayou City only has one, downtown’s Conservatory, but three more are coming soon.
Plans are already underway to develop Finn Hall at the Chase Bank building and the Bravery Chef Hall at the Aris Market Square luxury high-rise, but a new project has ambitious plans to become one of the city’s hottest dining destinations.
Lyric Market, a downtown project that unites real estate developer Jonathan Enav with Clark/Cooper Concepts (Ibiza, Brasserie 19, Coppa Osteria, etc.), looks poised to take the emerging trend to the next level. Slated to open in the fall of 2018 at the intersection of Smith and Prairie, the project’s massive size, 31,000 square feet with 800 dedicated parking spaces, makes it stand out from the competition.
Enav tells CultureMap that the idea first came to him when he and his wife would go to theatrical performances in the Arts District. He says they were always disappointed by the limited dining options that were within walking distance of an area that draws over 1.5 million visitors annually. He also recognized that downtown’s residential options had been increasing more quickly than the number of restaurants.
“When we were working on the plan, we planned to just have four or five restaurants but not doing anything more interesting that,” Enav says. “Through my international travels and the commercial tenants...ultimately, we thought the food hall market concept would work.”
Enav explains that he invited Clark/Cooper to serve as management and curators for the project because he’s a huge fan of their restaurants. Recently, they traveled to Sarona Market in Tel Aviv to learn more about its operations and tenant mix. In speaking to vendors, they learned that operators have to take dinner into account for all of the participants to be successful.
“During lunch is a no-brainer, you get somewhere in a big CBD you’ll get lunch...we were going to design for dinners,” Enav says. “The seating that was going to be close to the vendors is moved to around the bar area to create a livelihood during the evening to give people a reason to visit. We designed towards the industry’s weaknesses in order to focus on what we could do during the evening hours. We put almost $1.5 million into a lighting capability to light the outside of the building. We have the exact same system as the Empire State Building.”
Clark Cooper co-owner Grant Cooper tells CultureMap that he’s drawing on his time living in and visiting Europe to help select the right mix of vendors for the project. While both Conservatory and Bravery have focused on local chefs and operators, Lyric has a different vision for the 20 to 30 vendors who will occupy the facility.
“We’re reaching outside of Houston,” Cooper says. “We’re going to have a bakery and coffee. We’re going to have sushi. I just don’t necessarily want to bring those from Houston. I want to bring in other operators from around the country and around the world.”
While no one’s ready to reveal who might be coming to the market, Cooper says he’s received an overwhelmingly positive response from interested parties. The plan is to use his and business partner Charles Clark’s 25 years of experience in Houston restaurants to help tenants from out of town tweak their concepts into eateries that Houstonians will embrace.
“When you say Houston, people recognize what it is and what the opportunities are,” Cooper says. “We want to make sure we pull the trigger on the right operators that are a fit for Houston. That we don’t have too much overlap. That we have a cross section of different kinds of cuisine.”
Clark Cooper won’t spinoff one of its concepts for the market — bad news for anyone dreaming of downtown access to fried chicken from Punk’s Simple Southern Food or pasta carbonara from Coppa — but the company will operate the bar in the middle of the hall and a private events space. Ultimately, he says their goal is to create enough diversity that people could eat there multiple times per week. Enav adds that leases will be structured to prevent tenants from serving dishes that compete with each other.
The restaurant aspect seems pretty well-defined, but the “market” component is a little more tentative. Rather than retail options like a grocery store or a butcher, Enav says he envisions restaurants selling their ingredients as to-go options. For example, diners might be able to buy charcuterie from a sandwich shop or fish from a seafood restaurant. A wine store and a chocolate vendor are also in the mix. Cooper expects Lyric to host a bi-weekly farmers market that could also be a draw.
As for all those other food halls coming to downtown — including the rumors of one planned for the former Barbara Jordan Post Office — Enav says he welcomes the competition.
“Frankly, I’m very excited to see we’re expanding to many more,” he says. “I would love to see 20 open in Houston in the next few years. We’re always looking for something to do in Houston, and I think they’re great to do with the family to explore the city we live in. I’m excited by more as opposed to threatened by them.”