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Colorado's Love Affair with Food Halls

What does it mean for the future of architecture?


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To say that Colorado has transformed over the last five years would be an understatement. The influx of residents has spawned new design trends and inspired places that have rapidly become fixtures of the state. One trend that seems to still be gaining traction: Food halls. And while Colorado is not the only state to have fallen in love with the European-style food market, it certainly embraced it.

A food hall that has quickly become an iconic destination here is Avanti. Opened in 2015 in the Lower Highlands, Avanti has consistently been ranked as a top spot to visit – Uber named it the second most-visited place in Denver; it won 2016 and 2017 Lyftie Awards for the Most-Visited Denver Restaurant and it was recognized for a 2016 AIA Denver Design Award.

But what is it about food halls that makes them places that locals and tourists have flocked to? What are the unique design opportunities and what does it say about architecture's future?

We recently sat down with Avanti's architect of record, Chad Mitchell, AIA founder and principal of Meridian 105 Architecture to get his take on these questions.

BRINGING A VISION TO LIFE

When owner and developer Rob Hahn first hired Mitchell to design Avanti, he was inspired by outdoor food markets in Spain and wanted to localize the concept to Denver.

To recreate Hanh's favorite street market, Mitchell completely transformed the 30-year-old brick structure that houses Avanti. Mitchell designed what looks like a street-scape on the inside of the building, using shipping crates to create seven standalone kitchens.

"A kitchen creates a big demand on a building, so doing multiple, each with mechanical and plumbing systems, was one of the biggest obstacles," explains Mitchell.

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IT'S ALL ABOUT THE EXPERIENCE

Bursting with choices and variety, Avanti creates an exciting experience for people every time they visit.

"It's atypical of a standard restaurant, where you are seated at a table and confined to your booth and only the menu choices in front of you,” says Mitchell. “But at Avanti, you can hang out with your friends or family, determine your own budget and curate your own experience. If one person in your group wants Chinese food, and another wants a burger, you are in one spot that can accommodate both. You can set your own budget and easily get a meal and a cocktail for $10 or $20."

Core to the Avanti experience is the great panorama of downtown. To accentuate the views, Mitchell designed a variety of seating options, again enabling patrons to choose their own adventure. In addition to the iconic bleacher seating, a place that Mitchell says is ideal for pre or post-dinner drinks, there are two rooftop decks, which satisfy Colorado’s passion for patios. For snowy days, there are indoor tables and a lounge area with comfortable sofas and chairs.

WELCOMING TO ALL

“I think what makes it so successful is that if you were to go there at 11 a.m. and stay until close, you’ll see a different group of people migrate through every few hours,” Mitchell says.

From families at lunch, to the after-work happy hour crew at four, followed by couples out for drinks and dinner at night, the activity in Avanti never stops.

Mitchell also believes that Coloradans’ active lifestyles contributes to Avanti’s acclaim, because it offers a place to wander around and explore, even if they cannot be outside.

A RESURGENCE OF MOM AND POP SHOPS

Mitchell says his clients are not having trouble filling their projects with retailers and restaurant.

“It’s almost like, ‘If you build it, they will come,’” he explained. “Sellers and makers want to be a part of places like Avanti.”

The reason? Food halls are providing a place where craft culture is celebrated, and shop owners have a chance to start small and test their work. 

“It’s the resurgence of mom and pop stores. As a culture, we are coming back around to an appreciation of quality and creativity. The new generation has money to spend, and they are demanding that it be on quality experiences,” says Mitchell.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR ARCHITECTURE IN COLORADO?

There is no sign of the food hall craze slowing down. In fact, Meridian 105 is currently working on two more.  

Mitchell’s clients are embracing the opportunity to combine food and beverage, retail and some type of “fun zone” under one roof.

In fact, Mitchell thinks that food halls will inspire the design of other project types, and even beyond four walls, into public spaces.

“I think it will be interesting for architects to apply the concept of people curating their own experience into the design of other places, like an office building.”

People want to have choice in the way they use buildings, and architecture in Colorado will continually evolve to accommodate that in new and exciting ways, starting with a few more food halls.


Marisa Pooley, APR is the marketing and communications manager at AIA Colorado.

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