The Historic Manhattan Casino launches food hall memberships for aspiring restauranteurs

Monday 21st December 2020

A food hall at The Historic Manhattan Casino, along with a coworking space, are scheduled to open in the first quarter of 2021.

Starting a restaurant from scratch has more than its share of challenges, especially when it comes to finances.

That's why the people behind the redevelopment of The Historic Manhattan Casino are launching a membership for restaurateurs interested in being part of its new food hall, slated for a soft opening in late January or early February 2021. The membership will cover many of the overhead expenses associated with owning a restaurant such as kitchen equipment, utilities and staffing, giving fledgling restaurant concepts a chance at success without being saddled with up-front debt.

"This is a pretty exciting venture for us," Mario Farias, partner and director of development for Callaloo Group LLC, said of the food hall which will replace Callaloo, the popular Southern fare restaurant. It will also be home to an outpost of the Rising Tides Innovation Center, a coworking company.

So far, Farias has received about a half dozen applications for membership in the food hall, which is located in the historic casino in the heart of The Deuces and has served as a traditional hub for Black businesses, homes and entertainment. The food hall will be able to accommodate five or six restaurant concepts at a time in a shared 2,800 square foot commercial kitchen.

To be considered, applicants must have some sort of restaurant experience, such as operating a food truck or running a catering company, along with a goal of opening their own brick-and-mortar restaurant in the future. The managing partners, which include former NFL player Vincent Jackson and restaurateur Ramon Hernandez, will analyze the applications to ensure there isn't duplication and will meet with applicants to discuss their vision. Then there will be a menu taste test - "the best part," according to Farias - to make sure the dishes can be executed.

Applicants that don't have enough experience will have the opportunity to participate in the Food Lab Incubator based at the food hall to learn from seasoned restaurateurs and entrepreneurs. Those that do make the cut will go in alongside anchors including Better Way Barbecue, Three Generations Catering and Heavenly Hands Desserts. Each restaurant will cover their own costs for their ingredients, chef and custom menus while The Callaloo Group will provide the hosts, wait staff, bussers, dishwashers and kitchen management.

"It's a fraction of what it would cost to open a regular restaurant," Farias said.

Membership fees will vary depending on what the restaurant needs to operate, and while there is no set time on how long they stay, Farias said he hopes that the restaurateurs will use their time at the food hall to hone their culinary and business skills.

"It's our hope that everyone will grow and develop more restaurants for the south side," he said.

And for diners, Farias hopes that a visit to the food hall will give them a true sense of the flavor of the city.

"We want our restaurants to be as diverse in terms of cuisine as the city of St. Pete is in real life," he said. "If we can accomplish that - and I know we can - we've done something special. We'll be creating the next generation of restaurateurs in St. Pete."

The deadline for the first round of restaurants seeking space in the food hall is January 7, 2021. For more information and to submit an application, click here.

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