Designers faced challenges ranging from working with an older building to designing stations with flexibility in mind to accommodate unknown operators.
Cini•Little International Inc., was brought in by the architects working on a major revitalization of the Old Post Office building (which sounds like a description but now serves as the building’s proper name) in Chicago’s business district, little did he know the twists and turns this project was going to take in 2019, pre-pandemic. Being such a historic building inside and out, Patronski knew that would introduce some additional complexities to the foodservice design.This wasn’t going to be just any ordinary food hall project given the historic nature of the building with an origination date of 1921. When Kenny Patronski, project manager at
First off, the project involved one of Chicago’s more recognizable historical buildings in that it arches over a major expressway running to and from downtown Chicago and the Western suburbs. It was once the largest post office in the world, spanning three city blocks and where 19 million pieces of mail were processed daily. Building owner/developer JLL (Jones Lang LaSalle) describes the renovation of the Old Post Office as “the largest adaptive reuse project in the country.” After sitting vacant for more than two decades, companies such as Walgreens, Uber Technologies, Cisco and PepsiCo, among others, now have office space there.
By 2019 architecture firm Gensler had already completed an $800 million overhaul of the building — one that restored many of its original art deco touches. The next phase of planning and design work for the food hall portion was just kicking off when COVID-19 hit in March 2020. “Like many projects that had started prior to COVID, the project went on a little delay because opening a food hall during a pandemic wasn’t anyone’s first priority,” says Patronski.
The food hall, dubbed From Here On, is the brainchild of 16” On Center, operator of Revival Food Hall, also in Chicago’s Loop, spans the 18,000-square-foot Grand Hall on the first floor of the building overlooking the Chicago River, paired with a 26,000-square-foot patio set up for alfresco dining and live music. Though remote work continues for many, the food hall has the capacity to feed 11,000 office workers in the building as well as the general public.
“We are hoping to create a marketplace in The Loop that represents Chicago chefs and their neighborhoods — one that includes art, live music, and a solid community in the Old Post Office,” says Tim Wickes, director of food hall operations for 16” on Center, who notes that the team representatives of the building ownership drew them into the project on the hospitality side.
The name From Here On “stems from our general optimistic feeling about this project and building,” Wickes explains. “When driving under it [an interstate literally goes through the building], we always felt that the day ahead could and would be a great one. The building is iconic in Chicago. We are humbled to be a part of its rebuild.”
Once the COVID-related delay passed, the design process continued forward. Patronski says he was asked to build in more flexibility because it was not yet known what types of restaurants would operate from the various stalls. “With operators changing all the time, we had to essentially create something before we know exactly who was going to operate it,” says Patronski, who notes that that’s what made this project extra unique.
Usually, the M.O. for most foodservice designers is to design around menus and concepts, but what happens when you don’t know what that is or there’s a possibility for a lot of change? “We had to really think about the accommodations that would be needed for all the stalls and that made the process more creative in that sense,” Patronski says.
The idea was to go with a more minimalist design for each of the 10 stalls, each of which would include basic components: a hand sink, a single- or small two-compartment sink, worktables and an exhaust hood. The operators would then bring in their own equipment; though Patronski was not the specifier for those pieces, he did provide advisory services for that process (more on that in a bit).
“The scope in general compared to other projects was much less than most in that we didn’t provide a full-on outfit for each stall, but [the project] required a lot of coordination because of existing building conditions and limitations we had,” Patronski says.
Part of that coordination was working with engineers to figure out a way to run plumbing and electrical through all the stalls. Sounds easy enough, but there was a little problem: the Metra, Chicago’s suburban train system, runs underneath the ground floor. “We couldn’t dig into the floor because of the clearance needed for Metra so we couldn’t run plumbing and electrical beneath each [stall],” Patronski says. To accommodate that, the team built a “platform” or crawl space of sorts running just below the flooring to hold all the wiring and water connections necessary.
The real challenge came when designing the coffee bar, which sits at a level that’s slightly lower than the main food hall. The mechanical engineers devised a plan for the drainage needed for that stall to be pumped up into the platform connected to the adjacent stall and then drained out that way.
Fitting the Fans
When it came to meeting exhaust hood needs, it was almost like algebra in that the project team had to determine the “greatest common denominator,” Patronski says. The team essentially worked backward with the mechanical engineer to get the maximum number of cubic feet per minute feasible for the project and then recommend a fan that could accommodate all the stalls.
“When you only have one fan, you only have a set number of CFMs or exhaust airflow for the space in entirety,” Patronski says. “So, if the fan can hold 10,000 CFMs, then you have to take that and calculate the number of stalls and the maximum hood you can have at each stall and determine if that is enough exhaust hood for each stall to do what they need to do. We had to determine what is the maximum we can get out of the space without putting a damper on anyone who wants to come in and operate in the space.” To date, luckily, no one has wanted to bring in a smoker.
Speaking of smoke, Patronski specified a newer fire protection product at the time, one that works well in single fan/multiple hood systems like food halls and airports. The system prevents a full-systems-go dump of chemicals and extinguisher at all the stalls when there’s a smoke trigger in the fan, regardless of which stall caused it. Rather, the system feeds off trigger points at each of the stalls and through electronic monitoring, will release extinguisher only at the stall that’s creating excess smoke or flames.
The design of the back-of-the-house prep and catering kitchen located one floor above the main floor, allows it to function as a shared prep and dishwashing space for all vendors. The space can also accommodate event catering foodservice needs.
Building historical requirements prevented Patronski’s team from putting any equipment along the windows in the prep kitchen. To accommodate, the cookline was set on the opposite wall, all on casters, with prep tables in the center and at least a couple feet away from the windows. “With so much light and windows looking out to the city, which is unheard of in most kitchens, it made for a nice space to work in,” he says. The equipment package specified for the prep kitchen included an exhaust hood and a four-burner range, a combi oven, small fryer, tilt skillet, griddle and ice maker.
The walk-in cooler brought about another creative engineering endeavor. To accommodate the various vendors using the same kitchen, Patronski’s team worked with a manufacturer to build lockable, chain link-like “cages” inside the cooler on either side with an aisle in the middle. That way, each vendor can go in, unlock their spot, grab the items they need and lock up at the end of the day.
“This was definitely the first time I had done something like this,” says Patronski. The space constraints at each of the stalls allowed only for single-door reach-in or undercounter refrigerators. “The purpose of this walk-in was to be a place where all vendors could hold product for long-term use.”
While Patronski has noted that his equipment specification work was limited for this project, his team was retained by JLL to take an ongoing advisory scope, recommending certain types of equipment that might work best in the space and the exhaust-system capabilities. “Vendors show us the equipment they’re looking at, and we’re asked to verify if it will work from an exhaust hood/airflow standpoint and to make sure that the layout they’re showing is not going to pose any health code or fire protection concerns,” says Patronski, who has also been helping vendors better understand the dimensions of the space so they can select right-sized equipment pieces so workers aren’t bumping into them or each other.
The creative thinking and collaborative masterminding have paid off; the highly anticipated From Here On opened its doors in June.
From an operational standpoint, Wickes says that, like with Revival Food Hall, the team leaned more heavily into tech operations, creating an app for ordering and offering in-office ordering and delivery as well as catering.
“We see From Here On as a beacon of hospitality to the neighborhood around it,” Wickes says. “We’re well aware it’s a new era in The Loop, but we’re already excited to see the amount of people coming downtown thus far. It’s now on us to continue to bring art, music, great food and beverage to The Loop, and we’re hoping the people will continue to follow.”
From Here On, the new food hall from 16” on Center, operators of Revival Food Hall, Dusek’s Tavern, Thalia Hall, MONEYGUN, Pizza Friendly Pizza and more, officially opened this summer with nine vendors spotlighting locally owned Chicago dining concepts. Additional restaurant concepts will follow. The vendor lineup to date:
Familiar Bakery: a new bakery from chef Ashley Robinson showcasing globally inspired pastries, breakfast sandwiches, house-made bagels, savory pies and more
Flo’s Taco’s: a Durango-style Mexican concept that serves dishes inspired by the family’s hometown in northern Mexico, such as Mama Rosa’s famous flautas, Durango-style burritos and quesabirria
From Here On Cafe & Grab n Go: an all-day cafe and full-service coffee bar, with craft coffee and espresso drinks, cafe treats, and curated grab-and-go items
Hot Chi Chicken: a Chicago-meets-Nashville hot chicken concept with playfully named dishes such as the “Popeyes Ain’t Sh!t” chicken sandwich and Nashville hot chicken tenders
Millie’s: the longstanding all-day diner (family owned and operated) with homemade recipes that include their famous buttermilk pancakes and custom-blend burger
Snorkelbox: a massive bar, operated by 16” On Center and situated in the center of the 18,000-square-foot food hall, that serves craft cocktails and other beverages
Tempesta Market: a multiconcept Italian eatery from the family behind Nduja Artisans Salumeria, offering in-house charcuterie, craft sandwiches and gourmet take-away items
Phobox from Phodega: a collaboration between the team at Chicago Lunchbox and Phodega, serving Vietnamese classics in a modern atmosphere
FARE: a plant-forward concept, the brainchild of Kasia Bednarz and Britni deLeon, offering seasonal and healthful bowls, toasts and baked goods