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An Inside Look at Aster Hall

Take a step inside Aster Hall, a modern food hall concept developed by acclaimed restaurateur Brendan Sodikoff and his team at Hogsalt, and the design of the space immediately sets the tone for a gathering space. 

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FE&S had a behind-the-scenes tour of the facility, which opened in November 2018, during sister publication restaurant development + design’s Tour the Design Trends event June 10.

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Aster Hall differs from other food halls in that the various food venues are all Hogsalt concepts, versus a collection of concepts from various operators as is often the case at other food halls. As such, the restaurant group was able to streamline its budget, kitchen design and equipment list without having to coordinate with other restaurant groups.

Designed by New York-based AvroKO, the 22,000-square-foot space was also meant to be tech-forward, Stacy Kolios, director of marketing for 900 North Michigan Shops told those attending the rd+d event. She played a key role in the design of Aster Hall.

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The space strives to create a  culinary oasis, a break for visitors of Chicago’s bustling Magnificent Mile. The experience begins with the self-op ordering kiosks set up along the south and north walls as guests walk off the central escalators leading to the fifth floor. Located on the sixth floor, Aster Halls’ sleek bar, Bar & Study, features lounge seating and a communal work space with windows overlooking the Magnificent Mile and Lake Michigan. The overall decor and interior design focused heavily on custom-built features, right down to the armchairs with quirky notations such as Junior Vice President.

Kiosks and Vaults

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Using the kiosks, guests can order food from any of the 16 stalls, which Hogsalt calls vaults. Options include Hogsalt’s flagship burger from Small Cheval, the fast-casual offshoot of the wildly popular Au Cheval; coffee and doughnuts from Doughnut Vault; brisket from Green Street Smoked Meats, and other food from 3 Greens Market. A prominent fifth floor feature, The Chocolate Bar, as its name implies, offers desserts along with some alcoholic beverages. Bathed in natural light from the atrium’s windows, this space features a white marble bar, glass food merchandisers and backbar refrigeration Hogsalt also worked with the shopping center that houses Aster Hall and AvroKO to design the pop-up foodservice areas, including a coffee bar on the ground floor in front of the entrance.

For the custom kiosk system, Hogsalt worked with a technology partner to develop the touch-screens (with facial recognition capabilities) and seamlessly integrate the customer-facing technology with the back-of-the-house kitchen ticket and POS reporting. Guests use the kiosks to place and pay for their orders and then receive a ticket with numbers that coordinate with the various vaults for food pickup. Orders listed as “in progress” or “ready for pickup” display on digital screens next to the vault windows.

While Aster Hall has no cashiers, several staff members float around the area to help guests navigate the kiosk system. Guests can also order beverages, including wine and beer, using the kiosks. Seating exists  at the countertops inside the vaults and at tables and booths scattered around the fifth and sixth floors, or in the upstairs bar.

Equipment Lineup

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The equipment line-up at the various vaults includes mostly standard and a lot of ventless equipment. For example, the sushi vault has a refrigerated prep table for all its ingredients as well as a larger cutting board and rice cooker, while the al pastor vault features a vertical rotisserie for the pineapple and pork, slow-roasted tacos. A variety of equipment exists throughout the different kitchen areas, including a a sous-vide machine for cooking eggs and other foods, induction burners, hot-holding cabinets, hot-cold wells and undercounter warming and refrigeration.

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In the back of the house, a large pastry and prep kitchen supports all the homemade pastries, breads, pizza dough, doughnuts and more for the various vaults. The pastry kitchen here also supports Hogsalt’s 3 Arts Club Café at nearby Restoration Hardware. Key equipment in this space includes a laminator for croissants and other laminated pastries, large mixers and commercial-grade proofers and baking ovens.

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Another unique feature is the marble and brass-inlaid handwashing station in the main front of the house area, which allows guests to wash their hands before and after without having to retreat to the bathrooms. A white-tiled inlet houses condiments, such as housemade garlic aioli and Sriracha sauce, along with compostable silverware, chopsticks and napkins.