More chicken sandwiches are heading to downtown Detroit’s Fort Street Galley this month. Food hall operator Galley Group confirms that a second outpost of chef Phill Milton’s chicken-centric food stall Which Came First is scheduled to land in Detroit on Friday, October 25.
Milton operates Home at the original Smallman Galley in Pittsburgh and opened the first location of Which Came First in May at Federal Galley. He also joined Fort Street Galley in May with a restaurant called Table, which was brought in to replace Korean seafood spot Pursue.
Milton will be now be taking over the former Lucky’s Noble BBQ space with another Which Came First. The restaurant operates with a hybrid fast-casual format where customers choose from chicken breast, thighs, or eggs and select a preparation: pickled brined or grilled. They then choose from a wrap, bun, or salad. The restaurant will also offer sides like deviled eggs, macaroni and cheese, and Nashville hot poutine. Diners can expect items like fried chicken and funnel cake during brunch.
Challenges at Fort Street Galley
Fort Street Galley is run by the Galley Group, which has opened similar food halls with a restaurant incubator format across the Midwest. The founders tout Galley’s relatively low startup costs for restaurant owners looking to test a menu. Restaurants applied for the spaces through a competitive vetting process. As part of their one-year lease, businesses pay 30 percent of their revenue to Galley Group. Galley Group in turn pays for the buildout of the stall, as well as the insurance, utilities, and marketing for partnering restaurants. After the year is up, restaurants have the option to stay on if they’re successful or open in their own space.
The Detroit location opened its doors last December with a higher-end format than Galley had attempted at other locations. While the four startup restaurants offered an interesting mix of cuisines, the food hall seemed to struggle from the start with foot traffic. Relatively high ticket prices also drove away some of the lunch crowd that Fort Street Galley had aimed to attract in the downtown business district. Pursue owner Mike Han was put on a 30-day probationary period prior to closing and given recommendations by Galley Group to make his menu more “approachable.” He chose not to adjust the menu.
Allenby closed a few months later, due to low sales. It was temporarily replaced in July by former Pittsburgh-based pizza stall Michigan & Trumbull, which plans to open a full-scale restaurant in Corktown this fall. (A delayed liquor license may push out that opening.) Lucky’s Noble BBQ exited the food hall on October 13, with plans to become a ghost kitchen for mobile orders.
Other Galley Group food halls have notably not had the same kind of turnover that the Fort Street Galley has experienced in its first year. Nevertheless, the apparent dysfunction at the Galley Group’s Detroit location was recently the subject of a report by Heated, looking at the challenging economics of food halls.
Last Original Stall Standing
Filipino restaurant Isla, owned by pastry chef Jacqueline Joy Diño and her husband JP Garcia, is now the last remaining remaining stall from the opening lineup. Garcia told Eater that he and Diño are still contemplating next steps as they approach the end of their contract at the end of November. “There’s been conversations between me and the owners of this place about staying or putting up another concept,” he says, “But my goal as always will be to open a Filipino restaurant.” Isla has outlived the other Fort Street Galley restaurants in part due to the strong support for the Filipino community, who come from across the region to try the restaurant’s takes on lumpia, lechon kawali, and vibrant purple ube cake. Even so, keeping the food hall restaurant going has been a challenge.
While the food stall format offers customers — especially larger groups — more choice, it also forces the restaurants to compete for each customer’s dollars. “[For] every customer who walks in here, there’s four businesses vying for their business,” Garcia says. “When we first opened, the pie was a little bit bigger to be shared. But now that not that many people are coming through, the pie is getting smaller.” Pursue was first to go, Garcia observes, because the food costs of serving sushi-grade fish were extremely high with a limited shelf life. And as the restaurant lineup changed throughout the year, Garcia says that new restaurants that came in sometimes served items that were too similar to others already operating in the space. Table, for example, served sandwiches — an essential component of Allenby’s menu.
These days, Isla gets by with one full-time employee in addition to Garcia and Diño. Garcia says he’s grateful for the opportunity to test their restaurant in a space like Fort Street Galley, because it provided a platform for he and Diño to test their food and gain sales history. However, in terms of allowing Isla’s team to earn capital towards a future restaurant, the Galley Group model fell short. “It’s near to impossible with the percentage Galley Group takes to have capital when we leave,” he says. “I’m able to afford my day-to-day expenses but in terms of being able to save up, no. [We’re] kind of living paycheck-to-paycheck.”
Garcia says that more marketing and events would have also helped make the whole venture more successful. “Up to today, I’m still getting clientele from the Philippines who didn’t know we were here and that speaks loud on the marketing here.”
Still, Garcia feels hopeful that he and Diño would be able to survive in a different context with the lessons they’ve learned at Fort Street Galley. “I think if I brought my concept elsewhere I would be able to make it,” he says.
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