By JACK WEATHERLY
“It was the hardest soft opening ever. It was crazy,” said April Baucum, a mixologist at the Gold Coast Bar.
She was not alone in that sentiment. She was helping to hold down one of the nine vendorships in the new Cultivation Food Hall.
Friday and Saturday were supposed to be the “soft days,” leading up to the Sunday “official opening.”
But she said she didn’t stop moving as she worked her 5 p.m.-till-closing for three days starting on Friday.
At midday Sunday, the vendor lines were backed up and the tables were full in the 9,000-square-foot food hall (including the patio) in Jackson’s District at Eastover.
Some customers gave up and went across the street to Cantina Laredo or Fine & Dandy, eateries that opened in the district in the past two years.
Understandable and not unexpected, said Cultivation General Manager Patrik Lazarri.
District developers Breck Hines and Ted Duckworth had in mind a culinary destination, Lazarri said.
And the hall, the first of its kind in Mississippi, certainly has added a lot of foot traffic to the destination.
Lazarri demurred when asked what the gate for the weekend was, but he said it was evidence of a “great response.”
“The fact that we have eight different restaurants offering different menus allows . . . someone to surf different areas of the building each time,” Lazarri said.
Sort of a moveable feast.
Already, “I’ve seen a lot of repeat customers,” Lazarri said.
Take Kristin Mullen, for instance. By Monday night she had been to the hall several times.
Ariella’s Delicatessen is her current favorite.
She was sitting at the deli’s semicircular bar with a white marble top with her 15-year-old son, Alex, and two neighbors of theirs from the “Loho” district (slang for “left over” from the elite Eastover neighborhood).
On Saturday, she had matzo ball soup, which she said was “delicious.” and on Sunday she enjoyed a Reuben sandwich. Before the hall opened, she attended a party there, she said.
She and her friends in Loho are already adopting the place as their “living room.”
The New Orleans native said she has missed the Old Tyme Deli, which closed about 20 years ago at Highland Village.
Lazarri said the hall is kind of like the open-air or old-building markets in his native Italy and elsewhere in Europe, where food is the attraction and interaction with people is the lagniappe.
“I knew it would bring positive attention to Jackson,” said Lazarri, who is an engineer by training and a foodie by nature.
He and his wife, Cristina, own two of the vendorships – Bocca Pizzeria, which makes the pies in the simple Neopolitan style, and Whisk, a creperie.
The hall is designed to evolve, he said.
In fact, it changed even before it opened. The deli is where an oyster bar had been planned, he said. That didn’t materialize. But evidence of it are the curved bar and deep sinks behind it.
Who knows what tomorrow will bring.
The concept is like an incubator for small operations to allow them to grow into stand-alone restaurants somewhere else, he said.
“Our main goal is to support local talent,” he said.
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