Andrew Zimmern explains why his Chattahoochee Food Works delivers on the true potential of a food hall

Zimmern and Robert Montwaid’s northwest Atlanta space will be home to Lebanese barbecue, Mexican street food, all-day breakfast, and more

Rendering of the Makers Building at the Works

Courtesy of Selig Enterprises

What’s Eating America host Andrew Zimmern and Robert Montwaid (of the Gansevoort in New York) have announced the first vendors for the Chattahoochee Food Works food hall in northwest Atlanta. The 26,000-square-foot space is located in the Makers Building at The Works (1295 Chattahoochee Avenue Northwest), which was once an industrial warehouse area. The food hall will feature 31 stalls, as well as an indoor/outdoor bar run by Montwaid. “It’s a community center,” he says.

“It’s a celebration of families, food, and spirit,” adds Zimmern, a partner in the food hall, responsible for the overall vision. Montwaid is on the ground more, sourcing the individual vendors.  

Scheduled to open in the fall, it will feature Babakabab Lebanese barbecue; Taqueria La Luz, Mexican street food from the founders of Zocalo; and TydeTate Kitchen, a “bite-sized experience of Thai food.” There’s also Graffiti Breakfast, an all-day breakfast restaurant from chef Marcus Waller; Unbelibubble Tea House, a bubble tea shop from Duluth; and Morelli’s Ice cream’s third location. Montwaid’s prosecco bar will offer charcuterie and crudo, in addition to drinks. Scofflaw Brewing and Fox Bros Bar-B-Q have spaces outside of the food hall.

We spoke to Zimmern and Montwaid to learn more.

Robert Montwaid and Andrew Zimmern

Courtesy of Selig Enterprises

What’s your vision for the food hall?
Zimmern: To provide something dramatic and of benefit to the community at large. It’s a historic series of buildings on a historic parcel that’s been stunningly restored. We want to do something that elevates food by—and for—the community. The events of the last six months have underscored the necessity to provide low-barrier entry to business for food entrepreneurs. At a time when so many businesses are struggling, we’re finding incredible interest from vendors and the Atlanta food community.

Montwaid: We put in all the hardware (electric, underground drainage, hoods). This allows the vendor to focus on food. All the services—management, cleaning, bathrooms—are included in the one check they write.

What makes The Works food hall different from others locally and around the world?
Montwaid: The physicality of the space. It’s an old rail building without a lot of columns. I saw the design in my head. We do a more boutique market space. We want it to be an incubator for young businesses. We license the booths to owner-operators, not chains. This local expertise makes it more community oriented. It’s a more homey, comfortable space where people can relax and hang out all day. A lot of food halls have become very commercialized and slick. We leave a lot of the design to the vendor because it creates diversity.

Zimmern: You end up inspiring people in the community to take that entrepreneurial step with a greater chance of being successful. You have a less formulaic environment, more from-scratch cooking, and a ton of passion. These vendors are cooking what they love from their cultural traditions and their communities.

How do you choose the tenants?
Montwaid: I’m attracted to people’s passion and their stories. The vendors we announced today are all family businesses. [Before we choose businesses], I go on an eating frenzy. I want to engage with the people and see their passion for what they do. Do they really believe in their product? Are they going to be present? A lot of it is word of mouth. Food is very universal. Everyone has an opinion on it.

Taqueria La Luz is a brother-and-sister team from Mexico City. They’ve been running Zocalo in Midtown for 25 years. The sister went to New York City and came back to do this. The concept is Mexican street food.

Graffiti Breakfast is a husband-and-wife team [that] sources ingredients from urban farms. His [breakfast-all-day] menu includes prosciutto-wrapped peaches, fried green tomato toast, zucchini bread, sweet potato cranberry donuts, and whole catfish and grits. Once a month, he’ll have a chef’s table with a three-course brunch menu for two.

Unbelibubble Tea House is a husband-and-wife from Duluth. They gave me a tutorial in making bubble tea. I didn’t know it was so complex. They make their own tapioca and tailor their bubble tea to the customer’s desires.

TydeTate Kitchen is a brother and sister. Their mom is the chef. She has been in the kitchen for 35 years. He worked at Nan Thai and Tuk Tuk.

Zimmern: Food is good. Food with a story is better. Food with a story you haven’t heard about is better than that. Food with a story you haven’t heard about but can relate to is best of all. I think everyone can relate to the story about wanting to own your own business, cook from your heart, and lean into your passion.

We spend a lot of time thinking about our mix of vendors. Having people who exemplify the values we want to see extends the longevity [of the stalls]. Take Babakabab. It’s Lebanese barbecue. They’re currently a food truck, so it’s super cool to see their business grow.

Rendering of the Works

Courtesy of Selig Enterprises

How has the pandemic changed your plans for opening and operating?
Montwaid: The great thing about the space and site is we could probably seat 1,000 people. The market is bordered on three sides with outside space. We’ll be able to open safely and keep social distancing in place.

Zimmern: The full development here—80 acres of green space with tons of open areas for dining—will be really successful as we wind our way through the viral part of the pandemic.