To answer my own question to start:
I think there may be at least two instructive differences: one is that the food hall is about food AND social space and not simply an amenity offered while doing other retail shopping; second, the quality of the food is meant to be more artisanal or at least, of a higher quality than what most U.S. food courts offer. The food hall may be what James Rouse had in mind when he began to develop the festival marketplace decades back. Unfortunately just like that idea, the food hall will probably soon be used to describe every half-formed pitch for food aggregation that doesn’t really mean the same thing at all.
In one new food hall in New Orleans (St. Roch Market), the location had served as a public market long ago and is still owned by the city , but since 2005, the city had struggled with finding anyone who would manage the site to offer food to the neighborhood. One issue was the price tag needed to renovate the structure that the city wanted to split with the user. Another was the lack of parking and (small) size. Still, in terms of conversation among locals about how it should be used, it was a very hot property. I was even asked to write about this particular site before the food hall idea had been fully formed:
Finally from a need to check it off the “done”lost, the city did a smaller renovation and chose a young entrepreneur to develop it from the white box they offered. Since its opening, it has become a bit of a lightning rod about trendy food places and gentrification. It has its defenders, mostly millennials and visitors to the city, who use it for easy-to-plan group meet-ups with food and drink.
Some of the original group of vendors chosen have already moved on and some of their issues led one alternative paper to accuse the operators of cronyism. Other vendors have moved to other locations better suited to their demographic or operational needs.
Then there was a late-night graffiti spree caught on video that started another round of pros and cons on the site’s current use while on the edge of one poor neighborhood and directly across from a more gentrified one.
I have heard that since the opening of St. Roch the operator is being asked to develop 2-3 more of these food halls, with at least one in New Orleans and another in Florida.
Clearly, this trend requires some watching for food organizers and maybe some local analysis.
BI story on food halls