Restaurant, Meet Market. Market, Meet Restaurant.
If you want Menu MBK’s bacon thyme parker house rolls for breakfast, don’t bother hoarding them and asking for a doggie bag. After you finish dinner at chef Frederik de Pue’s Penn Quarter restaurant, you’ll find a four-pack for purchase on the first-floor market. Didn’t get to try that stinky bleu on the rolling cheese cart? There’s a full selection available to go, along with vacuum-packed duck confit and baskets of sunchokes so you can recreate the dishes you just had. The market is also stocked with Amish eggs, pastries, jams, pickles, coffee, produce—almost all of which are ingredients in the upstairs BistroBar or the six-seat, tasting-menu-only counter known as Kitchen.
The restaurant-market hybrid (MBK stands for Market, BistroBar, Kitchen) is De Pue’s second take in the spot. He closed his seafood restaurant Azur there last September after it had been open only about five months. De Pue realized that if he was going to make the building work, he’d need something that would better take advantage of the multistory space and draw traffic in a sometimes quiet part of the neighborhood.
“What I really like is that we have, from morning until night, people in the building. It’s something that you don’t really have with a restaurant,” De Pue says. “It’s having revenue coming in 12 hours a day...When you sit on very expensive real estate and you have those huge leases coming in on a monthly basis, it’s very tough to absorb only when it’s one good evening shift.”
The restaurant-market hybrid isn’t new; plenty of great examples have popped up over the last several years, including Shaw’s Seasonal Pantry, Cork Market & Tasting Room on 14th Street NW, and Alexandria’s Society Fair (which recently opened another location in Arlington). But the model is really booming now. Whether it’s a full-blown market, an adjoining cheese or charcuterie shop, or just a table with produce and canned goods, restaurants all over town are looking for ways to add retail to the dining experience. Simultaneously, places like Little Red Fox and Glen’s Garden Market are redefining what it means to be a market, offering food prepared by restaurant chefs and hosting prix-fixe dinners with wine and beer pairings.
The mix is good business: Owners can diversify their revenue sources and give people another reason to step in the door, which is increasingly necessary to survive the dining world’s ever-more-ferocious competition for patrons. But the market-restaurant combo is also the next progression for chefs trying to show off their local and artisan cred; it’s one thing for a restaurant to tout its use of local tomatoes, and another to be able to actually show them off in a wood crate fresh from the farm.
Since its January opening, Menu MBK has begun to create a symbiosis between its restaurant and market: People come for the market and discover there’s a restaurant and bar upstairs, or they come for the restaurant and realize there’s a market downstairs, De Pue says. Each one is an advertisement for the other. The concepts bolster each other in the kitchen, too. If there’s a cheese that’s not selling downstairs, Menu MBK’s chefs can always find a way to integrate it into the menu so it doesn’t go to waste. And if there’s a sauce that’s popular in the restaurant, they can bottle it up and sell it at the market.
Just a block away, the recently opened Red Apron Butcher will have a similar relationship with sister restaurant The Partisan, set to open in a couple weeks. The meats you buy from the butcher counter will be the same ones that may appear on your charcuterie plate at the restaurant. Want a steak? Have one for dinner, then grab a fresh cut to bring home for the next day.
De Pue says he’s also been able to build much closer relationships with his vendors because his market gives them a chance to promote their products, and he’s buying more stuff. That means purveyors are often willing to give him first pick of their wares. “If they only have, let’s say, five cases of organic milk, we’ll get the four first because they know we’re going to sell it, and they want to have that year-round relationship with us,” De Pue says.
At Glen’s Garden Market, which sells almost exclusively locally grown or made products, owner Danielle Vogel knew she’d miss an important market segment if her business was simply a grocery. So the Dupont spot has a bar on site that serves cheese, charcuterie, soups, grilled cheese sandwiches, and more. Vogel says she looked into the demographics of Dupont Circle and found a lot of very well-educated, dual-income households with no children. “These are folks who tend to work until 7 or 8 o’clock at night for the most part, and I knew they would want the convenience of being able to walk in the door and being able to pick up dinner,” she says.
Last month, the market also launched Tasting Table at Glen’s Garden Market, a two-nights monthly dinner for which in-house chefs Travis Olson, previously of 1789, and William Teague prepare a $75, five-to-seven-course meal for eight guests. The meal happens at a table in the middle of the sales floor, while shoppers buzz around. “There’s people shopping for jelly as you’re eating this exquisite feast,” Vogel says. She says she’s seen at least one guy get on his phone to book reservations online for the dinner while he was there shopping.
Vogel says she was at Eataly, the New York emporium of Italian eating and shopping, last summer when Glen’s COO Stefanie Tocco Pilkington came up with the idea for the tasting table. They saw it as a way to give their chefs a more creative outlet beyond slinging kale salad all day, while also providing a way to get people to understand what the place was presenting on a daily basis. “What we’re trying to do is build allegiance to the chefs and the store that we’ve got here, not necessarily hawk a tomato after they’re done eating dinner,” she says.
Duke’s Grocery has a similar philosophy. Despite its name, Duke’s is primarily a restaurant, but it has a market table near the front door where it sells the same local produce that it uses in the kitchen. Come spring, Duke’s will also sell the pickles that chef and co-owner Alex McCoy prepares to go with his burger or bloody marys.
“To be honest with you, it’s never going to be a huge profit machine for us,” co-owner Daniel Kramer says of the market component. Instead, he sees it as a statement about his restaurant’s values. “We don’t hide anything that we’re doing, and the products that we use, we’re proud of. And if we’re going to use them in our kitchen the thought was that you should be able to use them in your kitchen too,” Kramer says. “It’s indicative of who we are and what we use.”
At Lupo Verde, a new Italian restaurant on 14th Street NW, the addition of a cheese shop inside its first-floor dining room was, in part, a way to stand out from the many competing Italian restaurants—and restaurants in general—within blocks. Co-owner Antonio Matarazzo says he also wants the market to create a feeling of authenticity. The shop, opening in a week, will carry 30 to 40 types of cheese, housemade pastas, charcuterie, bread, and more—inspired by cheese shops in Italy. “I want to make sure when you open the door, you feel like you are in Italy,” says Matarazzo, a native of the Campania region. The cheese shop has a local bent, too: Lupo Verde is adopting a sheep from a farm in Maryland whose milk will be used to make a cheese specifically for the restaurant.
The rise of such markets-within-restaurants and restaurants-within-markets ultimately seems to be a way to further appeal to consumers’ obsession with where their food comes from. “You have a higher demand for markets that sell food that came from a guy who’s name you know,” Vogel says. “A lot of these hybrid concepts are chef-driven rather than grocery-driven. The reason why these chefs are venturing into that is because of this whole upsurge in the farm-to-table movement and them wanting to be able to connect their purveyors with their customers.”
De Pue also finds that people are much more willing to buy—and pay a premium for—something a chef has put his or her name behind. Menu MBK’s biggest sellers are the prepared foods its own kitchen makes, like rotisserie chicken or meatballs. People like to know that restaurant chefs created the dishes.
“I love the concept of the restaurant and the market together,” De Pue says. “If somebody asked me if I would just do the market, I would say no. I like the combination of both.”
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Photo of Frederik de Pue by Darrow Montgomery