Opening a restaurant in New York City is a terrible idea — any chef will tell you that. But that’s not the only way for chefs to get their food into people’s hands thanks to the rise of outdoor food markets, and the largest player in the al fresco food business Urbanspace is making the dreams of three culinary entrepreneurs come true with the Citi Urbanspace Challenge.
Aspiring restaurateurs can submit their pitch for a “creative, fast-casual restaurant concept” that would fit into an outdoor market like Urbanspace starting July 12 through July 23 at noon. Three finalists will receive a coveted spot at one of Urbanspace’s Fall 2018 pop-up markets: Mad. Sq. Eats, Broadway Bites or Garment District.
When those markets wrap up, one winner will be chosen in November based on an online vote as well as the recommendation of an expert panel including restaurateurs, influencers and journalists. The grand prize is a fully customized booth at Urbanspace’s Midtown food hall Urbanspace at 570 Lex, where they’ll get to cook rent-free for three months beginning January 2019 thanks to funding by Citi.
“The cost of being in one of Urbanspace markets is a very small percentage in comparison of what it costs to open a brick-and-mortar, independent restaurant,” says Eldon Scott, president of Urbanspace. “We have many chefs who can be in business in a matter of a few months with guaranteed traffic, and if for some reason the concept isn’t right, they can change it without having sold the farm.”
But money isn’t everything. Being part of a market like Urbanspace means the all-important exposure, of course, but there’s plenty more that a fledgling business can learn. “The markets act like an incubator for chefs,” Scott says. “They absolutely learn from their neighbors about how to manage fast production during the rush, how to adjust their menus and pricing.”
Besides providing a prime location and a booth, Urbanspace also handles a lot of the services small businesses need like accounting, attorneys, graphic designers, food safety experts and marketing.
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Securing a spot at one of its markets has led to brick-and-mortar success for several businesses: Mr. Bing got its start at the Garment Street Holiday Market in December 2015, Bushwick pizza mecca Roberta’s got its foothold in Manhattan at Mad. Sq. Eats, and getting into Urbanspace Vanderbilt catapulted Ovenly from Greenpoint’s cult cake favorite to six locations across the city.
So what does it take to be successful at an Urbanspace market? “Keep your menu simple, pricing reasonable, and get the food out fast,” advises Scott. “If you can have a ticket time of less than a minute with a great priced item and manage your line with happy customers, you will be a rock star!”