Downtown Lafayette’s Public Market Meets Pop-up Food Hall
By Abby Meaux Conques
The welcoming outdoor string lights and the cheerful patrons you see today at JeffersonStreet’s Wurst Biergarten contrasts the dormant land that sat there previously for twenty-something years.
Robert Guercio was part of a team that openedThe Wurst Biergarten in 2016 as a family friendly(and dog-friendly) beer garden, the first of its kind in Louisiana. Beer gardens are an emerging national trend riding on the heels of a fast-growing craft beer industry. Guercio had a vision then, and he recently set his sights on another idea: public market meets pop-up food hall.
That idea recently came to fruition after partner-ing with Zack McMath, President on the board of the non-profit organization, the Acadiana food Hub. The collaboration is part of a grassroots approach to a business incubation strategy.McMath says, “A pop-up food hall Downtown gives a platform for people thinking of a food startup to access clientele with face-to-face exposure while building their brand. Businesses that serve food need something like this to reach the public in a personal way.”
The pop-up food hall is a place that allows chefs and restaurateurs (established and experimenting) to introduce food items to the public in an innovative manner. Whether it be to try out some new menu items on a ready group or to showcase new talent, Guercio and McMath want to incubate chefs interested in outside-of-the-box approaches to food. Event nights blend food, music and a walk-through market with experiences like Lafayette Reggae Night (which first featured Jerk Stop from Acadiana Food Hub; next up is the local downtown pop-up chef running WorldFoods To Go).
The success of the first reggae night led to the planning of the next event. “I think it’s important that people know this is not a theory. It’s working!” Guercio says. These events lend another level of creativity to the whole foodie experience. He sees these occasions as “activating downtown.” Guercio and McMath would love to have chefs at the Biergarten regularly to cook one day a week; a new chef every day. “Ultimately it does not happen if chefs don’t take a leap of faith,” Guercio says.
He’s wanted to run with the idea of a pop-up food hall since the proven success of Hawk’s Boil Up experiences over the last two years. At that time, Hawk’s Boil Up owner, Meg Arceneaux, said she“was looking for a new way to get people to eat crawfish in an outdoor downtown area where they could bring their kids. I’m at that stage in life where all of my people have kids now and I know that kid-friendly spots are one of the deciding factors when finding a place to eat.” She calledGuercio to see if the Wurst Biergarten would be interested in hosting; he delightfully agreed.
During crawfish season, Arceneaux served boiled crawfish at the Biergarten on Wednesday and Thursday nights from 5 pm – 9 pm. The first year, she saw a good amount of sales growth. This year, those sales doubled. Arceneaux explained, “We call regulars who drive all the way to Hawk’srestaurant ‘mothership people.’ A lot of mother-ship people came out to the Biergarten. But then we noticed about 60% of our customers were people who never experienced Hawk’s crawfish, so we got to show how good our crawfish is to an awhole new audience.” Arceneaux hopes to have the Hawk’s Boil Up pop-up at the Biergarten every year where it’s a fixture people can look forward to each crawfish season.
McMath and Guercio describe their partnership as a great one, utilizing the idea of slow growth, where aspiring food truck or restaurant owners can start small with these events and grow incrementally. In the last two years alone, the Acadiana Food Hub has helped 9 food trucks get out to the public from their incubator program.
Guercio sees Di Jerk Stop and Hawk’s Boil Up experiences as examples of what a food hall incubator venue can do for an established or upcoming chef or restaurant. He describes it as a “win-win-win-win situation: for the chef, the Biergarten, foodies, and Downtown Lafayette as a whole (even existing restaurants) since these events bring in new customers from the region and stimulate tourism.” He says, “I see food halls becoming sustainable business models where chefs can be inspired to cook things they’re passionate about, show their creativity and skills, and get real-time feedback. The pop-up food hall can be a step on their way to becoming restaurant owners; and it would be ideal for them to open in the Downtown area, come full circle, and enhance Downtown together.” He described those collaborative events as, “Like that saying, ‘A rising tide lifts all ships’…but it’s pirogues in our case!”
Check out the Wurst Biergarten facebook page for upcoming family-friendly events, themed nights-out and foodie experiences including the very best local beer and wines. The next notable event: Lafayette Reggae Night Featuring World Foods To Go and Ambush Reggae Band. Saturday, July 20th 5pm-midnight.