There’s new life for Midtown’s zombie food halls.

New York restaurant legend Stephen Hanson and international hospitality operator Alex Gaudelet are re-launching five major Midtown halls previously run by UrbanSpace, which fell behind on rent after the pandemic wiped out business.

Hanson’s and Gaudelet’s newly formed HF Food Halls signed a lease last week at Vanderbilt Hall, the 11,000 square-foot venue at RXR Realty’s 230 Park Ave. HF is close to a lease as well at the Feil Organization’s 570 Lexington Ave. and is in negotiations for the troubled food halls at 787 Seventh Ave., One Irvine at Union Square and Urban Hawker at 135 W. 55th St.

“We are acquiring each of the halls individually and rebranding them,” Gaudelet told Realty Check.

Hanson and Gaudelet will run their Manhattan venues using a different business model than at most food halls, where operators typically lease floors and then sublease them to individual vendors who might — or might not — know how to manage them.

UrbanSpace fell behind on rent after the pandemic wiped out business James Messerschmidt

Instead, HF will run most of the food stands itself, tapping into Hanson’s experience as founder of the former B.R. Guest eatery empire, which included such names as Ruby Foo’s, Atlantic Grill and Dos Caminos.

That company had a reported $200 million annual revenue before Hanson sold it in 2007.

At Vanderbilt, they ousted three under-performing stands — reducing the number of vendors from 20 to 17 — and replaced them with three brands Hanson and Gaudelet own: chicken spot ICC, Bash Burger and Brett’s Deli

They’ve proven so popular that they boosted the entire hall’s business by 60%, Hanson said.

A vegan burger place that did only $400 a day gave way to Brett’s Deli, which brings in between $6,000 and $8,000 a day.

Hanson and Gaudelet replaced underperforming stands with brands of their own, like Bash Burger. James Messerschmidt

“Alex and I had 40 restaurants between us and we’re bringing that quality experience to fast serve” Hanson said.

Hanson boasted that the quality of his Vanderbilt stands is superior due to his company’s expertise in all aspects of the business.

“At ICC, everything is made to order. They don’t fry it at 9 a.m. and serve it at noon,” Hanson said.

Hanson boasted that the quality of his Vanderbilt stands is superior due to his company’s expertise in all aspects of the business. James Messerschmidt

He also raved about the cupcakes at the new coffee and bakery stand called Moka Matcha, reminding us that Realty Check found it better than Magnolia Bakery’s.

“We spent almost nine months to get it that way,” he said.

Not all existing vendors will be ousted.

“Some do a great job, like Pita Yeero,” Hanson said. “They’re in all the halls and we’re happy to keep them.”

Brett’s Deli brings in between $6,000 and $8,000 a day, Hanson said. James Messerschmidt

The pair’s reemergence comes at a critical time for the city’s food hall business. Market Line at Essex Crossing recently closed and crowds have been thin at many others.

Even the best outlets are plagued by inconsistent dishes, unpredictable opening hours and customers’ long waits for what’s supposed to be “fast” food.

HF closed an UrbanSpace at 100 Pearl St. downtown and a half-dozen UrbanSpace locations in Washington, DC, Chicago, Los Angeles and Boston.

Although Hanson and Gaudelet were reported to have “taken over” the venues last summer, they were only working with UrbanSpace to help restructure the company and manage the venues better.

Now, UrbanSpace is completely out of the picture.

One of the new stands at Vanderbilt Hall is a coffee and bakery shop called Moka Matcha. James Messerschmidt

Hanson noted that the partners have prior relationships with all the new landlords. Feil, for example, was a minority partner in Hanson’s Strip House.

He wouldn’t discuss terms of their Vanderbilt deal, except to say that the lease would “ramp up over time.”

Brokers said that before the pandemic, a food hall might pay between $100 and $300 per square foot depending on size and neighborhood density.

“But today is another world,” one said.

Read More