From a listening booth for records to a giant motor lift that doubles as an exhibition shelf, details about the Garage Food Hall are taking shape, around two months before it opens. Some of the vendors on the massive Mass Ave development project signed a lease for space in the brand new Bottleworks District over a year ago, but their dreams are only now seeming to be real as the improvements to the garage kick in early opening in January.
It is true that everything happens under the cloud of COVID-19 – a cloud that could darken with case numbers from a winter spike, just as the ribbon is cut. But you can only rain so much on this parade. This beautiful Art Deco Coca-Cola bottling plant, empty and abandoned, is about to realize its huge but unlikely potential as a new entertainment zone in the coolest historic buildings in town.
Current COVID-19 restrictions, which only allow indoor dining at tables, would delay garage seating, one of the critical characteristics of food and beverage suppliers. Eight of the 19 companies are currently planning seating at the booth. Poke Guru owner Adam Odgaard looks forward to teaching customers about sake and envisions speaking to the curious who sit there … eventually.
The Hard Truth Distillery’s bar has to crank up its chair until something changes too. From now on, garage visitors will sit at the communal tables in the food hall, which make up most of the facility’s 500 seats. (About 100 of these are counter seats.) For one thing, Odgaard tries to make the most of a situation he cannot control. “I understand that it won’t be as full as it could have been without COVID,” he says. “I know how hard these individual operators are working to build something unique and move forward.”
The pandemic hasn’t dampened the garage’s ambitions. It’s not the area’s first modernized grocery store, trending at Chelsea Market in New York, Ponce City Market in Atlanta, and Stanley Marketplace in Denver. The basic idea is a cooler, better, juicier version of the traditional food court with a lively industrial atmosphere on the menu.
The dining rooms at Carmel’s Sun King Spirits and Fishers Test Kitchen brought the concept to Indy, but neither does it take advantage of the converted industrial area of the Bottleworks Garage. Not only will the garage pack more vendors than any of its Hamilton County parts in its 36,000 square feet, but the setting itself will be enhanced thanks to the preserved original architecture (white terracotta exterior from the Coca-Cola days) and interior grain (the rooms were most recently used to repair IPS school buses).
In the operational area, the garage development team, headed by manager Nicole Ulrich, received ideas from market visits across the country. For example, vendors can take orders from customers on an iPad. Otherwise, the garage will become an original and not a copycat. A breeze walk or “back” bisects two halls and guests should be able to see most of the vendors and tables in that area.
Hendricks Property Group, the Wisconsin-based developer also known locally for the Ironworks project on 86th Street, has a designer who works directly with each vendor to create a custom building and find ways to add building properties How to get explosion-proof lights (from) the old bus paint) and an original boiler. An old-fashioned engine lifter returns to the Becker Supply Company as a goods display. (At Brick and Mortars hair salon, to the disappointment of owner Brandon Burdine, an original sink and lights were scraped from the final design.)
The urban, industrial setting is an odd choice for Becker, an outdoor lifestyle collection for young camping and hiking sets (think campfire mugs or a “ROAM” T-shirt with a pine that forms the “A”). Local owners Leena and Jake Middaugh have worked online and as a pop-up in the Fashion Mall, with the garage space now being their first permanent location. They say reusing the building is in line with their eco-friendly ethos.
“We’re the same,” says Jake. “When shipping, always try to reuse the material as often as possible. We run a screen printing business at home and we keep using bad shirts, things that we would normally throw away. “The couple says they also discussed with Hendricks ways to instill green lifestyles for garage customers through events like clean-up days and t-shirt recycling rides.
Brick and Mortar and Square Cat Vinyl are among the other retailers that will help set The Garage apart from dining rooms. Square Cat Vinyl, a record store, will have its own listening booth. Brick and Mortar plans to sell Japanese knives, candles, men’s grooming products, proprietary private label clothing, and antiques currently on display in its original downtown Delaware Avenue location. World War II flags, brass trinkets, carnival and circus prints: “Everything will have a price,” says Burdine, adding that its vintage aesthetic is one reason Hendricks wanted it in The Garage.
For him, the draw was personal – he grew up in Chatham Arch across the street and played street hockey with friends in the parking lots. “Being in the building I grew up in is the coolest thing,” he says.
Even without such a personal connection, visitors are likely to say the same thing when The Garage is open for business.