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Will East End Market become Orlando’s new food hub?

The community market on Corrine Drive faces competition from all sides, but says “a rising tide lifts all boats”

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Heather Grove, John Rife and Gabby Lothrop

Photo: N/A, License: N/A

Here is where the conversations started happening. “We met up … after the second Harvest Festival and just sat around discussing what was missing in Central Florida and where we fit into it,” says Lothrop. “That’s where East End came from.”

The plan

Trying to define East End isn’t easy. While not without parallels around the country (e.g., Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia, South Carolina’s Charleston City Market or the Melrose Market in Seattle), it’s not exactly a business model from a template. “I’d say the closest thing to coming up with a sort of one-word [description] would be a food and community hub,” says Rife tentatively.

It’s a vision shared by his wife, who is also the market’s chief financial officer. “I see East End Market as the new food destination in Central Florida,” she writes in an email interview. “I see us becoming a place where people come for a sense of community and a deeper connection to food.”

Customers will enter through a 3,000-square-foot market garden designed and maintained by local edible landscapers My Yard Farm. The first floor will open into a 3,500-square-foot hall, beginning with a market run by Local Roots on one side and Skyebird vegetarian juice bar and experimental kitchen on the other. A few other vendors have committed, while some slots are still open as of this writing, but the hall will feature selections from local food producers like Olde Hearth Bread Company, Houndstooth Sauce Company and Fatto in Casa Italian specialties.

Anchoring the downstairs is Txokos Basque Kitchen. The name is taken from the underground food culture that popped up in the Basque region of Spain during the Franco regime. Most excitingly, Txokos is being helmed by Henry and Michele Salgado, the husband-and-wife team who created the Spanish River Grill in New Smyrna Beach. Txokos will have a changing menu that utilizes the fresh ingredients available from the other vendors in the market.

Past the market hall will be a large, rentable commercial kitchen. The kitchen will meet all USDA guidelines for food preparation, thereby allowing local start-ups to rent the space without having to invest in expensive equipment before knowing whether their product will catch on. This hints at one of the other important functions of East End: shepherding new businesses.

“We are certainly doing our best to foster the incubation of ideas and the incubation of businesses,” says Rife. This extends, beyond the technology, to guiding the vendors coming into the market, helping them get all of their paperwork and publicity done, and quoting an “occupancy cost” that bundles in power and utilities, which saves the merchants from contracting each of these services individually. “We’re giving people the opportunity to rent a reasonable amount of space. Even if you go across the street, you’re renting 1,000 square feet, not 200.”

The contracts also include what Rife calls “quality of life” language. “There is a much stronger sense of community between the merchants than in a typical shopping center, and this language encourages us to play as a team and focus on creating a thriving market experience for the patrons.”

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