By Divya Murthy
Salt City Market is a way to celebrate culture, cuisine and craft in Syracuse.
Hands closed around coffee cups and their pencils drumming away, the crowd at Salt City Coffee on Onondaga Street chattered animatedly. The coffee shop had already closed, but the group of 18 people, ballooning rapidly into 30 people as minutes passed, had shown up there waiting for another door to open.
And open it will.
Come next fall, Syracuse will unveil Salt City Market, a town-square-style building with about ten food stalls boasting cuisines from around the world and within Syracuse. Besides the food stalls, Salt City Market will also be home to a grocery store and a café-by-morning that becomes a bar-by-night and mixed-income housing in the remaining space. The bidding to run one of the ten food stalls began this spring with information sessions — like the one at Salt City Coffee — tapping into the talent base and small business hopefuls in Syracuse.
Salt City Market, supported by the Allyn Foundation and Up Start, an organization that supports fledgling food businesses, will offer a variety of trainings for the merchants who get selected to operate food stalls: business plan development, marketing strategies, hiring and training, permits and insurance, to name a few, according to the website.
The idea isn’t novel. Minneapolis opened its own internationally-themed public market in 2006 and is now home to 45 restaurants, grocery stores and gift shops representing over 22 cultures. Adam Sudmann, the marketing manager for the Salt City Market project and the man behind pop-up kitchen My Lucky Tummy and the With Love, restaurant, believes the same model can take off in Syracuse, where there is a veritable medley of immigrant and refugee cultures. An idea ten years in the making for Sudmann, Salt City Market is a way to see what the town really has to offer, he says, one way that he and the talent base don’t miss each other.
“I’m just a side story you know, this will come about, with or without me,” Sudmann said. “And so, while I was having these dreams in Brooklyn, unbeknownst to me, there were people up here having those same dreams.”
Salt City Market will open at the intersection of South Salina St. and Onondaga Blvd. — a central crossroads for the different neighborhoods in Syracuse, according to Sudmann.
“It’s downtown but it’s not in the heart of Armory Square, [and] it’s right by the library and the bus hub,” he says. “The Southside meets the Near Westside meets downtown and it’s a straight shot from the Northside too.”
Sudmann is coming together with faith leaders, community leaders and specialty grocery stores to identify potential merchants for the food hall — Syracuse is dotted with diverse regional markets like the Somali, Iraqi, Burmese, Vietnamese, Indian, Bhutanese, and these are the businesses Sudmann wants to reach.
Azella Alvarez operates one of these small businesses, a food truck called Oompa Loompyas that sells Filipino-style egg rolls. She’s vying for one of the ten spots in the market, which she believes will mimic the style and ambience of Chelsea Market in New York. Given the minimal resources and limiting weather in Syracuse, she says she’s always wanted to root her offerings in a food hall — a more stable and accepting space.
“My mind would wander to the thought of having something like that, where it’s not killing you to own an actual brick-and-mortar,” the California native says. “This food hall is a good option for business owners who are just starting out for sure, hands down. I didn’t have this when I first started, I did everything just blindsided and went all in.”
That’s exactly what Sudmann wants to avoid: the skirmishes people run into when they embark on ventures with great passion but little foresight. Finding somebody that’s right on the sweet spot of having oodles of entrepreneurial spirit and cautious ambition is key, besides having a distinct and unique cultural presence in the hall.
“Diversity is everything,” Alvarez says. “If you’re not preaching it, it’s going to stay stagnant. But if you have a space like this as a common ground, diversity and ethnicity [are] going to intertwine wonderfully.”
Sudmann agrees; the way he sees it, Syracuse residents, by and large, stick to their own spaces and bubbles until they intersect. As a potential nexus, Salt City Market will be a space where “we can see our hidden gems and cultural riches” — a place for the town to come alive.
With several business owners making a beeline for the limited spots and promised resources, Sudmann is betting that the buzz in the Syracuse community isn’t misplaced.
“Once we start, it’s go, go, go.”
Former head editor Divya Murthy ‘19 is a senior studying magazine at Syracuse University and a resident opponent of the pumpkin spice latte. She enjoys blogging about socks, sunsets and elevators and also helping writers cover stories of global cultural interest.