New food hall ushers in nationwide trend to Knoxville

After a decade of investment at West Depot Avenue and North Gay Street, Tom Wolf hopes his latest project, Marble City Market, will usher in a new era for the block while bringing a national trend to Knoxville.

Wolf and his partners are investing more than $5 million to open downtown's first food hall.

The 15,000-square-foot project, slated to open this summer, was announced.

Knox News got a tour of the hall, for now a blank space, located on the first floor of the Regas Square building at 333 W. Depot Ave.

Some might argue the Regas Square building isn't within the official boundary of downtown Knoxville. It isn't located in the Downtown Business Improvement District, which ends at the businesses on the north side of Jackson Avenue, leaving West Depot one street short.

West Depot businesses like The Mill & Mine, Central Depot and Vienna Coffee at The Regas Building are part of the Old City Association.

Whatever its official location, boundaries or neighborhood designations will likely matter little to Knoxville's foodies and tourists looking forward to experiencing the concept, which is promising an array of local and regional chef-driven dining experiences.

'Big name' tenant in the works

Food halls are typically large spaces that contain a variety of food businesses operating out of smaller stalls within. The spaces feature communal seating and sometimes entertainment.

The concept, common now in major metro areas, offers consumers a variety of culinary experiences under one roof and offers tenants lower overhead than a traditional brick-and-mortar restaurant.

The model moves many back-of-house responsibilities like managing facilities from the restaurateur to the food hall operator, freeing up time to focus on the food.

Another food hall, located at the historic Kern's Bakery in South Knoxville, is slated to open in Spring 2022.

Marble City Market will feature space for a curated list of 11 food vendors, a 40-seat bar and communal seating on the ground floor of Regas Square. The building was completed in 2019 and features 101 luxury residences.

The hall will seat 300 at communal tables inside and another 200 outside. Outdoor seating will run along two sides of the building facing West Depot Avenue.

The hall will open for breakfast, lunch and dinner options. Vendor stalls will be about 300 square feet each. Interested food vendors can apply at

Wolf said there are food vendor deals in the works, including with a "big name, a well-known name."

"We want chef-driven," Wolf said. "We don't want, we're not going to have chains or franchises. We're going to have some names that people recognize. We wish it was to the point now ... there's names that are wanting to pop out. Can't say them because they're not in ink yet."

Regas Property LLC, which owns the building, is comprised of four partners, including Wolf. Those four formed a separate hospitality group to launch the food hall and signed an operating agreement with Hospitality HQ to curate the vendor list, manage the food hall and run the bar program.

Marble City Market's design will have a modern, West Coast touch, Wolf said, with clean lines, light colors and simplistic touches.

Because the design was finalized in the midst of a pandemic, the food hall will include additional outdoor seating, ventilation, UV sanitizing treatments and contactless payment.

Celebrity chef on the team

Wolf traveled to food halls across the country to research the trend and understand its popularity.

"These places are packed with people," Wolf said. "Why? And I think it's that ability to have a lot of choices under one roof that causes some of that."

Wolf said the Hospitality HQ team, in charge of curating vendors, is actively pursuing diverse chefs and diverse food concepts.

"If everybody that owns a business in there is pale-faced like me, I think we will have failed," he said.

Hospitality HQ's founding partner and CEO is Akhtar Nawab, a celebrity chef known for appearances on Food Network's "Iron Chef America."

Nawab has Kentucky roots, Indian heritage and embraces innovative Mexican cuisine in his restaurants, including Alta Calidad in Brooklyn and Otra Vez in New Orleans.

Hospitality HQ operates food halls, ghost kitchens and restaurants nationwide, including Inner Rail Food Hall in Omaha, Prather's on the Alley in Washington D.C. and Lyric Market, slated to open this summer in Houston.

Regas history

Wolf grew up in Knoxville and knew Bill Regas, proprietor of Regas Restaurant, which operated out of the old Regas Building at 318 N. Gay St. for nine decades. In 2011, Wolf and Regas bought that building, updated it and sold it in 2015.

Wolf, as part of Regas Partners LLC, bought the neighboring parking lot in 2013, which would become Regas Square.

Regas Square has an additional 5,000 square feet of commercial space remaining on the ground floor that's available for lease.

Some of the Regas LLC partners also have a stake in TDH Construction, the contractor on the food hall project. Commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield is a business advisor on the project. Philadelphia-based Eimer Design, which has designed food halls in the past, is the architectural design firm.

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by Brenna McDermott

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Published February 19, 2021