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Chef Kenny Kaechle in the future home of his restaurant, Kama, in Calgary on July 15, 2021.

Jeff McIntosh/The Globe and Mail

I’ll never forget the first time I experienced a modern food hall. While on vacation in Portugal, a handful of friends and colleagues suggested I visit Time Out Market Lisbon.

They described it as a food court, but cooler. They were not wrong.

Located in the Mercado da Ribeira, the iconic space has functioned as a food market for nearly 1,000 years, but as its slick, chef-driven branded version since just 2014. Funky vendors wrap the entirety of the space, along with wine bars, conserva purveyors and more.

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Many in the food industry agree that it inspired similar concepts around the globe. So, what about Canada?

Winnipeg was the first city in the country to open a contemporary food hall. The Common at The Forks opened in 2016 after a multimillion-dollar renovation to a riverside heritage building. It has since become a year-round destination for tourists and locals alike.

With chef Scott Bagshaw’s sitdown eatery Passero, the wood-fired deliciousness that is Red Ember Common pizzeria and coffee from Fools & Horses, the Common acts as a (nearly) one-stop shop to try some of the best food and drink the city has to offer. Winnipeg’s Hargrave St. Market opened in 2019 and further cemented the city’s embrace of these inventive cafeteria-style spaces.

Toronto has a small handful of food halls such as Chef’s Hall (2018) and the Annex Food Hall (2019). Time Out Market has also expanded to Canada by way of Montreal (2019). Now, it’s a race to see which Canadian city will join the fray next as Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton all have at least one in construction.

Calgary has had a food hall of sorts for a couple of years, but what was known as Avenida Food Hall has since changed its name to Fresh & Local Market & Kitchens and fits more into the category of farmers market. What’s coming are two distinct builds just three blocks away from one another that promise to become culinary destinations in the heart of the city.

First, there’s District at Beltline, a swanky development in the former IBM campus at 11 Avenue S.W. and 2nd Street S.W. The huge project isn’t solely a food hall, but rather will serve as an anchor to a multibuilding development that includes offices, athletic centres and public spaces.

Kenny Kaechele, the former owner and chef of Workshop, decided earlier this year to permanently close the restaurant to focus on a new endeavour at the District. Kama, a “modern rustic Mediterranean” 120-seat restaurant, is set to open in the fall and will be one of three sit-down eateries adjacent to the food hall.

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Mr. Kaechele believes that buzz surrounding the other vendors and restaurants will be beneficial to each small business owner who’s taken on a lease there.

“Knowing who was going into the food hall and spaces surrounding it was important so I could understand the quality of what would be offered here. It’s not competition, it’s complementary,” Mr. Kaechele says. “Also, hearing that this was being built by a [developer from San Francisco] was a huge selling point for me.”

The food hall itself is slated to open some time this summer, with six different food and drink vendors, he adds. Construction is already under way for Kama, as well as a new concept from the people behind Craft Beer Market, and a vegan eatery from the former chef of The Coup.

The initial buzz surrounding District at Beltline will naturally help direct attention to these restaurants as they get closer to opening in a few months.

“This development as a whole is absolutely a first for Calgary,” Mr. Kaechele says. “It is [helping to further urbanize] the Beltline neighbourhood and truly embraces the idea of downtown living. It’s going to be really cool.”

Just a little down the road, chef and restaurateur Lam Pham is getting ready to open up shop inside First Street Market at the corner of 1st Street S.W. and 14th Avenue S.W. At his current eatery, Pure Modern Asian Kitchen and Bar, Mr. Pham serves imaginative Vietnamese cuisine – and his food stall Pure Street Food will be no different.

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“We will be offering our pho and other menu items that we’re known for, but I will also showcase Vietnamese street food dishes each week,” Mr. Pham says. “If you’ve been to Vietnam, you’ll know that the [lifeblood] of its food scene is found on the street corners. I’m excited to bring a bit of that to Calgary.”

The market first garnered buzz in 2019 with wrapped windows and signage, but few other details. Once the pandemic placed its chokehold on Alberta, construction paused, but it has resumed in recent months. In addition to Mr. Pham’s Vietnamese stall, vendors will include popular taco maker the Moose and Poncho, Friends with Benedicts (a new breakfast concept from chef Mike Pigot), Alforno and more.

The 10 food vendors will slowly be setting up their stalls in the coming weeks, and Mr. Pham says to expect a soft-opening by early August. He notes, like others in the foodservice industry, that staffing woes have been a major hurdle.

When asked about the proximity to District at Beltline and its similarly conceived food hall, the restaurateur doesn’t seem too worried.

“Calgary has so many eager diners, one food hall was never going to be enough any way. There will definitely be enough to go around.”

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