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Craften reinvents the food hall experience in tertiary markets.
We’ve all been there. You’re going out to eat at a food hall with a group of friends or family—one of you wants tacos; another wants pizza; you want a salad. You’ll all wait in separate lines for different periods of time (could be five minutes, could be 15 minutes) to place your orders, then meet back at your table; sit down and chat for a few minutes; then all go back and get your food. In about an hour, you’ve spent more time waiting in line than having actual conversation. But what if it didn’t have to be that way?
Here to reimagine the standard food hall is duo Max Trujillo, local hospitality vet and co-host of the NC F&B Podcast; and Kip Downer, entrepreneur and owner of multiple Burn Boot Camp locations (West Raleigh, Garner, Knightdale and South Durham). Their new concept, Craften, the first of which will be opening in Knightdale in late summer, flips the food hall script. Instead of having to wait in multiple lines for different types of food, Craften (a blend of “craft” and “kitchen”) will allow customers to order food and drinks directly from an app and have everything brought to them by a server—without ever having to leave your table.
“We want to take the hospitality angle of a restaurant and the comfortability that you’re taken care of, and apply it to a food hall,” Trujillo says. “So you don’t have to stand in four lines to get four different types of food; you just sit down and we bring it to you.”
The idea for Craften started unfurling last summer when Trujillo and Downer met through mutual friends. Downer had already had an idea for a central space that would bring a bunch of great local food trucks together, while Trujillo was simultaneously conceptualizing a multiple-food-outlet business. “As it started to unfold, what he really needed was an operator, and what I really needed was somebody that had vision and could grow and build the business,” says Trujillo.
Craften will be anchored by a thoughtful beverage program that Trujillo will oversee (think handcrafted cocktails, craft beer, wine and more). “We are going to put an emphasis on the beverage program and bring the downtown craft cocktail lounge concept to a small town,” Downer says.
Bringing this community-oriented food and beverage concept to tertiary markets—which are expanding and becoming more and more popular outside of the already thriving DTR scene—is very important to the pair. Downer says he was inspired by the book Blue Ocean Strategy, which notes that the real success and the real ability to deliver something unique exists in the blue ocean.
“And that’s what these tertiary markets are right now in Raleigh,” Downer explains. “We really want to bring this Downtown feeling to them with the growth of Raleigh out to these markets. If we can get there now and we can create a community feel now, then, not only will we be in the right place 10 years from now, we’ll also have built those relationships with those customers. … And I think Craften is going to be able to follow these tertiary markets through their growth as well.”
Craften will also provide local food trucks with a commissary kitchen and a low-barrier to entry for their first fixed location in the hopes that the food hall will act as a stepping stone to a brick-and-mortar restaurant. The four food concepts they selected for Craften Knightdale include Poblanos Tacos, Fiori Trattoria, The Corner Venezuelan Food and Finca Burger. Once these concepts “graduate out” of the food hall, they’ll bring in new ones that are just as excited to succeed.
Trujillo jokes that he would never want to go to a restaurant that offers multiple different types of food (“because nobody is that good”), but at Craften, “everyone is doing what they do best, and that’s it,” he says. “And we’re helping our food concepts sell their food. It improves our bar to have great food for people to come and hang out and sit down and enjoy.”
Downer and Trujillo’s goal is to open multiple Craften locations “anywhere there’s a neighborhood that needs better food and service,” says Trujillo. (They plan to open the second, larger Craften in Clayton by the end of the year, which will feature 6,000 square feet of indoor space, plus a 4,000-square-foot astroturf lawn area.) The whole idea is to provide that big city-feel to smaller areas by bringing the restaurant mentality to a food hall and offering people a diverse food and drink experience.
“As a [group], you can make one decision: Let’s go to Craften,” Downer says. “We’re going to get service. We’re going to get to spend time together. We’re all happy. We get good drinks. And we don’t have to choose a particular restaurant—and I think that’s really exciting.” The icing on the cake? You don’t have to wait in any lines. craftenfood.com
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