When Dave Sherman, owner of Hampden’s Café Cito, heard about R. House in Remington, he was intrigued. The idea of opening a stall in a shared space with other chefs, he says, promised to “take so much off my plate—snow removal, trash pickup, busboy hiring—so I can just focus on what I want to focus on.” In Sherman’s case, that’s Ground & Griddled, a 400-square foot stall offering nitro cold brew and pour-over coffee drinks, hearty sandwiches stuffed with banh mi or brisket on chewy ciabatta bread, the “Remington scramble” with mushrooms, chives and Gruyère cheese, and signature acai bowls.
Thibault Manekin, co-founder of Seawall Development, the company behind the repurposed two-story car showroom, sees the food hall as a “plug-and-play” space. Seawall handles all operations so chefs can put “100 percent of their time, energy, love and passion into cooking,” he says.
Some may applaud R. House as the most recent entry in Baltimore’s surge of urban food halls that celebrate local purveyors—Mount Vernon Marketplace, Belvedere Square and the coming renovations at Whitehall Mill in Hampden. Others might take a darker view and see gentrification eating away at the city’s working class neighborhoods.
Manekin would prefer that you simply “focus on food.”
When Seawall first put down stakes in the neighborhood in 2007, says Manekin, the company was approached by several interested chefs. They recently saw the success of places like Parts and Labor (another Seawall tenant) and Lane Harlan’s popular W.C. Harlan and Clavel. “All that positive momentum,” he says. “They wanted to be a part of it.” But opening a restaurant is risky. “Half a million to a million dollars to build, a 10-year commitment on a lease,” Manekin estimates, numbers daunting to many would-be restaurateurs.
The developer describes R. House as a foodie version of Union Mills and Miller’s Court, Seawall projects designed as moderately priced space where Baltimore city educators can live and work. (Seawall is also responsible for nearby Remington Row, a blocklong, warehouse-like space with shops, apartments and office space.)
Over this past year, Manekin met with chefs to discuss the notion of a “modern-day food hall—what it is meant to be, or what it ought to be,” he says.
In the months that followed, the conversations expanded to tackle issues both technical (HVAC, plumbing, storage, dishwashing) and ideological (how the space should flow, how to differentiate R. House from similar venues).
The result was a huge, open space overflowing with natural light. Rolling garage doors composed entirely of windows open out to the street and beer garden, with R. House’s 11 stalls occupying the entirety of the opposite wall. The décor is limited to the creative stall-fronts of the restaurants and the eclectic seating options, giving the space an overall industrial-chic vibe that gels with the renovated-warehouse look of Remington Row.
But fitting in with “new” Remington was not R. House’s only integrative goal. To better engage with the existing neighborhood, Seawall held a job fair this past August for Remington locals interested in working in the new space—a move Sherman had pushed for.
“We want our employees to bring their knowledge of the area to the space, to get that Remington flair,” he says.
The neighborhood seems to attract entrepreneurs, says Manekin. “If someone has an idea they want to launch, they come to Remington to launch it.” He ventures that one reason is the appeal of becoming part of a neighborhood on the move. “People feel like they’re part of something larger than themselves here, that they can play a significant role in shaping the fabric of this community.”
One of those entrepreneurs is Manekin’s wife, Lola. Her business, Movement Lab, will occupy the top floor of R. House. The fitness and wellness studio will offer classes in such on-trend exercises as Muay Thai kickboxing, Jumping fitness, aerial yoga and Nia dance, as well as acupuncture and other integrative treatments. She says she sees a symbiotic relationship between the food hall downstairs and her studio, from students fueling up with a coffee or juice before Nia at the studio’s built-in counter to parents dropping their kids off for a movement class at the Lab while they enjoy a date night downstairs. “We see ourselves as a part of a movement that’s bigger than just the studio,” she says, echoing her husband’s vision. “We could have just rented a space in a plaza, but instead we’re part of something new and vibrant and interconnected.”
Melanie Molinaro, who is opening a vegetarian/vegan street-food stall (look for her living wall sprouting greens and herbs), hopes her stall will be a launching pad. “We’re using R. House as a sort of test to see how people react to our food,” says the former Encantada chef. The ultimate goal, she says, “is to have a brick-and-mortar standalone.”
Molinaro’s ambition fits right into Thibault Manekin’s vision. R. House, Manekin says, “is a chance for chefs to take risks that they otherwise might not have been able to.” Some of the food hall’s tenants plan to put down roots, and some may be testing an idea they want to expand or franchise. “We’re fine with that,” he says. “We’d love to be able to tell the story that the next Chipotle was launched at R. House.”
While a vegan Chipotle fits nicely into Molinaro’s dream, for now she is happy to be where she is. “The chefs have all gotten to know each other pretty well,” she says. “We’re all in it together—it’s going to be pretty fun.”