Sylva Senat has been busy. The Haitian-born chef, who starred on last season’s “Top Chef” and is now turning out gorgeous plates from the kitchen at Maison 208 in the Gayborhood, has quietly been developing his own fast-casual concept.
Called Baby Buns, it will serve buns, fries and frosé (rosé wine slushies). The first outpost will open next summer as part of The Bourse Marketplace food hall.
Philly entrepreneur Uri Pierre-Noel is partnering with Senat on the project, which is wholly owned by the recently formed management group Senat & Co. Pierre-Noel describes Baby Buns’ food as having “lots of international flavors” turned into American-burger-like sliders.
“Imagine what first-generation kids of immigrants to this country would make,” he said. “Those are the kinds of things we’ll offer.”
There’s also a community service component to the concept. Baby Buns will employ participants and alumni from C-CAP, a program of which Senat himself is a graduate. The national nonprofit Careers through Culinary Arts Program offers hands-on training for underprivileged high school students who show an affinity for culinary work, and helps them launch careers in the restaurant and hospitality business.
“C-CAP has grown a lot since I was a student there, but they still need more exposure,” Senat said, noting that he already employs three C-CAP students at Maison.
The Bourse food hall will definitely be capable of providing lots of exposure.
Located right next to Independence Mall, the historic building that once housed the nation’s first commodity trading floor is constantly flooded with tourists. MRP Realty bought the structure last year and announced a $40 million renovation. It will include 250,000 square feet of what MRP managing director Charles McGrath on Monday called “trophy office space” and another 30,000 square feet of retail. Once open, McGrath said, the retail will aim to serve both visitors and Old City locals.
Its anchor is the food hall, which is being called “The Bourse Marketplace,” and will eventually include more than 30 different food and drink options, as curated by by Baltimore-based CANADev.
So far, in addition to Baby Buns, the announced vendors are:
- Chaat & Chai, the Indian street food spot that was previously on West Passyunk Avenue
- Grubhouse, another West Passyunk transplant, which will take over one of the larger corner locales and serve breakfast specialties to go and at a 12-seat counter, plus probably chalkboard dinners some nights. Grub House’s diner-esque location in South Philly officially closed for good last week, chef-owner Jim Lord confirmed.
- Ka’moon, an Egyptian Halal fast casual from the team behind Easton food truck The Taza Truck
- Pinch Dumplings, a DC-based spot that serves housemade, “hand-pinched” Chinese dumplings
- Prescription Chicken, another DC-based operation that serves chicken-based and other soups and has not previously had a brick-and-mortar location
- Vera Pasta Co., an Easton-based restaurant that will offer made-to-order fresh pasta, Italian wine and packaged pasta to go
- Chocodiem, another offshoot of an Easton spot that makes Belgian chocolates
- Bluebird Distilling, the Phoenixville distillery, which will operate a full-service cocktail bar and sell bottles of booze to go
- Olive With a Twist, yet another Easton-based operations that sells olive oils, vinegars and other gourmet pantry items
How’d those spots get picked? “I thought just they asked everyone,” said Chaat & Chai chef-owner Anney Thomas.
Not quite, clarified CANADev principal Michael Morris, who said he comes to Philadelphia at least once a week.
“In order to ensure longterm success, we needed to know the market,” Morris told Billy Penn. “We spoke to hundreds, if not thousands, of purveyors to find people who have passion and enthusiasm.”
The search started at farmers markets, Morris said, and then he and his team began running down various “best restaurants” lists and doing on-the-ground research. One of his top staffers even moved to Philly for this development.
CANADev is well positioned to run the food hall at The Bourse, since it already runs two successful food halls in its hometown of Baltimore — Mt. Vernon Marketplace and Cross Street Market — and operates or is building similar projects in TriBeCa, Boston, White Plains, D.C. and Stamford, Conn.
“I’m amazed there aren’t already others in Philly,” the 38-year-old developer said.
Two Philly food halls are currently in planning stages in University City, but with its summer 2018 target launch, The Bourse is likely to be first. As for Reading Terminal Market, Morris termed that “more of a public market” because of the wide variety of goods sold for cooking at home (produce, raw meat and fish, cheeses, etc.).
Is what’s coming to The Bourse more than just a glorified food court with a few big-name chefs to dress it up? Morris thinks so.
“What makes a food hall special is a sense of discovery,” he said, “and also that it’s unique. We wouldn’t be able to pick up exactly what we do in this amazing historic building and put it elsewhere.”
Per Morris, more than 70 percent of The Bourse Marketplace is already leased, so expect additional announcements of tenants soon.