Jacob Owns - DBT
WILMINGTON – After nearly a year of navigating anxiety-driving supply chain challenges, Scott Johnson was breathing a sigh of relief.
The Chancery Market, a brand-new modern food hall concept on the ground floor of the former Hercules Plaza at 1313 N. Market St., is now open to the public.
The venture was the brainchild of Johnson, the principal of TSG Hospitality that is overseeing redevelopment of 1313 North and the neighboring 1201 N. Market St. Part attraction and retention magnet for tenants of the 500,000-square-foot office building on the northernmost edge of the city’s central business district and part lure for new customers and visitors, the food hall could reshape the reaches of Wilmington’s culinary scene.
The 12,000-square-foot culinary collective features dining experiences from around the world, curated by Hospitality HQ co-founder and award-winning New York chef Akhtar Nawab. Among the regional brands arriving in Wilmington are Fuku, a buzzy New York-based fried chicken spot founded by celebrity chef David Chang, and Kati Roll Wala, an Indian street food vendor founded in Knoxville, Tenn. Meanwhile, locals adding to the mix are Oath ’84, Toscana Pizza E Panini, Rooted AF, and Market Street Burger & Dog. A bar and café round out the current offerings, while one stall is pegged to likely be filled by an acai bowl vendor.
The $5 million project, which stripped a former café and deli space down to bare walls and completely redesigned the space with input from locals and stakeholders, did not come without headaches. Its HVAC system is still awaiting delivery six months past its original scheduled time, so Johnson had to bring in a temporary external system to provide an accommodating space. The planned retractable large-pane window along the bar has also not yet arrived, but is expected to be in place before the weather warms enough for it to be utilized.
The décor features a mix of concrete, metal and wood, highlighted by the numerous tables designed by the Wilmington-based Challenge Program, which teaches construction trades to at-risk youth.
Johnson said the anticipation of the opening by the hundreds of workers in the building has been “very high,” with many stopping in over the last few months to see the progress. He expects workers to take advantage of the couches and fireplaces as a mental break from their desks and offices upstairs.
“You don’t have to sit out in the main dining area, you come back here to hang out. We’re really trying to give people different spaces to enjoy,” he added.
Johnson is confident that The Chancery Market will draw customers from the neighboring Staybridge Suites and Residence Inn hotels as well as students from the University of Delaware’s city campus at the Community Education Building about three blocks away. With office complexes and Lawyer’s Row surrounding the food hall as well, he believes the clientele will support the concept.
Among the locals who will be investing in The Chancery Market is chef Justin Womack, owner of Oath ’84, a 2-year-old restaurant in the Renaissance Centre on King Street that features a fusion of different cuisines.
“I think it will be a really, really great decision. The building is beautiful and everybody I’ve been dealing with is amazing,” he said during a media preview Wednesday.
When asked how he might adapt his creative menu to the smaller stall space, Womack laughed, adding, “I started in a food truck, so this feels like a mansion.”
One of Oath ’84’s most popular items is its jerk chicken egg rolls, which features chicken marinated in Jamaican jerk spices overnight along with four Mexican cheeses and served with a guava reduction that hints at Indian cuisine. That creative blend of culinary traditions comes from Womack’s time working at other restaurants and blending in the thoughts of his team.
He said that he was excited to spend time with others in the industry as well as Nawab to gain some insights.
“I can grow from them. I can see their service and have conversations and get a better understanding of the business,” he said. “I’m really excited to get that motivation, and if I can motivate somebody, I’m excited for that as well.”
Neighboring Womack’s stall is Kati Roll Wala, where chef Pankraj Kumar is getting to know the Delaware market after opening his concept in Knoxville and Houston. While recognizing that hybrid and remote work have changed downtown offices, he believes the variety of options and attractive price points will bring customers to The Chancery Market.
“I spoke to a couple customers this afternoon who said they were really excited to have something like this,” Kumar said.
The availability of DoorDash service and even hot and cold cubicles for meal pickup will extend the tenants’ market reach, he said. A large diaspora of Indian and Southeast Asian workers in Wilmington will also be a target clientele for Kati Roll Wala as there currently isn’t an Indian restaurant in the city.
Kumar said his concept focused on protein-rich kati rolls and rice bowls featuring marinated chicken tikka or vegetarian options. Other favorites like samosas and drinks like lassi and masala chai will be offered as well.
While opening the food hall is a major milestone, Johnson has more work to do.
TSG has partnered with the Delaware Center for Horticulture, Sasaki Associates and
Ruppert Landscape on a complementary 10,000-square-foot outdoor plaza that will open next spring. Building new green spaces from the previously stonework courtyard, the outdoor space will feature games and food and drink service. Johnson is also negotiating with the owner of the adjacent parking garage to hopefully build a skywalk linking the properties, allowing tenants, hotel guests and patrons to easily walk into the food hall.
Inside Hercules Plaza, more work is planned to convert the currently unutilized lower northern atrium into a 125-seat art theater that could host roundtables or other small programs.
The Chancery Market is open seven days a week, including 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays to Thursdays and 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.