TRADE in the OC Register

TRADE in the OC Register

Surprisingly, Irvine’s first food hall is being developed on a parcel of land not owned by the Irvine Co. Though we suspect the city’s largest landowner has culinary aspirations for the ex-Macy’s space at Irvine Spectrum Center.

TRADE, formerly Michelson Marketplace, is a joint effort between Lincoln Property Co. and Alcion Ventures. The two companies have spent roughly $5 million converting the aging food court within the 32,000-square-foot strip center into an open-air hall.

Like McFadden, TRADE has tapped experienced operators from buzzy concepts such as Dos Chinos, Slapfish, Afters Ice Cream and GD Bro Burger to bring fresh food stands to the center near John Wayne Airport.

“We had to get these guys who had the following to bring people here,” said Parke Miller, executive vice president of Irvine-based Lincoln Property Company.

Restaurants by Andrew Gruel were scheduled to open today, April 20.  The creator of fast-casual seafood sensation Slapfish has developed yin-and-yang concepts Two Birds and Butterleaf.

At Butterleaf, Gruel is following the veggie trend with produce as “drool-worthy” center-of-the-plate creations. The menu features roasted or sauteed vegetables bathed in various housemade sauces including Green Goddess and a spicy tiger sauce.

Meals come as wraps or bowls and with sides. One standout appetizer: Avocado Bombs, diced avocados rolled in crushed corn chips, deep fried and topped with kimchi tiger sauce.

Though veggies are king here, Gruel says don’t call Butterleaf a “plant-based restaurant” because his intention isn’t to cater strictly to vegetarians; he predicts carnivores will love it too.

“It’s vegetables for meat eaters,” he said.

At Two Birds, Gruel is following an indulgent trend: fried chicken. The limited menu features grilled or fried Jidori chicken served as a sandwich or salad for $9.

“I don’t think we’re reinventing the wheel. We are definitely trying to take advantage of chicken being hot,” Gruel said.

The rest of the TRADE restaurants are expected to open next week or by the end of the month, including a second brick-and-mortar outlet for Hop Phan’s Dos Chinos.

Like Slapfish, the Vietnamese and Mexican fusion eatery started out as a food truck. Phan parked the concept at 4th Street Market two years ago. Now, he’s taking it to Irvine, along with new concept Megadon, a Latin, Asian, Mexican and Hawaiian fusion eatery.

Pig Pen Delicacy, which debuted last year at 4th Street Market, is a pork-centric eatery from the creators of Afters Ice Cream and GD Bro Burger. It recently opened at SteelCraft, a Long Beach food marketplace built from shipping containers. Popular offerings include Pork Belly Fries, Maple Bacon Jam Burger and the MacAttack Burger. The latter is served on fried mac ‘n cheese buns.

Other TRADE food stalls: Portside, a seafood shack serving fish and chips, calamari and fish tacos; Gyro King, Greek sandwiches, gyros and plates; Sweet Combforts, a whimsical twist on a classic Belgian-style liege waffle. And, yes, that’s how you spell it because the dimples on the waffle form a honeycomb pattern. The waffles, infused with pearl sugars, are served on a stick and dipped in a variety of cookie butter flavors.

Following the one-bar-serves-all philosophy of Recess at 4th Street Market, Center Hub will provide all the libations for TRADE’s eight restaurants. Expect simple, classic cocktails, boutique wines and 10 taps of craft beer.

Article originally appeared on the OC Register.

From food trucks to food halls: Slapfish founder launches 2 concepts

From food trucks to food halls: Slapfish founder launches 2 concepts

"Upscale market meets food court" is how Slapfish CEO Andrew Gruel describes Trade Food Hall, the Orange County home of his two latest concepts — Two Birds and Butterleaf.

Two Birds is a farm-fresh Jidori chicken concept founded on the idea that "simple is better," and Butterleaf is "vegetarian food for non-vegetarians," said Gruel, who opened his first concept —  Slapfish —  as a food truck. He's now on a mission to prove that meatless meals can be filling. Butterleaf serves burgers made with sweet potatoes and black beans, along with Avocado Bombs and Umami Chips. The menu also features build-your-own bowls and wraps with a revolving menu of ancient super grains (brown rice, quinoa, or freekah), homemade sauces (creamy sriracha and garlic, plus  kewpie mayo and crushed dill) and seasonally rotating vegetables.

While the flavors are innovative, the menu is limited at both concepts. Each — by design — offers only a few options.

"Our menus are simple and focused for a reason," said Gruel, who partnered with his wife, Lauren Gruel, restaurant veteran Brent Miller and Chief Creative Officer John Wolanin to develop the concepts.  "Plenty of studies show that the more options you give a customer, the more anxiety and confusion they will have about what to order. It's the paradox of choice. By focusing in on comfort-driven staples, we aim to simplify the dining experience and perfect our reinventions of timeless dishes.

"The sauce combinations at Two Birds and variety of seasonally rotating menu items at Butterleaf allow us to expand our menu offerings, without actually adding more set menu choices.

Controlling costs

Both concepts are based around high-quality menu items: Two Birds, for example, uses only farm-fresh Jidori chicken raised in Southern California. And Butterleaf's veggies come from Melissa's Produce, a U.S. distributor of specialty and organic fresh produce.

Although it may sound like an expensive way to operate, Gruel is able to control costs by keeping his menus simple.

"We can be specific with our ingredients and order in bulk," he said. " This helps us save money and also forces us to make eco-conscious decisions about what foods we serve our customers."

Opening inside Trade Food Hall, which is located within a retail strip and houses seven other fast casual concepts, is another way to save money. It cuts back on operational and start-up costs, setting both concepts up for unlimited growth potential, Gruel said.

Although his ultimate goal is to become a high-quality version of Taco Bell/Pizza Hut, expanding into food halls and airports nationwide, he won't rush the process.

"We are very specific when it comes to what locations we will open," Gruel said. "Trade Food Hall was an easy choice given the demographics of the community in Irvine, the abundance of offices nearby and limited food options for those customers."

Gruel and his team take a technological approach to placement of all locations.

"Data is king, and we have access to resources that our competitors simply do not," he said. "Using location software, we can understand the foot traffic, customer demographics, how frequently they visit a location, and so on.

"Too often do people open restaurants on instinct alone. By better understanding your target customer and demographic — where they work, where they live, how frequent they travel — the better you can develop your product and its location to optimize profits."

Measuring success

Although Gruel said he obviously has sales goals, he measures success by customer satisfaction.

"One big measure of success is customer retention and how likely they are to share us with their friends on social media," he said. "Our team has extensive experience in social media, and we leverage the power of the Internet to market for us. We will closely track our audience sentiment using data analytics and measure our success by the social conversation. Creating a loyal customer is one thing, but empowering a brand evangelist to power our marketing channels will help us grow more efficiently over the long term."

A new trend emerging?

Gruel refers to the the food hall trend as the "new food truck" of the industry. He expects them to become a popular dining choice just as food trucks were once rarely seen but are now mainstream.

"People want convenience, yes, but they also want somewhere to sit down and enjoy their meal," he said. "With food halls, customers get to pick from a variety of offerings without having to eat their meal on a bucket in a gas station parking lot. Food halls also offer a lower investment, similar to food trucks."

Cover photo: Avocado Bombs from Butterleaf

Story originally from Fast Casual.



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Hammers are swinging over at TRADE and the project is really starting to take shape. 

Take a peek at some of the exciting progress.  Click through our construction gallery to see what is happening on-site. 

Irvine is about to get its first food hall and we could not be more excited.  Stay tuned for more updates as construction at TRADE approaches the finish line!  


We are thrilled to announce TRADE, a MARKETPLACE of visionary restauranteurs and ENVIRONMENT where everyone comes together in community...a REFUGE for those seeking the extraordinary...ESCAPE from the uninspired and join the new standard.