When a shopping destination is open for business, but the restaurants aren’t ready to serve, it’s time for some innovation. At the new McArthur Glen Designer Outlet in Richmond, this meant bringing on board the expertise and vendors of Hawkers Market to create a temporary artisanal “food hall” called Hawkers Mercado.
Utilizing an as-yet vacant and un-finished restaurant space, as well as a couple of retail units, the Mercado reflects a new sensibility in fast-serve fare for hungry shoppers. In fact, the Mercado has proven to be a bit of destination itself, thanks to its compelling culinary curiosities, including a sought-after churro ice cream sandwich and quirky creations like the Naan-taco hybrid aptly named the “Naaco.”
Inside the sparsely outfitted indoor vending space the artisans and food-makers occupy stalls emblazoned with simple, uniform illuminated signs; amusingly, the one marked “SEXY” is for the cold-pressed bottled juice vendor, Sexy Juice.
For Hawkers Market founder Chris Jerome, the opportunity to embark on this Mercado project was tantalizing, indeed. Jerome says the McArthur Glen team was seeking a “quick and delicious” kind of food vending set-up, which made Hawkers an ideal partner, since they specialize in curating events showcasing “good honest food that’s elevated to a degree that you wouldn’t feel you saw at a mall.” (It’s important to note, mind you, that McArthur Glen would prefer to not be called a mall, and Hawkers Mercado is certainly not a “food court.”)
Hawkers cultivates a very special mentorship-style relationship with their crop of hand-picked vendors. The Mercado line-up was selected based on the vendors’ existing relationship with Hawkers, as well as the roster’s overall diversity of food and drink offerings, and lastly for the vendors’ ability to meet the demands of what Jerome attests is very “high-volume foot traffic,” at McArthur Glen.
The vendors are in various stages of their professional culinary careers, but none are as-yet large scale brands, and most have only been executing their concepts for no more than three years. Working under the Hawkers platform allows them to “figure out their business options,” elaborates Jerome, who celebrates his thoughtfully-selected team for each “doing something individual and unique” in the food business.
Not only are the vendors doing unique foods, but they’ve also got unique backstories. Jerome says he is influenced by the vendors’ stories. “We really are a people-centric company,” he adds, noting that a part of what the Hawkers umbrella provides is support for these food entrepreneurs.
Ultimately, though, it comes down to Hawkers being about putting forth the best food and experience possible. “For every concept that we do, integrity is always the driver,” explains Jerome. “We take a great deal of care in looking at where the food is sourced from, [the vendors’] story, and what they want to serve…It’s always about quality and integrity.”
Shoppers–and food lovers–can expect to find Hawkers Mercado running at least through October 7, with some changes to the lineup taking place in early September.
Vancouver-based chef Jefferson Alvarez, last of Gastown’s posh and irreverent Secret Location and his own pop-ups, is taking his Hawkers Mercado experience as a bit of a sojourn from the hot kitchen grind, but also as an opportunity to push the boundaries of the expected “mall food.” At his stall, 5entidos, Alvarez puts high-end ingredients like foie gras, caviar, and smoked salmon on the menu.
Next door to 5entidos is another local culinary itinerant, Dinner by Bayan, who is proving “a brown guy can make good Chinese food” with his Roasted Chicken and Pulled Pork buns, and other culinary creations inspired by his years cooking in China. Look for spicy cold noodles to join the menu, along with delightful sweet surprises culled from the impressive lineup of dishes from his Dinner by Bayan pop-ups.
Marc D. Wicks of Whiskey Six BBQ first collaborated with Jerome and Hawkers in Calgary a while back, and is using the Mercado as another chance to make and serve his “West Coast”-style BBQ, which he says melds the barbeque traditions of Texas, Louisiana, and North Carolina with his fresh, organic, locally-sourced, and seasonal ingredients. With an aim to bring his smoked and BBQ-ed meats to eaters who are looking for healthier options. His tender beef brisket sandwich has just the right balance of smoke and sweet, and works great on a sandwich, with fresh tomatoes, lettuce, and cukes, served with vibrant slaw and crunchy potato chips on the side.
Calgary’s Naaco is the tasty telling of the tale of when naan met taco. This Indi-Mexi street food is all about vibrant flavours and colours (yes, those are little candies on their “Naaco” for sweetness and crunch). This exciting take on a familiar set of street food components comes from Chef Aman Adatia, who is also well-known for his Calgary-based cooking show.
Keeping it strictly legit–at least on the savoury front–is Hugo’s Mexican Food. The Chilliwack-based vendor serves up delectable and authentic tacos, like chicken tinga (shredded chicken in a “Morelos style” sauce topped with chipotle crema and cilantro) and beef barbacoa (slow-cooked sirloin tip with a “Mexico City style” seasoning served with chopped onions, cilantro, and Hugo’s crema).
But the star of the show is Hugo’s Churros‘ churro ice cream sandwich, which finds Marios’ vanilla gelato gently pressed between two still-warm swirled churros circles. Lovingly captured on countless Instagram photos, this destination treat will leave your fingers coated in sweet cinnamon sugar and your belly full of happiness.
However, for those in search of an alternative to dairy-based ice cream will want to head across the plaza to Nice Vice. Using only high quality and ethically-sourced ingredients, Nice Vice Creamery serves 0% dairy, plant-based “vice cream.” Their Nice Vice cream bowls are perfect for those who want a delicious and refreshing treat, but without the milk or cream.
Also currently residing in its own pop-up shop outside of the main Mercado “food hall” is The Capilano Tea House and Botanical Soda Company, which is Indigenous-owned and plant-inspired. Owned and operated by mother-daughter duo Michelle and Paisley Nahanee from the Squamish Nation, The Capilano serves packaged teas and ready-to-drink blends, in addition to small-batch sodas, which combine florals with fruits together; think lavender with ginger and rose petals with lemon.
More thirst quenching options are under the roof of the main Mercado, too. At the Sexy Juice stall, get your dose of fruits and veg in the form of a colourful, grab-and-go bottle of cold-pressed juice. Using an array of fresh produce and nuts for their nutrient- rich concoctions, Sexy Juice offers a varied selection of invigorating blends, including the Restore Tonic, which is comprised of hibiscus, chamomile, lemon balm, lavender, maple syrup, and alkaline water.
Prema, the Sanskrit word for love, is the inspiration behind Prema Chai, a locally-based company dedicated to creating fresh-tasting, easy-to-drink Chai. The company was created by Tas Cheema, a Surrey-based entrepreneur, using a family recipe passed down through generations. Using all-natural ingredients, Prema Chai is traditionally brewed in B.C. and is conveniently packaged in ready-to-drink bottles. There are three flavours to choose from including, Original, No Sugar Added, and French Vanilla, which can either be enjoyed cold or hot.
Address: McArthur Glen Designer Outlet (7899 Templeton Station Road, Richmond)