The New North Market

When it rains, it pours—or so says the Morton’s salt girl. The same could be said for the North Market, as so many shuffles, revamps, and newbies have seasoned the beloved public market of late that it could almost be referred to as the “New North Market.”

This winter also marks Rick Harrison Wolfe’s year-and-a-half birthday of being the executive director and the face of the Market. Much ado was made about the ventilation system finally being replaced last year in order to stymie the legendary “North Market smell,” but since then not only has a new roof been pitched, but new vendors and legislation are keeping the Market dynamic and destination-worthy.

“I said publically that the next vendors would be start-ups and that’s what we’ve done,” said Wolfe. “We are, in some sense, a small business incubator.” As construction dust begins to settle, look for both Hot Chicken Takeover and Little Eater to open soon, as they move from pop-up to merchant status.

The North Market kitchen on the second floor has always been a question mark. Once home to a restaurant and then a space for events and overflowing diners, it’s a huge area looking for some love.

“We’ve always wanted to do something with the space,” said Wolfe. “I ran into Joe DeLoss [of HCT] awhile ago and said let’s keep in touch and then Olde Towne East happened.”

What “happened” was Hot Chicken Takeover’s phenomenal summer roost at the Far Eastside Co-Op. Wolfe made sure to get there early in order to avoid waiting in a 400-deep line when he first visited. “I ran into people randomly from all around town—all sorts of people. People who rode their bike there and people who drove in from the suburbs.” Wolfe was attracted to the sense of fun and community that DeLoss had fostered, and when the head fryer came looking for a winter home, Wolfe thought it was a match.

“I tried the ‘Hot,’ the second one from the top,” laughed Wolfe. “Now that they’ll be right on my doorstep, I’ll definitely give the “Holy” a shot.”

Also on the cusp of opening is Cara Mangini’s Little Eater, another pop-up veteran snuggling into Vine street. “She’s got a passion for produce,” said Wolfe. “She’s very fresh driven and will have a combination of fresh produce and prepared foods…we needed some lighter options, something vegetarian and produce-centered.”

The market maintains a tightrope act between prepared foods and market goods. Those who remember the Quonset hut and it’s four butchers might grumble that the Market has become a “food court,” much like when a favorite underground band is all of a sudden banging out of every car on High Street during Gallery Hop. However, Wolfe is quick to point out that, currently, the space is one-third prepared foods and two-thirds market foods (meat, produce, bakery goods, spices, etc.) and 100 percent independent, locally owned kiosks. “It’s about curation; it’s about finding a balance,” explained the director. “With 3 million convention-ers a year, where are they going to eat?”

Yet another welcome change that is the expansion of The Barrel & Bottle to include a sit-down bar area. “It’s great to see someone having a pint and enjoying lunch,” said Wolfe. The ability to imbibe is also a way to broaden the busy hours through the early evening. People can come by after work, grab a glass of wine, relax, and then pick up dinner fixins for home.

“There is also ‘sip and stroll’ legislation written specifically for us, the North Market, on the table,” explained Wolfe. “Representatives Stinziano and Duffey put it together, and now the governor just has to sign it.” For Wolfe, this keeps the Market relevant in the face of Whole Foods and Giant Eagle Market District, both of which have wine tastings while customers shop. “I also want to point out that it was a Democrat and a Republican working together to make this happen—we can make things work on a local level.”

Look forward to being able to wine and wander longer into the evening as well, as the Market will be changing its hours in 2015. “When there are people tugging at the doors at 5 p.m. on a Saturday, we should be open,” Wolfe said. “We have a duty to our city.” While the new hours haven’t been nailed down yet, expect to see them debut around the time of the Arnold in March, when the city’s population grows by 125,000 hungry people. Sitting in his nest on the second floor, with the bustle of the market echoing from below, Wolfe makes a promise: “We are at full occupancy, and we will not have a vacancy for a long time, if ever, mark my words…”