As Harrah’s New Orleans gradually transforms into Caesars New Orleans — courtesy of a $325 million renovation — an ambitious, celebrity chef-driven food hall is also taking shape inside the casino. At the same time, two of New Orleans’s three food halls, the months-old Hall on Mag and four-year-old Pythian Market, both closed in recent weeks.
The Times Picayune-New Orleans Advocate reported this week that a new food hall planned for the casino has confirmed three well-known residents: Bobby Flay’s Bobby’s Burgers; the second location of Buddy Valastro’s PizzaCake; and, for a local name, a restaurant from chef Nina Compton, to be called Nina’s Creole Cottage. Luxe sushi brand Nobu will anchor the casino with its first New Orleans restaurant, as announced in 2021, and is set to debut in 2024 (that restaurant is not part of the food hall).
News of the multi-restaurant venue at Caesars comes during an uncertain time for New Orleans food halls: The Hall on Mag, which opened in August 2022 to replace the previous food hall there, Auction House Market, has been unexpectedly shuttered since at least December 30 when diners with reservations arrived to a locked building. Messages and calls to the food hall operator, a company founded by entrepreneur Jamal Wilson, have gone unreturned. When reached by phone Tuesday, a representative for Felicity Property Co., the building’s owner, said the company had “no comment” about the status of the food hall and immediately hung up. The Hall on Mag website and social media accounts have been scrubbed from the internet, and its listing on the reservation platform Resy no longer allows for booking.
Plans for three other food halls under Wilson’s company, “The Hall,” seem to have stalled in recent months. The Tampa Bay Business Journal reported in October 2022 that the long-planned Hall at Midtown was no longer moving forward. Two halls planned for the Atlanta area, the Hall at Ashford Lane and the Hall at the Grove, are both long-delayed — the Hall at Ashford was expected by December, and the latest on the Hall at the Grove, projected to open in fall 2022, is that it’s been pushed to 2024 (as reported in October 2022). Only the Hall on the Yard in Orlando, Florida, appears to be currently operating; messages to that business have gone unreturned and the voice mailbox is full.
About a half mile away from the Hall on Mag sits the empty Pythian Market, which was evicted from its building in November 2022 for failing to pay more than $2.5 million in back rent. While a settlement between the landlord, ERG Enterprises, and the food hall’s operator allowed the vendors to continue operating there through late December, lease negotiations with individual vendors were not completed in time to keep the food hall open past then. It’s been closed since December 23, and while the market is listed as “permanently closed” on Google and on its website, at least one vendor, La Cocinita, says they’ve been told ERG plans to reopen in the coming months. On Tuesday, January 10, La Cocinita’s food truck was set up outside the market on Loyola Avenue, drawing a handful of customers who tried and failed to enter the now-locked food hall around lunchtime. ERG Enterprises has not returned phone calls or messages from Eater, but an executive told NOLA.com at the end of December, vaguely, “we will relaunch.”
Some Pythian Market vendors have found alternative ways with which to continue some semblance of their business while stuck in limbo, however. Moon Garden has happily secured its own storefront, opening in the near future with plans to offer a bigger food menu in addition to tea and boba (at 3138 Magazine Street). Two other vendors, 14 Parishes and Willie Mae’s at the Market, have other full-blown restaurant locations that remain open — 14 Parishes on Oak Street, and the original, iconic Willie Mae’s Scotch House in Treme. Popular Indian street food vendor Let Us Feed U (LUFU) posted in late December that they hoped to reopen at Pythian Market in mid-January after building renovations; as of January 10, however, there is no visible work being done inside the space. The food hall, down to stacked pizza boxes on the counter at vendor the Pizza Box, appears untouched from when it closed in late December.