BUILT.: The Revitalization of Market Square in Houston

“The FCSI consultant learns from each other — we meet regularly, we challenge each other, we network, and we learn from what others are doing,” says Chris Tripoli, FCSI The Americas member and president at A’la Carte Foodservice Consulting Group.

This sentiment is essentially the basis of the partnership between FCSI The Americas and the Foodable Network. Through BUILT., Foodable’s new episodic network show, viewers get a front-row seat and behind-the-scenes look at how FCSI The Americas consultants tackle everyday foodservice challenges, whether it’s rethinking a hospital cafeteria, reworking an airplane menu, or restructuring restaurant habits on food waste. Each episode will focus on a different project with a different FCSI member. While viewers are led through the problem-solving journeys of these passionate individuals, they will soon discover solutions of their own.

Episode One: Revitalizing a Houston Park

In this premier episode of BUILT., Chris Tripoli and Bob Eury, executive director at the Houston Downtown Management District (HDMD), take us through the process of revitalizing Market Square in Houston, Texas, a small, old, established park in the downtown area that serves both a small residential community as well as nearby Monday-thru-Friday employees.

“The philosophy behind the redevelopment of the park was to incorporate the history of the site but also to respect the artistic intent and engagement of artists,” says Eury. “At the same time, was to really make it the thriving public square for the residential neighborhood.”

To achieve this revitalization, Eury reached out to Tripoli early on to figure out whether foodservice might play a role in the project. “We had very little experience in foodservice,” says Eury. “And I think we realized that this is one of those things where we wanted to get it right from the start.”

Step One: Concept

Initially, the HDMD team imagined some type of service kitchen that could be used for special events within the park. But under Tripoli’s guidance, HDMD realized that this model could be taken to an everyday approach. Thus, the idea of a small restaurant operation was born.

In the first step of the project, the teams took a hard look at customer traffic throughout different times of day, consumer buying habits within the area, and the different ways in which different demographics — the local resident, nearby employee, weekend visitor, etc. — were utilizing the space.

Step Two: Research

In the next step, it was important to understand and compare the space to other similar facilities of roughly the same size, and determine what could be learnt from them.

“The challenges started mounting for foodservice success, and the first one was size and space. In order to fit into the park, and fit into the flow of the park, we knew that we were going to be challenged by the compactness of this kiosk,” says Tripoli. “And so, we thought that before we even knew what type of food or before we know who the right user we be, we knew this was going to be a unique service space and that it may not be able to have all of the elements of foodservice.”

From there, the two teams got to work on identifying established operators with a restaurant background in either quick service or fast casual to fill the space. Ultimately, Niko Niko’s, a Greek American cafe, was chosen. The concept has a local following after having been around for 40+ years. 

Step Three: Implementation

The confined space at the park does bring challenges like daily food inventory, but luckily for Niko Niko’s, they have a nearby location. “So we can do a lot of commissary out of there and bring it in every day, once a day or twice a day, depending on how busy we are,” says Dimitri Fetokakis, owner at Niko Niko’s. All cooking is done on site at the kiosk, but all sauces, desserts, marinades, and dips are made at another location and brought in.

“Knowing how long the line might be or how many people might be in line helped us design where we needed to have menu points,” says Tripoli. “So we actually have menu displays not just at the kiosk but further handheld menus available to help speed the line…It also helped us decide what type of customer recognition do we want for delivery.” They decided on a quick pager device. The design also called for a separate pick-up window and the development of small packaging. “Once we looked at where people might sit and how people are going to eat in the park — people might sit on the grass, sit on a bench — so lap eating becomes something that is a concern.”

Watch the full episode above to learn the full process of how this revitalization came about, what details and challenges were involved, and more!