Community-based food hall to host grand opening Saturday

By Vivian Roach | Staff Writer, Video by Grace Smith | Broadcast Reporter

Union Hall will host its grand opening at 11 a.m. Saturday. The food hall, a brand new restaurant concept to the Waco restaurant scene, is located on 720 Franklin Ave. and dedicated to keeping its vendors rooted in the local community.

Jonathan Garza, sales and leasing agent for Turner Behringer Real Estate, walked through the space during an informational walkthrough and explained how the concept is meant to close the gap for food vendors, from food truck to brick and mortar.

Stalls in Union Hall are reserved for food vendors with ties to Waco as opposed to popular chain establishments.

With nine food vendors open now, and four more to join, Union Hall is hoping to bring locals together in a community setting.

Currently, Union Hall hosts Whizzbang’s Hamburgers, Unshakeable Milkshakes, koKo Ramen, Sam’s Bar, Wacool Tacos & Tamales, Kurbside Coffee, Press Waffle Co. and Wing’s of Waco. Additionally, Union Hall will soon be home to Huaco Eatery, Around the World, Blasian Asian and Ceviche Del Mar.

Ismael Olvera, owner of Kurbside Coffee, is completely new to the coffee shop business. He lived in Mexia but returned to Waco to start his coffee shop, as he said his heart was born and raised here.

“Me and my wife are from a Hispanic culture and decided to put a little twist to coffee. So you know, we put in horchata, or conchas, a little bit of sweet bread,” Olvera said.

Kemar Ballentine, a former food service manager at Penland Dining Hall, now owns Wing’s over Waco at Union Hall. After familiarizing himself with the food service world, Ballentine said he realized his “niche” was wings. He cooks them uniquely by marinating and smoking the wings and then pairing them with a familiar sauce.

“I wanted to tie everything in, because it’s Wing’s of Waco… what is indigenous to Waco is Dr. Pepper. So I teamed up with the Dr. Pepper Museum, and I got their signature Dr. Pepper barbecue sauce,” Ballantine said.

Keeping consistent with “new concepts” in Waco, another vendor, Sam’s Bar, is owned by the Waco Mexican restaurant La Fiesta. Sam’s Bar, however, focuses strictly on craft drinks.

Sam Castillo, owner of La Fiesta, comes from a family that has been in the restaurant business since 1920. He returned to Waco after working in Dallas, and opened La Fiesta about 10 years ago with his sister.

The two have also opened Wacool, a taco bar also in Union Hall. Castillo said the food hall concept, though new to Waco, isn’t unique to this area.

“They started in Europe, these food hall concepts… the closest one to here is Legacy Food Hall in Dallas. [Union Hall] is kind of formed after Legacy Hall in Dallas,” Castillo said.

Garza said Union Hall is solely for locals, and that the spot isn’t as concerned with attracting tourists.

“The tourism market is great. But it’s hard to get those individuals to know about Union Hall. Our goal is to build something for Waco — people who live and work downtown, Baylor students on the other side of the highway and those who live on the outskirts of town,” Garza said.