Located inside the 106-year-old Cook County Hospital that had been standing vacant for decades on Chicago’s Near West Side, Dr. Murphy’s Food Hall opened on Aug. 3 with a dozen vendors—nine of them woman and/or minority owned—to serve a customer base composed primarily of staff, guests and visitors to “the largest urban concentration of healthcare institutions, biotechnology hubs and technology-based incubators in the country,” according to the press release announcing the opening, as well as the new 210-room Hyatt Place and Hyatt House Chicago Medical/University District hotel, the first combined Hyatt Place and Hyatt House hotels located in Chicago.
Dr. Murphy’s Food Hall is part of the Cook County Hospital’s $150 million renovation that will also include fully leased medical office space, a daycare center, and the Hyatt properties. The venue is located across the street from the John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County, next door to Rush University and Rush University Medical Center and a short walk from the various facilities of University of Illinois Chicago Hospitals & Health in Chicago’s Illinois Medical District.
To better serve the surrounding businesses and institutions, the 10,000-square-foot food hall offers spacious seating areas, modular tables, an 800 sq. ft. outdoor dining space, a designated takeout/pickup area, integrated online ordering technology, contactless payment systems and a food delivery service that is expected to debut shortly. Hours are 6:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 6:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday.
Though it was obviously planned and mostly completed before the coronavirus crisis hit, the Murphy’s Food Hall project conforms with the necessary restrictions the crisis has imposed, including social distancing, sanitation and minimized contact. While the crisis did push the scheduled opening back a few weeks, its operators were determined to push ahead, says Akhtar Nawab, who heads Hospitality HQ, the management company that operates the food hall.
“It’s a different kind of time to open but we didn’t want to hold it back,” he offers. “We felt we were taking all the precautions necessary to safely open the food hall and that we’re in compliance with all the guidelines. [In fact], we were fortunate that we didn’t open prior to all this but afterwards.”
He cites another food hall Hospitality HQ opened just before the coronavirus hit, which had to have its floor plans retroactively modified, while Murphy’s could be modified prior to its debut, a much simpler—and less expensive—prospect. Adjustments included the use of modular seating and limiting the number of seats and tables to promote social distancing. It also instituted such now-standard practices as universal use of masks, floor decals to signal customer spacing in queues and plexiglass partitions between customers and food hall staff.
Also helping social distancing is the availability of mobile ordering, done through its own software to avoid third-party ordering platform fees. The program also allows orders to be aggregated from different vendors, which is especially helpful for group meetings where a variety of dishes are preferred.
Dr. Murphy’s has also inked a marketing partnership deal with Apple and its ApplePay mobile commerce platform.
“While ApplePay is accepted everywhere, nowhere except with us are they actually launching marketing and funding into the food hall in a way that is allowing us to promote ApplePay,” Nawab explains, “so they’re assisting us through our marketing campaign and creating it to drive more users to use ApplePay. [For example,] based on the geo-targeted ads that we’re working on with them, you could be scrolling through Instagram and see one of these advertisements that you inevitably see on Instagram [that] will be for the food hall if you’re in that zip code. It will promote a [specific] vendor, for example, or whatever campaign we create with them.”
Here’s a closer look at the Dr. Murphy’s Food Hall venue and its vendors…