Merchants beginning to take shape, secure space in 8th Street Market

by Paul Gatling ( 4,260 views 

The primary tenant of the culinary hub known as 8th Street Market in Bentonville has long been touted.

“Brightwater: A Center for the Study of Food” is the culinary school operated by NorthWest Arkansas Community College. The center received a certificate of occupancy for its new home in the market on Jan. 11 and opened Jan. 17, taking about 40% of the repurposed 70,000-square-foot facility. Dr. Glenn Mack, executive director of culinary arts at NWACC, said students finished the first eight-week block of classes March 10, and the second eight-week block has begun. He said enrollment is at 162 students, up 16% over the fall semester.

“That is encouraging for two reasons,” Mack explained. “One is you generally don’t get an uptick from the fall to spring semester. And two, we did no advertising. There’s just been a buzz around town that’s been building over the last year and a half.”

Brightwater has been the primary focus of giving the former Tyson Foods plant new life, and is the building’s lone tenant, but the school will be surrounded by other third-party, food-related businesses. Already announced is a second location of Bike Rack Brewing Co., which opened Bentonville’s first brewery in 2014 a few blocks west of the market on Southwest A Street. Paul Esterer, managing director of commercial real estate firm Newmark Grubb Arkansas, one of the market developers, said he expects Bike Rack to open in May.

“They are pretty much done with [finishing out] their space,” he said. “Now it’s just a matter of getting in and operational.”

In an interview with Talk Business & Politics-Northwest Arkansas Business Journal, Esterer said other businesses will have a presence at the year-round, public market, with a goal of using food and local farming to create a regional hub and incubator for culinary talent.

“We are 100% done with the core and shell of the building and done with the two major tenant spaces for Bike Rack and Brightwater,” Esterer said. “I think in the next six months you will see the entire project come online.”

The market is scheduled to have its official grand opening June 22 when it hosts the BITE NW Arkansas food festival, a two-day event that’s part of the annual festivities of the LPGA Tour’s Walmart NW Arkansas Championship at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers.

The shell of the 8th Street Market building is a former Tyson Foods chicken processing and packaging facility, operational for more than three decades before closing in 2005. The abandoned plant was purchased for $825,000 in 2013 by an LLC backed by members of the Walton family. Since that time, the owners and local developers — Newmark Grubb Arkansas, Velocity Group and Community Development Corp. — have worked to secure the right merchants to inhabit the property once fully repurposed.

“Most of the retail space is spoken for,” Esterer said. “We are interested in recruiting a restaurant, and we have an RFP out right now for that. I’d say that is a main focus. That’s a space on the south end of the building facing [8th Street]. We’re looking for interesting ideas representative of a multicultural concept.”

8th Street Market is the largest project to date that is part of Bentonville’s Market District, established as part of the Southeast Downtown Master Plan in February 2014 to identify “experience districts” within the city. It was built by Nabholz Corp., largely with an $8 million community development grant by the Walton Family Foundation. Hufft Projects of Kansas City worked with a number of consultants and was the lead architecture firm.

Nielsen Architecture in Rogers is also working on tenant space buildouts, designing space for bean-to-bar chocolate company Hello Cocoa, which is relocating its headquarters from Fayetteville to a 1,400-square-foot space in the market. Co-owner Lauren Blanco said she is planning for a June opening. Hello Cocoa has manufacturing and retail elements at its Fayetteville location. The market location will add a café/bar concept.

“We’ve been wanting to do this concept for a long time and were looking for a chance to do that,” Blanco said. “It’s a perfect opportunity for us. They were looking for people who wanted to do more than just open a store or a bar, but something that involved manufacturing. It’s an incredible opportunity to join a community of people who are passionate about food, and we wanted to be a part of it.”

YeYo’s Mexican Grill, a downtown Bentonville food truck positioned in an alley off Central Avenue, has also agreed to lease 2,800 square feet in the market. Rafael Rios is the owner and chef, and the truck prepares its food daily, using seasonal produce grown locally at the Rios family farm.

Two other concepts are being developed by James King, originally from England, who moved to Northwest Arkansas in 2014 after his wife accepted an executive position with Wal-Mart Stores.

King is a wine educator. He founded the Texas Wine School in Houston in 2010 after he and his wife moved there from Los Angeles, also because of her job. Though he sold it two years ago, the school remains open, offering a number of educational opportunities and classes. King had ideas of something similar in Northwest Arkansas, when “friends of friends” suggested he look up Dr. Glenn Mack.

“He and I sat down, and he asked me what I wanted to do. And I said I wanted to set up a wine school,” King recalled. “He said that’s exactly what we’re doing at Brightwater. So we stared at each other, and I was the first one to blink. Rather than try and compete with NWACC and the new culinary school, it made more sense to join forces, and that’s what’s happened.”

King teaches the beverage management program for Brightwater, which aspires to have a “large and successful” beverage program, King said. Part of that will be introducing the globally recognized Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) courses of study to the school.

“Glenn asked if I knew anything about WSET, and I was like, ‘I’ve taught it for 10 years,’” he said. “There’s only about 40 or 50 [certified] in the U.S. It’s a perfect synergy to combine forces.”

Aside from his work with Brightwater, King is also developing two concepts of his own for the market. The primary one is a wine locker likely to be called NWA Wine Vault, a trendy “see-and-be-seen” sort of attraction for well-heeled clientele.

Essentially, it’s a setting for likeminded wine enthusiasts to come and raise a glass or two of their own wine. The 1,400-square-foot space will be about 800 square feet for a members’ lounge and the remainder for a connected storage unit. For the moment, King said there will be space for about 50 members, each with a locker that can hold up to 35 cases of wine.

“I have three [potential members] who have given their assurance, but I’ve not yet taken their money,” he said. “From conversations I’ve had with others, I’ve got an inkling that there are enough affluent people in the region and more coming that we believe this will work, at the right price.”

Though not finalized, King said membership prices will be around $200 per month. Members/locker-holders will have 24/7 security access. King’s other concept is a high-end retail store called 8th Street Treasures. It will sell wine, alcohol and beer, artisanal cheeses and possibly cured meats created by Brightwater chefs. He expects both businesses to open between June and July.

Mack said the community college is thrilled to have a presence close to downtown Bentonville, and the interest in Brightwater has been positive. So much, in fact, that Mack has taken to conducting group tours of the state-of-the-art facility each Thursday afternoon at 4 p.m.

“I was doing some individual tours, but after doing four or five per day, I decided this might be a better way to go,” he said. “We’ve gotten a great response from the community.”

After seeing an enrollment jump this semester, Mack said he has high hopes Brightwater will continue to attract eager students to the market. A selling point to aid in recruitment, Mack said, is Brightwater’s tuition of $4,500 for the two-year program.

“At other culinary schools at the community college level, it’s not unheard of for tuition to be between $10,000 and $25,000,” he said. “And if you go to a private school, it could be anywhere from $30,000 to $70,000. We have one of the lowest tuition rates in the U.S. for culinary.”