Dana Sicko first toured Whitehall Market seven or eight years ago and quickly fell in love with the space, then still under construction, inside a former mill and warehouse on a tucked-away stretch of Clipper Mill Road.

When the luxe Hampden food hall finally began operating in 2020, Sicko said it offered her catering and design business, Gundalow Gourmet, a nurturing environment to grow during a tumultuous time. When a neighboring stall selling gifts and housewares departed the market, Sicko took over that stall, too, using it to grow her interior design business as she simultaneously opened a second branch of Gundalow in Towson.

But nearly three years after she opened at Whitehall, Sicko has decided to exit the market in the interest of streamlining her business and simplifying her own life, she said.

She’s not the only one on the way out. Of the businesses that first greeted customers when Whitehall Market opened to the public, all but one have announced plans to leave this summer or have already closed their stalls. It leaves the future of Whitehall Mill, whose $25 million renovation was reported in a 2021 New York Times trend piece about repurposing mills for businesses, up in the air.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Wight Tea Co., FireFly Farms and Ceremony Coffee will shut down this year, while some stalls, including bakery Crust By Mack, departed months ago. Only pop-up shop The Brisket Hub, which took the place of The Urban Burger Bar when that shut down in 2022, has no plans to leave, said developer David Tufaro. Rey Eugenio, owner of Heritage Kitchen, declined to say whether he planned to stay, but Tufaro said that business will “probably” depart this summer.

Brittany Wight and cashier Ariel complete an order at Wight Tea Co. in Whitehall Market on March 7, 2023.
Wight Tea Co. is shutting down its stall at Whitehall Market, part of a wave of closures at the Hampden food hall. (Krishna Sharma)

Tufaro is principal of Terra Nova Ventures, which transformed Whitehall into a food hall and apartment and office complex from what he said was once a porn distribution site. He also owns and redeveloped nearby Mill No. 1, home to Cosima, and has another project in Ellicott City in the works that will see the conversion of a historic flour mill. He said he is captivated by “the opportunity to create something new out of something old.” Whitehall, he said, was inspired after a trip to Washington, D.C.’s Union Market.

He attributed the recent departure announcements to the market “going through a three-year turnover” as tenants’ leases expire.

To Sicko, the wave of departures makes sense. “We kind of came in as a class,” she said, referring to herself and the other businesses that launched at the market in 2020. “We’ve all kind of graduated.”

High turnover is not uncommon for food halls, which typically feature multiple stalls with a shared kitchen. Small businesses may use them as a launchpad before moving on to bigger and better things. The Common Kitchen in Clarksville, for instance, has seen the majority of its tenants depart since it first opened in 2018 because the internationally focused food hall acts “as a real-life incubator” and many outgrow the space, said general manager Leigha Steele. “We haven’t had any businesses leave because they weren’t successful,” Steele said. Similarly, Tufaro said, Whitehall Market offered an opportunity for entrepreneurs to create more sustainable businesses for themselves.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

But Common Kitchen, the Howard County food hall, now has a waitlist for prospective vendors. “There’s no shortage of restaurant owners or entrepreneurs that are interested in opening,” Steele said. Meanwhile, Whitehall Market has been unable to find replacements for the departing vendors, though Tufaro said they are “pretty close” to signing a lease with a new tenant.

The market and mill is somewhat hard to access, requiring a risky U-turn when driving there from I-83 or braving a narrow stretch of old Falls Road when coming from the city. But Tufaro waved off concerns about geography, arguing that the right vendors will draw customers no matter what. He pointed to nearby Woodberry Kitchen, the award-winning restaurant inside another former industrial area. (It has since transformed into an event space with an adjoining 30-seat tavern.) He also mentioned True Chesapeake Oyster Co., a full-service restaurant that opened a year before Whitehall Market and neighbors the space. Co-owner Patrick Hudson said he plans to keep it there.

True Chesapeake’s success is a “hopeful sign” that the food hall can make it, Tufaro said. Whitehall Mill, a mixed-use development, also features 28 apartments, offices and multiple event spaces available for rent. “I like challenges,” he said. “I don’t necessarily like that we’re losing tenants.”

Tufaro maintained that foot traffic has improved at his Hampden food hall since it first launched at the height of the pandemic. And his development company has worked to find new ways to attract people through events such as concerts or poetry nights.

In any case, Tufaro has the long view in mind. In Baltimore City, he said, overnight successes aren’t commonplace. “There’s a lot of patience required to make things work.”

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

And Sicko said she has no regrets about her time at Whitehall: “To be invited into people’s kitchens … I’ll never take that for granted.”


More From The Banner