By Len Ramirez

SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) – After being hard-hit by the pandemic, a growing trend in the Bay Area dining scene is the popularity of food halls, which offer multiple food options for customers at lower costs for restaurant owners.

“I’m making more money doing this, and less work than having a sit-down restaurant,” said Cuban-American Chef Jennifer Echeverri.

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For almost two decades, Echeverri ran Habana Cuba Restaurant out of a standalone building on San Jose’s Race Street.

Today, it’s a stall in the SOFA Market food hall on South First Street and Echeverri said she’s never looked back.

“I do have some customers who miss the sit-down setting, but this works for Habana.  This is for everybody.”

SOFA Market is downtown San Jose’s second food hall after the San Pedro Square Market.

The concept is the same, with many restaurant choices in a fast-casual setting and all under one roof.

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“We want to support local, small business owners. People who want to just dive into the industry and just get a small storefront, instead of an entire restaurant,” said David Ma, SOFA Market’s manager.

Now, higher end restaurants and chefs are taking notice. Later this summer, the State Street Market will open in downtown Los Altos, featuring acclaimed chefs from San Francisco and Palo Alto in an upscale 20,000 square foot hall.

And new food halls have opened in San Francisco and Castro valley.

One reason: food halls are catching on with customers of all kinds.

“There’s really something for everyone.  You have vegan options and stuff for your carnivores. You’ve got stuff from all different regions of the world, all coming together in one small communal area,” said Marco Villasenor, a SOFA Market Customer.

Echeverri said the concept works especially well amid a shortage of workers. No wait staff is needed. Table bussing, a bar and maintenance are all shared.

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“It’s just easier when everything’s included and I can worry more about the quality of the food and making my customers happy,” she said.