Riverside Food Lab Adds Two More Tenants, Expects to Open Soon


(This article was written by Fielding Buck and published in The Press-Enterprise on August 15, 2018.)

With neon lights shining and a 200-foot mural wrapping around its interior, Riverside Food Lab is nearly ready to invite in the public.

“There’s not too much left holding us back,” said Kevin Bobby, co-founder of two of the food hall project’s 14 tenants, Pig Pen Delicacy and Sweet Combforts.

Bobby said his needs aren’t great, just countertop lighting and, oh, a staff. But he thinks hiring and training will go quickly.

“Really all we need to provide is a cook and a cashier.”

After months of anticipation and delays, Riverside Food Lab is close to opening.

The space adjacent to the Fox Performing Arts Center is two to three weeks from being ready, according to Nathan Freeman, senior project manager with the City of Riverside. Similar estimates were made by developer Jerry Tessier, president of Pomona-based Arteco Partners, and Nick Pacific, culinary projects manager for Arteco.

The Food Lab is undergoing city inspections this week as its tenants prepare to move in.

Tessier and Pacific said the Food Lab would have an unannounced soft opening, but expected at least half of the tenants to be operating when it happens.

“I’m really looking forward to it for several reasons. No. 1 is I want to go,” said Mike Gardner, Riverside City Council member who represents downtown.

He said the space will bring trendy fast food to a block of Market Street has had too few dining options.

The space was built in 2013 across a courtyard from the Fox. The city originally envisioned it housing an upscale chain restaurant like Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Gardner said, but in October of 2016 went with Arteco’s food hall proposal. The concept of food halls was red-hot at the time, especially following the opening of the 42,000 square foot Anaheim Packing House. The Food Lab was pitched as a similar project, although much smaller at 14,000 square feet.

The city approved a 55-year lease to Arteco Partners for $4,204,800 plus profit sharing. Arteco Partner became responsible for finishing the building, which was a shell, and for filling it with tenants. Only minor changes have been made in the agreement since 2016, Gardner said.

There were ambitious hopes that the project might open in time for Festival of Lights 2017 before the timeline was pushed to early 2018. Then the opening was moved to March, then spring, then late summer.

Delays were caused by construction, including installing utilities for 14 businesses instead of the one restaurant the city originally envisioned. In May, the city council had to approve gas lines for the space.

“Every project costs more and takes longer than you’d expect. Let’s be honest,” Tessier said in a phone interview. The cost, which is footed by Arteco Partners, hasn’t been announced.

Food halls are different from traditional shopping center food courts in that they are set up to encourage innovation and start-ups.

–Stalls take up minimal space, between 300 and 1,160 square feet, according to Pacific.

–Leases are three years, which Pacific said is shorter than usual.

–Menus tend to be trendy.

Tenants include Freelyraw, which will serve minimally processed cold-pressed juices, and Pig Pen Delicacy, which Bobby said has burgers on buns made out of mac and cheese.

“They’re right across from each other!” said Tessier.

Authentic urban lifestyle

The Food Lab began announcing its tenants more than a year ago and retained them all, Pacific said.

Two new tenants that Arteco Projects hadn’t yet announced are Wilson’s, a craft cocktail bar, and Masala Mischief, which promises authentic Indian food.

Arteco is looking at scheduling a grand opening celebration near after all 14 tenants are open in September or October.

The Food Lab is part of Riverside’s long-term goal to encourage “authentic urban lifestyle.” Riverside moved it ahead this week in a couple of other ways.

On Thursday, Aug. 16, there will be a grand opening ceremony for the Imperial Hardware Lofts, a mixed use apartment complex that will eventually be anchored by gastropub the Salted Pig. The restaurant’s founder, Ronaldo Fierro, was an early supporter of the Food Lab.

Also, the City Council voted to sell the vacant Farm House Motel near UC Riverside to a development firm that would convert it into an indoor/outdoor complex for retail and entertainment.

The city has discussed other projects with Arteco Partners, including a food truck concept called Chow Alley at Courthouse Piazza, near 10th and Main streets, and the future of a seldom used gallery between the Fox and the Food Lab.

Gardner said that other options are being considered for the gallery space, including a pinball arcade. But he thinks it’s good to leave the space open for the time being as the city works on bigger projects such as building a new main library.

Even if the Food Lab didn’t open for the 2017 Festival of Lights, it appears it will be ready when this year’s festival opens on Nov. 23.

The influx of tourists will be good for Riverside’s dining scene, Gardner said, and vice versa.

“I think the Food Lab will serve them well.”

Riverside Food Lab

Where: 3605 Market St., Riverside

Information: 909-259-0652, www.riversidefoodlab.com


Augie’s Coffee Roasters: This will be the fifth location for a Redlands-based chain with a sixth on the way. Augie’s recently moved out of its flagship store.

BeerFarm: Twenty taps of craft brews selected by beer lovers Danny Gibson of Yucaipa and Nathan Andrade of Calimesa.

Bolcupop: Acai bowls, corn bowls, popsicles and agua fresca from food truck entrepreneur Sallimar Lorenzana, opening her first location.

Bricks & Birch: Second location for a Redlands pizzeria that also specializes in coffee and pastries.

Dhat Creole Grill: First foray into fast casual for Dhat Island, a family restaurant in Redlands that specializes in Caribbean Creole cuisine.

Dia de Los Puercos: Mexican dishes “served Chicago style” from a business that began as a food truck by Rick and Nicole Garcia.

Freelyraw: Cold press from Riverside resident Jennifer Fisher, who lives a raw vegan lifestyle.

Fufu’s Grill: Second restaurant for a family that Lebanese food such as chicken shawarma and house-made hummus in Mission Grove Shopping Center.

Masala Mischief: Authentic Bengal cuisine served by a Riverside family.

Monty’s Good Burger: Vegan food for burger lovers featuring the Impossible Burger patty. After pop-ups at Coachella and other music festivals, Monty’s recently opened a restaurant in Los Angeles’ Koreatown.

Pig Pen Delicacy: Third food hall for partners already serving burgers, pulled pork and tater tots in Irvine and Long Beach.

Soho Ramen: First restaurant serving Japanese-style ramen for Dwayne Ciang, who has poke restaurants in Corona and Temecula.

Sweet Combforts: Belgian waffles on a stick with toppings ranging from fresh strawberries to Mother’s Circus Animal Cookies crumbles.

Wilson’s: Craft cocktail bar and wine by the glass, according to Nick Pacific, culinary projects manager for the Food Lab.