With a slight breeze coming off of the Hillsborough River, the Tampa Riverwalk is filled with people aiming to hit their daily steps and others simply enjoying the sights and sounds of Downtown Tampa. The popularity of the Riverwalk is no surprise, as it winds down the river and connects the popular areas of Tampa. By connecting these seemingly distant areas, locals feel empowered to explore different businesses than those immediately near them.
Only a few blocks inland from the Riverwalk resides The Hall on Franklin. As a self-defined “European Inspired Specialty Food Hall,” this dining experience strays from the mall food court and aims to provide a unique culinary affair. Without the typical limitations of food halls—where customers wander around the various food stalls, wait for their food to be ready, and then find temporary seating to gobble their food—the Hall on Franklin allows guests to sit down at a table with a server and order food from all stalls on one on check. With this innovative approach to dining, The Hall on Franklin paved the way for a multitude of dining experiences to later break down the stereotypical method of eating at restaurants.
Guests are more than welcome to wander in and buy food directly from individual stalls, but owner Jamal Wilson wanted to provide guests with an innovative dining ordeal in his hometown of Tampa. Having grown up in Tampa, Wilson felt a pull to return there after playing basketball overseas. Upon doing so, Wilson entered the real estate business, opening his own firm and then his own mortgage company. After years of forging his eye for design, Wilson wanted his next endeavor to center around interacting with people. With the input of his cousin, he became enamored with opening a restaurant that housed a multitude of food stalls featuring local chefs.
Opening in 2017, the Hall on Franklin featured a wide range of flavors and foods—from poke to Mexican street food to baked goods. With coffee vendors and mixologists, this food collective quickly became a popular spot at all hours and days.
My own experience with dining at the Hall on Franklin has been limited. Walking in on a Friday night before I moved to Boston, I chose the traditional “food court” experience of mulling around until a stand caught my eye. At that moment, my eyes were fixated on “Bake’n Babes,” a local bakery with twists on traditional treats. Getting a warmed chocolate chip cookie with sea salt, I can recall the warm energy the entire restaurant exuded, as happy, satiated customers left and eager, hungry customers lined the street outside.
Wilson’s visionary approach to dining is visible in the success of the Hall on Franklin. “Ultimately, people want to be able to craft their own food experience. Some want to sit down, others want to explore. Why not offer both in a space that is intimate and inviting?” Wilson remarked when asked by Creative Loafing, a Tampa-based news source, about his goals for The Hall.
The impact of Wilson’s success is evident in the influx of other dining halls built in the downtown area. The Hall on Franklin, acting as a model for others, demonstrates the power of creativity and striving for more, even in an industry that is so well defined.