Few debuts in food history can match the sheer size and hype of the shiny new High Line-adjacent development, which includes one million square feet of retail space and restaurants.
More than two dozen new restaurants — headlined by a Las Vegas-esque lineup of big-name chefs — are spread throughout the glinting $25-billion mega-development, which officially opens Friday on Manhattan’s far West Side by the High Line.
The not-too-short list of food outlets begins with Mercado Little Spain, a sprawling food hall and market from José Andrés, along with his high-profile creative partners, Spanish modernists Ferran and Albert Adrià. At 35,000 square feet — roughly the size of a small Target store — Mercado features a retail shop, a cocktail bar, and a food court focused on Spanish tapas, and it marks Andrés' grand debut in New York. Eventually, the space will also fit three separate sit-down restaurants and a wine bar.
And there's more. An even bigger smorgasbord can be found next door inside the seven-story Shops & Restaurants at Hudson Yards. About 20 percent of the one-million-square-foot shopping center is dedicated to food and drink. This includes all-new concepts from chefs Thomas Keller (the continental-themed TAK Room), David Chang (full-service Kāwi and grab-and-go Peach Mart), and Michael Lomonaco (275-seat Hudson Yards Grill), as well as first-time NYC outposts for California meat company Belcampo and London hospitality group Rhubarb. The complex also features new locations for Midtown’s Estiatorio Milos and Bluebird London proprietors D&D London, popular fast-casual chains Shake Shack and Sweetgreen, and local institutions Dylan’s Candy Bar, Li-Lac Chocolates, and William Greenberg Desserts.
Even anchor retailer Neiman Marcus is getting in on the action, too, with a bar, a cafe, and a fine-dining restaurant all its own.
And there is more still to come, with planned restaurants by Danny Meyer and Stephen Starr now in the works, plus some yet-to-be-announced additions.
It’s a dizzying array of dining options — especially for a part of town once considered a food desert. As developers Related Companies and Oxford Properties Group continue to transform this formerly gritty 28-acre manufacturing zone into a veritable Emerald City, restaurants are playing a vital role in that made-from-scratch reality.
The person most responsible for assembling all the eating and drinking experiences is Kenneth A. Himmel, president and CEO of Related Urban. Here, Himmel dishes on how it all came together:
How important are restaurants to the overall vision of Hudson Yards and the community you are trying to create there?
KH: Food and restaurants are an essential part of how we relate and interact with our community. From where you get your morning coffee and your go-to weekday escape, to where you celebrate life’s milestones, and the culinary destinations you plan a vacation around—food creates a sense of place. At Hudson Yards, we curated the dining collection to offer everything those who live, work, and visit the neighborhood need, from coffee shops, grab-and-go lunch and dinner options, grocery and wine shops, bakeries, and of course, special occasion restaurants that will become part of the fabric of NYC’s fine-dining scene.
What sorts of incentives, economic or otherwise, were you able to offer restaurateurs to bring them into the fold?
Hudson Yards is the opportunity to be part of the future of New York in a location where businesses and residents are moving in droves and that will attract thousands of visitors every year. Hudson Yards has a built-in worker population of 40,000 people every day, and that doesn’t include the tens of thousands who will work within blocks of us. There will be 4,000 residences right on our campus, and we are between Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen, two vibrant neighborhoods that have historically been underserved from a dining perspective. We are on the High Line, one of the most visited attractions in the city, which we anticipate will become even more popular with the opening of the 14-acre public plaza and “Vessel” at Hudson Yards. Both culinary veterans and up-and-coming chefs immediately saw the draw of Hudson Yards. [Editor’s Note: Himmel declined to discuss specific financial deals.]
The entire development is over a decade in the making, which is a very long time in the boom-and-bust cycle of restaurants. How do you even try to plan a “neighborhood for the next generation” so far in advance and not end up with a bunch of outdated dining options by the time you open?
We have a long and successful history of choosing culinary partners that recognize the importance of continually refreshing their programming, menus and never compromising on quality, and Hudson Yards is no exception. We have a collection of chef and restaurateur talent with concepts that stick—they have mastered the art of constantly innovating in ways that remain true to the soul of their brands. Each concept has elements that keep people coming back to try new things. Not only will these concepts be current when we open, they will be part of an exceptional culinary story that will continue to evolve and grow with the neighborhood and New York City for decades to come.
Is there a good metaphor to describe how it all came together?
It is similar to a great recipe—you can’t have too much of any ingredient and they must complement each other. We have no two dining offerings that directly compete.
How many meals did you personally consume through the selection process?
Thousands—safe to say I didn’t go hungry during the process.
The roster of chefs and restaurateurs includes many familiar names as well as some high-profile newcomers to the NYC dining scene, like José Andrés and London’s Rhubarb group. How did you go about finding that balance between tried and true versus new and exciting?
I think that the thought of a new restaurant is exciting and unexpected. When people are familiar with a chef, like many of the big names you mentioned, there is a higher expectation to deliver and build on that reputation. For newcomers, it’s a surprise and delight situation. You don’t know what to expect and then you’re wowed. We’ve tasked all of our culinary and retail partners to offer “Only at Hudson Yards” experiences to set us apart within one of the world’s great culinary cities.
Were there any chefs or restaurants you wanted to bring in, but couldn’t?
We still have a restaurant space available. I’d like to see an Italian concept in there.
With so much to eat, where does a first-timer even start?
We expect there to be a lot of excitement around all of our concepts. Guests will be drawn to different things and that’s the beauty of it all. Whether someone is coming in from the High Line for an ice cream cone, grabbing their morning coffee on the way to work, or picking up a late-night bite, we’ve thought of everything anyone could want, from visitor to resident to professionals. We also have a lot of chefs with loyal followings who will attract locals from all over the city. And there are a lot of chefs who will launch their careers here too and become tomorrow’s cult favorite.
Critics have called this project a “billionaire’s fantasy,” and pointed to a lack of female-run restaurants. What do you make of those criticisms?
It’s just simply not true. We have food and beverage options as well as retail shops at literally every price point for every occasion. There are numerous female chefs and female-run culinary concepts at Hudson Yards, including, but not limited to: Belcampo, Kāwi, Citarella, rhubarb, Dylan’s Candy Bar, and William Greenberg Desserts.
What other sorts of food and drink offerings are you looking to add in the future?
Perfection is a direction, not a destination. We’re always looking to grow, evolve, innovate. As the character of the neighborhood develops, it will tell us what it wants.