April 22 2016 03:58 PM

New public market looks to find a niche

Baker & Olive
Photo by Mike Pawlenty

When restaurateur David Spatafore was invited to come up with a concept for Liberty Station two years ago, he admits he wasn't inspired by the space.

"Liberty Station presents some challenges because of all the historical buildings...limits what you can do there," says Spatafore, the man behind Stake Chophouse & Bar and Moo Time Creamery.

Instead, Spatafore saw a marketplace akin to Pike Place in Seattle or Granville Island in Vancouver, B.C.

"I realized the greatest markets are actually repurposed old buildings," he says.

Now Liberty Public Market (2820 Historic Decatur Road) has opened up with 27 shops and more on the way. If all goes well, it will become ground zero for the San Diego food scene.

"A one-stop shop would be the goal," he says. "It's an incubator, a test ground."

Janet Gilbert, store manager of Baker and Olive, which sells specialty oils and vinegars, is confident the market can only help the food scene.

"It will lift a lot of ships," she says. "The market gives homage to the whole food ecosystem. There are vendors here that come right out of the farmers market, giving birth to their first retail space, to others that have refined their local craft and know how to provide an exceptional experience to the customer."

Spatafore insists success can only come if it's a community asset, not just a tourist spot. He uses Pike Place as an example.

"Pike Place is a mecca for tourists, but very little of what's for sale there can fit in a suitcase," he says. "They're selling things like meat, fish or produce—no trinket-y garbage."

There are some differences between LPM and Pike Place. You won't see people tossing around fish, but you may see a "tomahawk" or two, according to Tommy Battaglia, the head butcher at Liberty Meat Shop.

"Ultimately, I believe our goal should be to establish our own identity and not try to imitate other cities," he says. "A prime example of this is our brass-bell. Every time we sell a Tomahawk Chop—a three-to-four-inch-thick full-bone Rib-Eye—we ring the bell and people all over the market yell, 'Tomahawk!'"

Cuts from Liberty Meat Shop
Photo by Mike Pawlenty

Spatafore hopes to attract foodies from all over the county and beyond, but figures the core customers are people who live in Point Loma, the Midway area, Mission Hills and Coronado.

"This isn't necessarily for a quick trip," he says. "It's for people who have a little time to look through the produce section or want to talk with the butcher about a particular cut of beef."

Even then, he realizes it may take some work before locals really understand the purpose of the market.

"Most reviews have been positive but [there was] one woman who complained about spending $60 on cheese," he says. "These are hand-crafted artisan cheeses and Venissimo goes out of its way to give samples and find out what you like.

"When she wrote, 'Looks like it's back to Costco,' that grossed me out."

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