You know that feeling of being on a train when it first starts chugging along but then within a quarter of a mile or so it’s racing down the tracks? That’s what East End Market felt like to me last week when I visited to take some pics and grab some grub.
In the weeks that have followed its grand opening and grand re-opening (hey, who hasn’t experienced a few hiccups in life?) the little food hub that could has begun to anchor itself into Orlando’s food chain. By 10am on a Wednesday it was bustling with a crowd that was part shop and go and part sit and sip. And that’s exactly the reason East End will carve its own special niche. Yes, like the Fresh Market just a mile and a half away, you’ll find lots of gourmet fare, but you’ll never sit in Fresh Market for a few hours to catch up with a friend while sipping a fresh pressed juice or freshly brewed, locally roasted cup of Joe.
“East End is a neighborhood market and cultural food hub inspired by Central Florida’s local farmers and food artisans,” says John Rife, East End’s founder and owner. “We’re about local food but also about local entrepreneurship. We are a place designed to give cool, authentic, unique artisan purveyors a leg up on the big franchise businesses.”
More than a dozen merchants, each with their own uniquely designed space, spill into the openness of this wall-less bazaar. At La Femme du Fromage, Tonda Corrente stands smiling next to her case filled with dozens of artisanal and farmstead cheeses sourced with meticulous care from around the world.
“Things have been great. It’s been challenging to keep up the stock, but that is a good problem to have,” Tonda says. “Still trying to organize my space to allow for the added menu items, as well as increased staff to handle the extra business. I’ve been slightly reluctant to add too quickly as I want to be able to keep up. Retail sales have kept us busy enough, plus with the added events, deliveries, cheese classes, and pop up dinners, we haven’t had much down time at all. But I am slowly adding additional food, and planning out holiday specialty cheeses to bring in as well.”
Tonda now offers cheese boards, charcuterie, locally made accompaniments including cheese crisps and pates de fruits, as well as macaroons, all of which can be slowly nibbled while seated at her comfy wooden cheese bar. Soon she plans to add salads, gourmet grilled cheeses and flatbreads, and a mac n cheese to the menu.
“Customers are so happy to have a cheese shop finally and the overall delight of the entire market is truly humbling,” Tonda says. “I think the community is so excited to finally see us open, and I’m so thrilled that we could exceed their expectations.”
A few stalls down, Jarrett Johnson stands proudly at his Lineage Roasting coffee bar. “We currently are roasting and serving five single origin coffees, and two espresso blends,” he says. “The response has been great and we have had a great turnout and feedback. Everyday it seems to get a little busier than the day before. A lot of comparisons have been made to places in San Francisco and New York. It has been absolutely great for our small craft roasting company.”
Not your typical coffee shop, Jarrett’s customers can sip their beverage just a few feet away inside the Old Inc’s stall where visitors are encouraged to take a load off in refurbished and reclaimed chairs, perhaps even succumbing to the temptation to buy one.
During my quick visit, I snag a loaf of bread from Old Hearth Bread Co., a container of my favorite white BBQ sauce from Houndstooth Sauce Company, a chunk of cheese from Tonda, and a slice of pumpkin cake from Fatto in Casa, where a line of customers is already forming to see what special will be offered for lunch.
It’s neat to see this collective dream come to life and to see this next stride forward in Orlando’s local food movement take shape.
“The success of East End hinges on people choosing to forgo the cookie cutter franchise in favor of a place where the purveyor is passionate about the product and can offer something unique,” John Rife says. “It says that they want Orlando to be a place that is home to things that are cool, unique and artisan. You have to support that with your dollars.”
So, if you haven’t already, head over to East End with $20 and an appetite and enjoy the process of getting closer to your food and the people who care so much about it.