A few years ago the old Walbrook lumber mill property in West Baltimore near Coppin State University changed hands. A new apartment complex rose in the place where home renovators once bought their custom milled window sashes and front doors.
And later this year, look for shrimp salad platters and chicken wings to appear alongside an array of other foods.
The Coppin Heights Community Development Corp. and Neighborhood Housing Services of Baltimore asked the community, if there are to be shops in this new building, what do you think they should be?
The overriding response was food and restaurants.
So now, three years later, The Mill on North, a food hall, is taking shape. Federal, state and local philanthropic grants have underwritten the food hall concept for about $3.8 million.
Over the next six months, look for seven vendors to be doing what has been accomplished at the Mount Vernon Marketplace and R. House in Remington as well as the Broadway and Cross Street markets.
“The pandemic set us back, but we coming out of the shadows. Each week construction continues and soon the kitchen equipment will be installed,” said the Mill’s owner/developer, James Riggs, as he stood on the ground floor of the building with 65 affordable and market-rate apartments at North and Braddish avenues.
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A branch of the Truist Bank currently occupies a corner, but the largest ground floor space, about 8,000 square feet, is being dedicated to vendors, with seating and a spot for musical entertainment.
“Housing is key and critical for developing neighborhoods,” said Riggs, who is a principal at Osprey Property Co. “But to compete you must have a place for people in the community to gather and eat and exchange ideas.”
Over the past three years the neighborhood, through its community leaders, sought the money to outfit a food hall. They also looked for restaurateurs and caterers willing to try something new.
Dream Street Cuisine, run by Chef Dae, a West Baltimore raised caterer and graduate of James Mosher Elementary School and Calverton Elementary-Middle School and Francis M. Wood High School, stepped up to the task of filling one of the food hall’s seven spaces.
“We don’t have a signature sandwich in West Baltimore and I’ll be serving my creation, a shrimp salad,” she said. “I know what people like and this is it.”
Dae has test marketed her wares on customers through the food truck she runs with weekly stops at the State Office Building in State Center and the Johns Hopkins Hospital.
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“Then there are the wings, in all the flavors — honey sriracha, honey and Old Bay, Old Bay, garlic Parmesan, Buffalo, honey lemon pepper and lemon pepper,” she said.
Others tenants include a delicatessen, bakery, soul food restaurant, Southern specialties operation, vegetarian kitchen and bar.
The project has community backing. Glenn Smith, a minister with the New Promise Land Community Church, is a longtime West Baltimore-Rosemont area resident. He’s lived in the neighborhood so long he recalls being displaced from his Lauretta Avenue home for what ultimately became the Highway to Nowhere.
“The food hall is a welcome addition and it will help North Avenue become a destination,” Smith said. “It will be also a place where a family can walk to — or drive to — and have a meal within the community.”
Another proponent for the Mill on North is the Rev. Meldon Dickens of Isaiah Baptist Church, who works at the Coppin Heights Community Development Corp.
“The area is definitely underserved and I want to change that,” Dae said. “I’m looking forward to serving the college kids from Coppin in a place to relax and give them food options. The Mill is going to bring the bring the community not just business, but something new and different.
“You shouldn’t have to leave your community to find something to eat,” she said. “My goal is to bring the best food from downtown Baltimore to North Avenue.”