Flavors and cultures merge at Common Kitchen, Howard County's first food hall

For Howard Magazine

On an early October evening, a bonfire blazed outside Clarksville Commons as people of all ages gathered to celebrate River Hill High School’s homecoming.

It was one of many community events held at the town-square-style complex, which opened at the site of the former Gateway School last year. But this time, the excited masses had new options to sate their hunger at the Common Kitchen, Howard County’s first and only food hall.

Owned by Clarksville Commons developers Holly and George Stone, the Common Kitchen realizes a vision nurtured for more than a decade.

Elianna Stone Lutz, assistant to the director of communications at Clarksville Commons and the owners’ daughter, says the Commons and the food hall are “all about community.”

“Community is really important to my parents,” she says of the 25-year Clarksville residents. “Sharing the common space to explore different cultures and flavors is as important as assisting new businesses.”

Her mother has always loved antiques, and Lutz says the Stones initially thought to repurpose the old school. But when they discovered in 2010 that the sprawling building was full of asbestos and beyond repair, “they tore it down and built from scratch.” The office, retail and restaurant complex was recognized for its sustainable design by the U.S. Green Business Council last year, and offers an electric car charging station in its ample parking lot.

Elias Castillo, who co-owns a coffee, juice and cocktails bar in the Common Kitchen, has worked with George and Holly Stone since 2016, first as a kitchen consultant and then as the food hall’s general manager.

“We are creating a nice ecosystem of small business supporting one another,” he says.

Rooted in the concept of a culinary collective — where chefs bond to promote their businesses and share commercial kitchen space — the food hall trend has been heating up in urban landscapes since 2010.

The same year the Stones purchased the Gateway site from Howard County for $5 million, Eataly opened in New York City, kickstarting a national movement inspired by celebrity chefs and cable food channels. Washington’s Union Market, a food hall housing 50 vendors in a revitalized industrial space, opened in 2012. In Baltimore, Mt. Vernon Marketplace opened on the ground floor of an apartment building in 2015, and R. House sprang up the following year in the former Anderson Automotive showroom.

The Common Kitchen is an intimate 6,000-square-foot space built to hold 11 vendors serving from custom-made booths. The kitchen area is as large as the public space, and garage-door style windows open to expand seating outdoors into the plaza.

Four vendors have opened so far, merging cultures, flavors and mouthwatering aromas. Their operators all live in Howard County.

Castillo says he hopes some of the small businesses at the Common Kitchen will eventually “graduate to open independent shops in the future.”

Until then, you’ll find them in the food hall:

Koshary by Misteka

Near the entrance, Koshary by Misteka offers a “build-your-own” taste of the savory national dish of Egypt. Koshary, its namesake food, is a vegan dish comprising rice, quinoa, lentils, pasta, chickpeas, sauce, dukkah and fried onions. The stand also serves falafel salads and whole-wheat pita.

Owner Iman Moussa, who believes that food is a powerful universal language, says she has no plans to sell her own desserts. A friend, the owner of Kupcakes & Co. located next door, connected her to Castillo and The Common Kitchen.

“I’m not here to compete; I’m here to enrich and add value,” she says. “We instantly felt like a family, and I hope it stays that way.”

Scoop and Paddle

Owned by sisters-in-law Renee and Nadine Crisitello, Scoop and Paddle resides in an adjacent booth, crafting nine signature ice cream flavors on the premises.

Nadine, who trained as a chef in New York City, says the ice cream company started out with a food truck five years ago and sells its products at small markets and restaurants in Columbia and Ellicott City.

Their new workplace is located about a mile from the Crisitellos’ homes, and the women share the Stones’ vision of a community gathering place.

“This is our home,” Renee says. “It’s Clarksville’s own Main Street, USA.”

In addition to ice cream products, pastries, nitro coffee and root beer, Scoop and Paddle will create and serve Indian ice cream and desserts during the first two weeks in November to commemorate Diwali, the Indian festival of lights on Nov. 7 in collaboration with fellow common kitchen vendor Namaste Foodie. The partners are also working on collaborations with Koshary and Kupcakes & Co.

“One of the advantages of being small and nimble is that we can create flavors quickly and bring [the product] to market quickly,” says Nadine.

Namaste Foodie

Namaste Foodie owner Ankit Wadhwani says everyone at the food hall is “so open” to collaboration. And starting his first venture at The Common Kitchen instead of as a traditional restaurant reduced his start-up investment from at least $150,000 to $30,000, he says.

The Indian street food menu offers a variety of authentic Indian sandwiches, kathi rolls, rice bowls, beverages and desserts. Wadhwani also sells candy cigarettes and snacks that “evoke nostalgic memories of India.”

The regular community events sponsored by Clarksville Commons, he says — such as movie nights, “yappy” hours (with pets), fitness boot camps, farmer’s markets and live music — boost everyone’s sales and “create a win-win situation for the vendors and the owners.”

Trifecto

Situated at a bar in the back, Trifecto serves roasted coffee, cold-pressed juices, kombucha, cocktails, and local craft beer and wine. Its menu includes fresh-baked scones, gluten-free cookies, smoothie bowls, smoothies and five variations of the comforting grilled cheese sandwich.

The first to open for business in July at the Common Kitchen (at one-tenth the cost of opening its own brick-and-mortar location), Trifecto grew from a small parent company, District Juicery, which is also owned by Castillo, his wife Tiara Lovelace Castillo and their college friend Leigha Steele.

For the past four years, District Juicery has made its products in commercial kitchens in D.C. and participated at farmers markets and juice pop-ups. Tiara crafted the recipe for the shelf-stable District Juicery Granola that is carried by hotels and food markets in the metro area.

“Without our granola, we wouldn’t be here,” she says.

Available for purchase off the shelf at the food hall, the granola is served in Trifecto’s smoothie bowls. District Juicery cold-pressed juices are served straight up and in cocktails. Everything is made on the premises.

“Keeping the money in the local economy is really important,” Steele said. “We don’t have to go to the city to fulfill our dreams.”

Coming soon

The following vendors are expected to open booths at the Common Kitchen in coming months:

  • Great Harvest Bread
  • Royaltea
  • Syriana Cafe
  • Suhay’s Little Shop Flowers and Balloons
  • Smokin on the Bayou
  • Slurpin Noodles

The Common Kitchen’s grand opening

Nov. 10, 11 a.m.–5 p.m.

Sample foods by individual vendors and enter a raffle for a basket of local products.

12250 Clarksville Pike, Suite A, Clarksville

facebook.com/thecommonkitchenclarksville

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