Open-Air Flair

Airstream-inspired food trucks on Macy’s Chef Street pay homage to a cultural phenomenon
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Posted July 18, 2016

Food is an important consideration in any retail strategy and is fast becoming a fashion statement. Given the world’s current obsession with the latest culinary delights, the renovation of Macy’s flagship at Herald Square in New York wouldn’t be complete without an expanded food offering. To that end, the venerable retailer partnered with Shea Inc., a Minneapolis-based design firm, to convert a portion of the once-lifeless lower level into a high-energy food court.

Inspiration was taken directly from the bustling streets of the Big Apple, and the entire lower level, dubbed “One Below,” now caters to a younger customer – most notably, the urban millennial. And while this is the overarching appeal in the newly renovated environment, another main strategy was to create a food court in the space to feed large numbers of shoppers visiting the store.

“We wanted to bring the fun and the energy of the street inside the store,” says Tanya Spaulding, principal, Shea Inc. “In addition, we wanted to give a nod to Macy’s history and to Americana.”

The first step of the process was extensive market research. Recognizing food trucks as a quintessential New York City tradition and booming trend, the design team added some American flavor by building a theme around midcentury U.S. wanderlust through the archetypal Airstream trailer. Launched in the 1920s, Jackson Center, Ohio-based Airstream conjures imagery of open-road culture that spans generations – a seemingly ideal ingredient for the debut food court.

The newly opened Chef Street is a curated selection of celebrity dishes from three chefs on Macy’s “Culinary Council.” Offerings include ramen and dumplings at Tabo Noodles from acclaimed Chicago chef Takashi Yagihashi; a selection of taco taquitos by Iron Chef Marc Forgione; salads, grain bowls and sandwiches at Crumb on Parchment by Miami-based chef Michelle Bernstein; and all-American burgers or hot dogs at Rollie’s. (Rollie was also the nickname for Macy’s founder, Rowland Hussey Macy.)

Although positioned beneath the low ceiling of the store’s basement level, customers are welcomed into what feels like an open-air street scene: A polished concrete floor and steel and airplane cable fencing guide traffic into the heart of Chef Street. Colorful awnings bearing the names of each individual purveyor adorn the four Airstream Silver Bullet-inspired food trucks.

“The biggest challenge was devising a way to get the food trucks into the lower level; there was no easy access,” says Spaulding. “The solution was to prefabricate the food stalls … and assemble them on-site.” The wheeled booths came complete with vintage New York license plates, tail lights and bumper stickers proclaiming, “We’re on a roll,” and “I brake for burgers.”

Adding to the festive atmosphere are overhead light rings, each 10 feet in diameter. The five suspended fixtures add a variation of illumination and an infusion of energy. A series of community-style picnic tables ensure ample seating for diners, adding to the classic outdoors feel.

Adding an epicurean aesthetic to the space, Rowland’s is an all-day, every day full-service bar and grill, positioned to the right of Chef Street. Also named after Macy’s founder, the eatery celebrates New York’s concrete jungle and Macy’s long-standing history. Shoppers are welcomed by an I-beam-appointed façade and white-washed, exposed brick surface treatments. One of the prominent brick walls sports the hand-painted phrase, “The city that loves to eat.” The bar takes its cues from a vintage luncheonette counter, similar to one uncovered in an old Macy’s photography archive. It’s all capped off with a photographic portrait of R.H. Macy himself.

The new food court in Macy’s One Below is quickly becoming a customer favorite, and a chalkboard-style sign in the front of the attraction proclaims its location and heritage all at once: “Macy’s Chef Street, Herald Square, W. 34th Street and Broadway, Midtown Manhattan, NYC.”

PROJECT SUPPLIERS

Retailer
Macy's, Cincinnati

Design
Shea Inc., Minneapolis: David Shea, ceo; Tanya Spaulding, principal; Dan Berg, creative lead; Jamie Brunotte, project coordinator; Brooke Smalley, designer

Architecture and Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing
Highland Associates, New York

General Contractor
Structure Tone, New York

Ceilings
Architectural Surfaces Inc., Minneapolis

Food Truck Facades
Mega Vision, New York

P-o-s Stations
Real Industrial Edge Furniture LLC, Loveland, Colo.

Furniture
Wesnic, Jacksonville, Fla.

Flooring (In Bar)
Ergon Engineered Stone, Sunnyvale, Texas

Lighting
Wild Horse Studios, Buffalo, Minn.

Signage/Graphics
Patina Group

Photography: Richard Cadan, Fairfield, Conn.