By Krystian von Speidel | Photography by Nicholas Mele
We’ve entered an age when farm-to-table authenticity feels less, well, authentic. Just how many restaurants can sport distressed wooden floors reclaimed from a centuries-old Vermont barn? How many unmolested barns are left? Not to mention the commodity of mustachioed waiters in hip aprons and rolled-up shirtsleeves touting “craft” cocktails and heritage poultry as they strut among the requisite subway tiles.
Something different and refreshing will reward visitors to Grange Hall Market, a new complex that represents one gourmand’s vision to consolidate multiple shopping destinations and simplify the farm-to-table culinary experience.
That man is Chris Vila—son of famed This Old House host Bob Vila—and his entrepreneurial spirit has resulted in a one-stop venue for those seeking farm-fresh produce, meat, and prepared foods without the fuss. Beyond the bites, Chris’ market will offer a gathering spot for locals and visitors where none existed before.
The expansive 12,000-square-foot Grange Hall Market will import a variety of vendors into a former warehouse in the Old Okeechobee neighborhood in West Palm Beach, between Clare and Elizabeth avenues. The arcade-market style of shopping isn’t novel, but it’s something this region has yet to experience. While the project’s name was inspired by the Grange Hall on Martha’s Vineyard, the concept is modeled on Manhattan’s Chelsea Market and similar marketplaces in the U.S. and Europe that have found homes in repurposed industrial buildings. Given his connections within the city’s small-business scene, Chris believed West Palm was ready for a similar operation.
“Here, I saw a lot of creative local vendors,” he says. “I thought it’d be a good idea to get all those people under one roof.” The common-space format of Grange Hall Market liberates young businesses from the stress and expense of building a location from the ground up. “Everyone is super charged-up to be involved,” Chris adds.
Grange Hall Market, which is slated to open in April, is one of the first facets of a larger, mixed-use hotspot called The District. Eventually, owners Johnstone Capital Partners plan to add restaurants, a craft brewery, and public art spaces to the 85,000-square-foot collection of reimagined warehouses.
Across from Grange Hall’s abandoned railroad bed—which is being rendered into a petite park reminiscent of New York’s High Line—is District Workspace. This facility features 15 private, furnished office suites, six open work stations, and a private conference room. The adjacent Palm Beach Squash Club adds a healthy option for District Workspace denizens.
As with many of Chris’ projects, Grange Hall Market has been a family endeavor, with his wife, Kristen, advising on design. The Vilas previously lived in New York, where Chris established Vila Built, a successful renovation and development company. In 2013, after tiring of the Manhattan rat race, they relocated to Palm Beach, a move that surprised both Chris and Kristen. “Never in a million years did we think we’d move here,” Chris says. “We came down and loved it immediately.”
Upon arrival, the couple decided to focus their efforts on the West Palm Beach SoSo (south of Southern) neighborhood. “It’s safe and has one of the best school districts in the area,” Kristen says. “It has a great vibe that makes sense for families.”
The Vilas, who have two children and another due in April, quickly established a reputation for family homes with a sophisticated, urbane atmosphere. Their properties cater to their peers, hard-working, successful professionals with young kids who want houses that are beautiful and functional. In lieu of gilded ceilings and fanciful wainscoting, they opt for rooms that are warm, inviting, and awash in natural light. “You build what you know,” Kristen says. “I may not know how a single man wants to live, but I definitely know how a young family lives.”
Kristen has transferred this knowledge to Grange Hall Market. “It isn’t my first time at the rodeo,” she jokes. It is, however, her first time designing a commercial project.
“I had remained uninvolved other than dinner conversation,” she says. “I didn’t have an active role until the vendors started describing how they envisioned their spaces. … We made sure we maintained an authenticity to each vendor, who they are and what they represent, while having a cohesive look across the market so it doesn’t feel like a hodgepodge of spaces.”
Instead of a contrived authenticity, the Vilas sought a fresh vibe, one that was more modern and less formulaic. “Our vendors are on the cutting edge of style for West Palm Beach,” Kristen says. Rather than reclaimed wood and subway tiles, Kristen steered tenants toward sleek woods in rich hues and textured, glazed ceramic walls. Yes, the floors are polished concrete, but that’s because Grange Hall Market is in a former warehouse. The floors aren’t made to appear old. They are old.
The resulting look remains welcoming while sporting a sophistication Palm Beachers will appreciate. The vendor list at Grange Hall Market also appeals and reads like a who’s who of local favorites.
Some, like Celis Produce, already have successful brick-and-mortar operations and are seeking to expand. Others, like Zipitios Mesoamerican, want a permanent base. Until now, owners Ricky and Niria Perez have only operated as part of the monthly Tacos and Hip-Hop party at Subculture Coffee. Grange Hall is an opportunity for Zipitios to establish itself further.
“Grange Hall will be the epicenter of a cultural renaissance in our city,” Ricky Perez says. “They’ve done a stellar job of curating vendors that have played distinct roles within our community. They are names and faces our city has grown to love, and I believe Grange Hall is going to help us share that love far beyond our city limits.”
Bradley Grace, owner of Grace’s Fine Foods, echoes this sentiment. For the last year, he’s been offering his handmade sausages to local pubs, using heritage-breed meats sourced from family-owned, biodynamic farms. Once he makes the move to Grange Hall, he’ll provide a full butcher concept, complete with cuts of pasture-raised meats and other provisions, as well as a rotating selection of prepared foods and a daily sandwich option. As for his reasons for choosing Grange Hall, Grace believes it will attract a variety of customers. “Its diversity alone will ensure that there is something for everyone,” he says.
For Alex Celis, whose South Dixie Highway shop has a loyal following, the time is right for a spot like Grange Hall. The West Palm Beach native is amazed by how far the region has come.
“We’re becoming more of a destination for food and culture, and Grange Hall is a perfect example of this movement,” says Celis. “The people behind Grange Hall are passionate about food, community, and aesthetics. Grange Hall is not only a beautiful market at which to shop, eat, and play, but it will also be a host to many great community events and dinners.”
This enthusiastic mindset girds Chris Vila’s visionary contribution to The District and his desire to make a mark on the local development scene. Whether through the homes he and Kristen build, the delights of Grange Hall Market, or a workspace for like-minded entrepreneurs, Chris has done his part in support of West Palm Beach’s vibrant renaissance. As he notes, the city is on the cusp of becoming a hot location, and he is happy to be along for the ride. “There is no other ‘it,’” he says. “We’re making the ‘it.’”