Salt City Market vendors feeling optimistic after first month

Salt City Market vendors feeling optimistic after first month

The COVID-19 pandemic delayed opening of the $25 million downtown Syracuse restaurant hub.
Published: March 4, 2021
Miss Prissy's is one of many vendors located at Salty City Market in Syracuse.
“Service is a ministry, either you’re born to do it or not, and I believe that I have the gift of service,” said Dreamer Glen, owner of Miss Prissy's. “There’s no greater gift than giving and inviting them to your table, cooking for someone and sharing your food with them.”

Aimed at “providing culinary options as diverse as our city,” the Salt City Market officially debuted on Jan. 29 in downtown Syracuse after a long postponement.

Over the past month since the grand opening, the vendors and management of the market have been constantly diversifying, and the large turnout stimulates them to keep providing high quality food and services.

The delay: A better preparation

Originally planned to be launched last November, the market experienced some difficulties due to COVID-19 and related issues.

“Let’s say even without the pandemic, this is a massive project, a $25 million building, so you are going to have things come up,” said Adam Sudmann, the market manager at Salt City. “Because of the pandemic, things were more exacerbated: supply lines — from Pennsylvania to Texas to Spain — were only working at 50% capacity and caused some delays as the time approached,” Sudmann added.

Fortunately, both the market and vendors said the delay did not bring too much of an inconvenience to them; it gave them more time to prepare for a better opening. For some vendors who had never run a business before, they received more time for a slow transition.

“We’re new business owners, and the delay to January really gave us more time to prepare and to buy equipment and to get ready for an opening,” said Ngoc Huynh, the owner of Vietnamese restaurant Mamma Hai at the market.

Despite the benefits of being delayed, the market management, as well as vendors, was concerned that not many people would come to the market because of the ongoing pandemic. However, they’ve been surprised.

Big in Burma is a restaurant located in Salt City Market in Syracuse, New York.
Big in Burma is Hein San's family’s first stand-alone business, which is also the only Burmese restaurant within the 100-mile radius of Salt City, said San, a Syracuse University alumnus and current manager of the restaurant.

The busyness: An unexpected turnout

“To be honest, I’ve never imagined experiencing this in the middle of a pandemic, but we are doing extremely well,” said Dreamer Glen, the owner of Miss Prissy’s, a soul food restaurant.

Located at the corner of South Salina, West Onondaga and Harrison Street in downtown Syracuse, the market has attracted people of many different backgrounds, Glen added. To Glen, who grew up learning to cook with her grandmother and has been in the food industry for 17 years, she dedicates herself to cooking soul food and serving people with love.

Hein San, the manager of Big in Burma, said that a huge number of people often line up and might have to wait up to a few hours. Huynh also said that sometimes she couldn’t take a break during the first four hours of business at Mamma Hai. Fiona Barbour Day of Pie’s the Limit further added that she hopes to provide a comfortable experience for customers and encourage takeout amid the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the market tries its best to operate safely under the pandemic. Following New York state’s mandates for the food industry, the market set a 25%-30% space capacity for customers to come in; vendors also follow the COVID-19 instructions to sanitize, wear masks and take temperatures every day, Sudmann said.

With the huge turnout, vendors said they’re working together to present their cultures and prepare their best foods to as many customers as possible.

The business: Food has a story to tell

This hodgepodge of cuisines also tries to embrace the large diversity existing in the city beyond food.

“There is a two-pronged mission for the market,” Sudmann said. “One is to have individuals from our community who have a talent and drive create generational wealth doing what they love, and at the same time, it should also be both an entrepreneur platform and a gathering place for everyone (in the Syracuse community).”

With these two missions in mind, the market recruited its vendors based on a series of install competitions in 2019. Salt City Market chose the vendors with the highest quality food and best representations of different communities in Syracuse, from Burma and Vietnam to Jamaica and the American South. Behind their businesses, these vendors have stories to tell.

“Because we are a very low population country comparing with others in Asia, and we just reopened up the country in 2012, I hope people can understand more about our culture,” San said. “Our main goal is to have people say, ‘Hey, we tried Burmese food before’ because it’s a very rare feat around the Syracuse area, and possibly in the New York area.”

One of the next steps for Salt City Market is to open up Pearl’s Teaching Kitchen for customers to immerse themselves in cooking food of different cultures.
One of the next steps for Salt City Market is to open up Pearl’s Teaching Kitchen for customers to immerse themselves in cooking food of different cultures.

The future: More to come at the Salt City Market

In addition to being a food court, the market is going to use the other floors as apartment complexes starting in March, Sudmann said.

Long term, the market keeps working on promoting a multicultural understanding among different groups through food and engagement events. Sudmann said the team is working on an events calendar and carving up the spaces to contain more amenities such as a teaching kitchen, a community room and a playground.

“The market is really hot right now as we’re the new shiny thing, but that won’t be forever,” Sudmann said, “so we are learning to stay relevant and hope to continue to have people coming.”