And then there were nine.
Five months after the Erie Downtown Development Corp. announced the first eight restaurant concepts accepted for the Flagship City Food Hall, the ninth and final vendor has been named.
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Noodlelove, an Asian fusion concept, might not seem like an obvious choice for the 150-seat food hall that’s under construction along State Street and North Park Row, at the site of the former Sherlock’s and Park Place taverns.
Noodlelove opened two years ago on Mott Street in Manhattan and was followed last summer with a COVID-inspired outdoor-dining popup called Umma.
The restaurant has received favorable coverage in the New York Times. One of the dishes at Umma, Seoul Alle Vongole, was ranked by the Gothamist, an online publication of New York Public Radio, as one of the best new dishes of 2020.
So how does this New York City restaurant concept – self-described as “a culinary lifestyle dedicated to delicious, healthy Asian food, and the commitment to serving love daily,” — find its way to Erie?
Erie native Christopher Potter, director of business development for Noodlelove, came home for a visit.
Potter, 47, is a graduate of Cathedral Preparatory School who moved to New York City after spending 10 years in Pittsburgh, beginning with four years at the University of Pittsburgh. Recently, he came back to Erie to spend some time with his father, who was ill.
It was during that visit that he began to pay attention to changes in his hometown, including the downtown redevelopment efforts led by the EDDC.
“I love the location, the things that they are doing,” he said. “The vision goes way beyond what I expected. They think outside the box.”
He sent an email to the EDDC that led last summer to a conversation.
John Persinger, CEO of the EDDC, said the development group’s staff was eager to hear input from Potter, a former business student who was also the co-founder of GRK Fresh Greek, a fast-casual Greek restaurant that has five locations in New York City and Washington, D.C.
“You got the sense right away that he knows his stuff and knows how to run a great food and restaurant concept,” Persinger said.
Potter also offered the EDDC some feedback after reviewing plans for the food hall, a concept first announced in May 2019.
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“He said you guys are on the right path,” Persinger said. “To have someone with that background and that experience give us a gut check, that was personally a good feeling.”
When the EDDC announced the first eight vendors in the fall, they left one space open and encouraged Noodlelove to apply.
Potter described the decision as a no-brainer and said he had no trouble selling the idea to CEO and founder Natalie Camerino, who grew up in Lancaster to parents of Korean and Italian heritage.
Camerino has Erie connections of her own. Her brother, a medical doctor, had served a residency at UPMC Hamot.
Whatever led to the decision, Persinger said he’s glad that it happened.
“We have had a lot of interest in an Asian-themed restaurant,” he said. “We think Noodlelove is going to be a big hit. It balances out the diversity of the food hall.”
Potter said he feels good about the decision.
“I had been thinking about it,” he said. “I had even looked at some other (Erie) locations.”
The presence of thousands of downtown employees, many within walking distance, helped make the case for the food hall, which is expected to open late this summer.
“I talked to a lot of people,” Potter said. “A lot of these people — they want to go out and go for a walk. Food halls are great for that. I may want one thing and you may want another, but we can go for a walk together.”
Customers who opt for Noodlelove will have the choice of a bowl or wok selection. They start by choosing a base, such as romaine lettuce, zucchini noodles, ramen noodles or rice, add from a long list of vegetables, add flavors such as Thai chili or sesame soy and then top, if they wish, with chicken, tofu or seafood.
Prices for many of those items, at least in New York City, start at about $10. Both the menu and prices could be a little different in Erie, Potter said.
He wants to keep other things the same, including the practice of sourcing food locally. His business partner buys some produce from her hometown of Lancaster County. Potter hopes to add Erie-area farmers to their list of suppliers.
Potter, who watched the early stages of Pittsburgh’s transformation as a college student, sees Erie in the early stages of a similar journey.
And he says he’s eager to be a part of it.
“It’s very interesting to see,” he said. “I see a lot of opportunities here. It can really happen. You can have an excellent quality of life here.”