Editors Note: After publication of this story, Fareground announced via release that construction has begun on its street level bar, Level Up, in anticipation of a spring 2019 opening.
Almost a year after opening, Austin’s first food hall is experiencing a shake-up. On December 13, Antonelli’s Cheese Shop announced it is closing its location at downtown’s Fareground food hall on December 31.
Co-owner Kendall Antonelli tells CultureMap that the decision was tough. “The truth is that we are relieved to be exiting Fareground; however, it is with a huge and heavy heart,” she says. “It is challenging to not feel like a failure but we knew we were playing a game that wasn't to our strengths.”
Soon after opening the food hall outpost, Antonelli’s had to shift its business model.
“We started out so excited to be a downtown cheese shop that offered some fun kitchen items,” she says, “but we quickly had to transition and put most of our priorities in the kitchen since retail wasn't picking up. And that got away from what we love doing best — giving folks cheese and other artisan goods and talking about the producers and labor of love behind them.”
Even with the focus on food service, the business never completely took off.
“We took a heavy hit to our bottom line this year and it will take quite a while before we come out of the red,” says Antonelli. "As business owners, you have to take risks. And we've taken a lot over the years and, for the most part, they've all paid off. This is an example of taking a risk that didn't pay off and there are big, real consequences."
Antonelli says it was heartbreaking to notify the Fareground staff of the closure, especially before the holidays. She and her husband, co-owner John Antonelli, were able to offer some employees other positions in the business and have used their connections to help other staff members set up interviews at local restaurants. Workers who stay on through the final day will also get a retention check.
Despite the difficulties, Antonelli says she remains supportive of Fareground and is appreciative of the support Antonelli's received from other vendors. She also hinted that the Fareground project will be introducing some changes in early 2019 to complete its original vision. Presumably, that includes the long-awaited opening of a street-level bar.
“If you haven't been, go!” she implores. “What better place can kids and adults alike roll down a grassy hill, enjoy a beverage indoors or outdoors, and have their pick of six different food options?”
Antonelli also remains hopeful for the future of her Hyde Park retail business, saying she is optimistic that most of the losses can be recovered in 2019. “We've got to regroup and get back to doing what we do best,” she says. “The only question that remains to be asked, where should we open our next cheese shop?”