Chef Todd talks micro-food hall opening

Chef Todd at the Canteen
Photo by Monica Jamison

This summer introduced Tech Square’s micro-food hall, the Canteen, a place where students, faculty and employees can enjoy a hearty breakfast and smoothie, a sandwich for lunch, a falafel pita for dinner and a drink at the bar at night. Planned and executed over the course of a year, the Canteen brings fresh food to a diverse range of tastes, dietary needs and budgets in one central location.

Two of the stalls within the new micro-food hall, Fred’s Meat & Bread and Yalla, have their origins in Krog Street Market, a destination location for food and retailers. The eatery is owned by Todd Ginsberg, chef and co-owner of Fred’s and Yalla, as well as Atlanta’s famous restaurant, the General Muir.

Deciding to expand the business to a space in Tech Square formerly owned by the Spence, Ginsberg eagerly transformed the one kitchen space into a micro-food hall, complete with a bagel stall, fresh sandwiches, a Mediterranean option, and a bar.

Ginsberg had never owned a second generation space before, so transforming the space from one restaurant to a four-stall area proved to be a challenge, taking two or three times longer to optimize the space than it would have starting with a blank canvas.

However, Ginsberg turned the challenge into a creative project. “The inspiration was the use of space,” said Ginsberg. “You know, whenever you’re looking to open a business, you always want to have as much opportunity to maximize your square footage as possible.”

Despite the small amount of space, every component of the Canteen has a purpose. The bar, called Square Bar, not only offers your typical beer, wine and cocktails, but also serves as a smoothie bar in the morning until 3pm, offering juices, energy shots and, of course, smoothies. The large bar window opens into the Centergy One courtyard in the heart of Tech Square, where customers can enjoy their meals outside.

The Canteen is able to cater to a wide demographic — from students living on a college budget to faculty and employees working in Tech Square, from vegans to carnivores. Its location means it will see traffic from both the Tech campus and the greater Midtown area.

“If you think about it, this one space that we opened covers Waffle House, Starbucks, Moes for the burritos, Gyro Bros, Subway for all the sandwiches — and quite frankly, I believe the food is better quality because we make everything in-house, including our own bread,” said Ginsberg.

Mirroring the large audience, The Canteen offers a wide variety of cuisines. Ginsberg’s passion for sandwiches comes from his own personal experience eating the best sandwiches he could get his hands on, as well as being a skilled sandwich maker himself. Even then, he is determined to improve his skills. After doing research on the elements of a good Philly cheesesteak, Ginsberg claims that his version is better than the original due to fresher bread and better meat. He recommends this dish at Fred’s Meat & Bread.

Yalla’s inspiration stemmed from Ginsberg’s passion for Israeli food, with Pita Palace as inspiration. “I love Israeli food, and honestly, with everything that’s going on with Ottolenghi in the Jerusalem cookbook series, it’s just natural to be one of the first people to bring it to the city.”

With the breakfast items that TGM Bagel offers, Ginsberg sees the Canteen as solving a lack of breakfast alternatives in the area, aside from Starbucks and Waffle House. “I want to be able to get that person who spends three dollars in the morning on a bagel and a couple dollars for coffee to come in, grab it and go,” said Ginsberg.

“I want the person who wants to spend ten dollars on a bagel with fish because they want to indulge. And my partners and I wanted to be able to appeal to someone not one day a week, but twice in a day. If they want to come for breakfast for coffee and later in the day for lunch, we want to be able to make sure they know they were getting value and that they can afford it.”

In Ginsberg’s wise words of business advice, “the more audiences that you can appeal to in one space, the more one-stop shopping, the more opportunity you have for financial reward.”

Ginsberg and his partners are currently in the process of planning a new venture for next year, but for now, their main focus is on the Canteen. They continue to bring good food to a diverse crowd and are preparing for the onslaught of hungry mouths coming in the fall semester.