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Where Y’Eat: A Food Hall Goes Full Circle at Circle Food

The Wholistic Culinary Market inside Circle Food Market in New Orleans.
Ian McNulty
The Wholistic Culinary Market inside Circle Food Market in New Orleans.

At one stand inside the Circle Food Market, Johnny’s Jamaican Grill packs takeout cartons of jerk chicken with a heady brown sauce.

At the next stand, you'll find plate lunch staples with a lighter edge, like the stuffed peppers with shrimp and yellow rice or yakamein made with bone broth.

All around them, the usual doings of a grocery store continue at a landmark New Orleans business that could never be described as ordinary. Circle Food Market is a place steeped in history that’s now trying to make a comeback after almost disappearing. Part of that effort is a new concept called the Wholistic Culinary Market.

With six distinct stands clustered together, it resembles the modern food halls that have come back into vogue.

Here though, two missions are built in – better community access to healthier foods and greater inclusion for people underrepresented in the city’s culinary sector.

For instance, at the Froot Orleans stand, Mannie King builds verdant, colorful bowls of fresh cut fruit. He started his business as a street vendor, working outside churches, barber shops and barrooms. Now he has a home base at the market where people can come to him.

Circle Food Market goes back to the 19th century when it was an open air public food market.

It was eventually modernized and consolidated as a single grocery store, dubbed Circle Food.

It evolved into a one-stop shop where you can get everything from groceries to school uniforms.

But by 2018 it closed, seemingly for good, mired in debt and lawsuits. New investors brought it back in 2020, just before the pandemic. Now, Wholistic Culinary Market is part of a push to revive its old community role for modern times.

It’s a place for quick plate lunches, grab-and-go dishes, healthy meals and, perhaps, a glimpse of New Orleans talent on the way up – all while making your groceries.

Ian covers food culture and dining in New Orleans through his weekly commentary series Where Y’Eat.