With the announcement of two new vendors for the upcoming Lexington Market renovation, the team behind the market says there are only five more spots they need to fill.
The new vendors, Lumbini, a Nepalese fusion eatery, and Sunnyside Café, a brunch restaurant, join a slate of diverse vendors that Seawall, the developer behind the project, has been announcing twice a month in the lead-up to the market’s opening.
Both restaurants are longstanding Baltimore institutions, with Sunnyside Café having had two locations since its 2013 opening, and Lumbini, which will open a second location in the market, having an over 16-year history at its North Charles location.
The eateries fit in with Seawall’s vision for the new market, a project that launched in 2018 to reimagine the downtown market, which is both the city’s largest public market and the longest continually operating public market in the United States.
According to Peter DiPrinzio, Seawall’s director of food and beverage, the firm follows three core tenets for recruiting vendors for the market, which the company developed based on feedback fielded from community members while first planning the redevelopment.
First, community members wanted diversity among the market vendors’ offerings. They also wanted to see diverse founders, something DiPrinzio said the market has accomplished; over 50% of the market’s tenants are Black-owned businesses and over 50% are women-owned.
Finally, they wanted the renovated market to represent the culture of Baltimore. To do this, they utilized over 30 community reviewers — individuals from across Baltimore neighborhoods, as well as some from the surrounding county — to evaluate whether the over 450 vendors who applied for spots at the market had the je ne sais quoi they were looking for.
“Our goal was really to put those decisions in the hands of the people of Baltimore,” DiPrinzio said.
Sunnyside Café, a Mount Vernon brunch spot run by husband-and-wife duo Charles Miller and Kristian Knight-Miller, fits the bill well. After developing a loyal customer base over eight years on Monument Street, the restaurant burned down in an electric fire, forcing the couple to find a temporary location for their eatery.
That’s where the Lexington Market team secretly scouted the restaurant’s unique menu items, from fried chicken sandwiches to Cap’n Crunch Berry French Toast, having been tipped off by another Baltimore restaurateur that the owners were looking for a permanent home.
The team later emailed Miller and Knight-Miller, inviting them to take a spot in the market.
The experience since then has been a whirlwind, said Knight-Miller, who has found a community in the Seawall team and the rest of the market’s vendors.
“It’s been a journey … we’ve just never had a team of that stature to help us along the way and bring our vision to life,” she said. “I’m the first entrepreneur of my family — a lot of them are in the medical field, so they don’t really understand what I’m doing.”
Most of the market’s vendors had to apply for a spot, and the market has fielded over 450 applications at this point. But DiPrinzio said Seawall has tried to make the application as easy as possible so that complicated paperwork wouldn’t stop exciting new ventures from applying to be part of the market.
In an effort to get as diverse an array of applicants as possible, the company used nontraditional advertising methods, including placing yard signs along roads throughout Baltimore. It also partnered with Baltimore Community Lending to create a low-interest loan fund for potential vendors for whom access to capital was the only barrier to joining the market. Twelve of the market’s vendors have taken advantage of the fund.
“That (initiative) will probably not get like super seen and noticed except in the way the market feels, because those are the people who are most psyched to be there,” DiPrinzio said.
Lexington Market, which has announced 32 of the approximately 50 vendors that will be at the market and is recruiting vendors for its 12 kiosks, is slated to open in early fall.