From Easton to Philly: Three vendors expanding to City of Brotherly Love

Jennifer Sheehan/The Morning Call - Maryland firm turned to the Easton Public Market when it was seeking vendors for a trendy food hall planned in historic Center City Philadelphia.

“We looked for the most passionate, enthusiastic makers of certain products,” said Mike Morris, principal of Cana Development, which is managing a $40 million redevelopment of the historic Bourse building and several nearby properties. “These are people that are hard-working and creative and have this distinct passion for their products.”

Three Easton Public Market vendors — Taza Stop, Chocodiem and Olive with a Twist — are making the leap. They decided to build on the success they’ve seen in Easton and expand to be among more than two dozen vendors coming to the Bourse Marketplace.

The ambitious food hall project will be in the Bourse, a 105-year-old Victorian building listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s just across Independence Mall from the Liberty Bell. 

Cana Development approached Tim and Hala Bonner of Taza Stop and J.P. Hepp, owner of Chocodiem, Morris said, because of their dedication to unique and quality food. Taza Stop offers Egyptian dishes. Chocodiem sells hand-crafted, hand-painted chocolate truffles made by Hepp, a Belgian master chocolatier.

“We saw them as passionate food-makers,” Morris said of the two vendors. “We approached them and we really like what they are doing. And what they see in the Bourse is an opportunity to take their products to a much larger audience.”

The Bonners decided to quit their Lehigh University jobs in 2014 and open the Taza Truck, which serves Egyptian fare. With its mix of halal meats (following strict Muslim rules, akin to kosher) and vegetarian options, the truck’s popularity soared. They decided to open a location in the center of Easton Public Market.

Hepp’s business originated in Clinton, N.J., and he expanded to Easton. His truffles are made with seasonal fillings and flavors, often from other vendors in the market. He moved the main operation to Easton and just recently reopened a location in Clinton.

The Bourse hopes to draw a range of visitors, including office workers, commuters and tourists visiting the Liberty Bell. Like New York City’s Chelsea Market, it will offer in a historic setting both foods to eat on site and stores selling specialty food items for home cooks.

That’s where Olive with a Twist comes in.

Founded in 2014 in Frenchtown, N.J., Olive with a Twist specializes in organic olive oil, balsamic vinegars, imported cheeses and charcuterie.

The Easton Public Market, which opened more than a year ago on Northampton Street, is an indoor food market open five days a week. It’s a smaller, hipper version of Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal, housed in a building that was once home to Rader’s Dry Goods and the H.L. Green Department Store.

The Easton market, which draws about 5,000 people weekly, was envisioned as a place where vendors would grow and then expand.

“When we selected our vendors we assumed that many would use the Easton Public Market as a launch pad for additional businesses,” said Megan McBride, Easton Market District manager. “It's a testament to their quality and professionalism that they have garnered the interest of a major food city like Philadelphia.

“Diversifying their sales outlets will build their brand and strengthen their businesses, not to mention that they can provide a voice for Easton in the Philly area,” she said.

Food halls such as Easton Public Market and Bourse Marketplace are a hot trend, said Jeff Green, a retail analyst.

“It’s basically taking the old food court idea and updating it with innovative concepts,” he said.

Food halls offer a host of interesting options and communal dining spaces.

“It becomes an immersive experience,” Green said.

Places such as the Easton Public Market find success because they are unique to an area.

“To me, I’d rather be the smaller food hall in the secondary market,” Green said.

The Bourse project will likely have to contend with competition from the popular Reading Terminal Market, a food market first opened in 1892 that is a short walk from the Bourse. What the Bourse does have is its prime location, adjacent to Philly’s major historic attractions and close to the commuter train station, Green said.

Tim Bonner of Taza said expanding to Philadelphia is the perfect next step for his business. At the Bourse, Taza will take on the new name of Ka’moon, which is Arabic for cumin, a spice that’s central to Egyptian cuisine.

“It’s right on track with where we want to be,” Bonner said.