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A key restaurant anchor has resumed construction at Union Market Tustin, a dining and retail hall that has been slow to find its footing since opening late last year at The District.
Amid a lease dispute with the landlord, well-regarded Orange County restaurateur Leonard Chan had halted construction last year of the The Hatch, Rolling Boil and Taco Bandito. All three were expected to be major food draws to the center.
This week, Chan, who owns The Iron Press in Costa Mesa and Anaheim, said he will open The Hatch, a slider (mini-burger) concept, at Union Market Tustin. The other two restaurants have been scrapped.
“We didn’t want to let everything go. We’d put a lot of money into it,” Chan told the Register this week.
The Hatch will focus on plates that feature a trio of small meals, including sliders with choice of buns: brioche, Hawaiian, or potato. Chan is even thinking of developing a bun made out of mac ’n cheese.
“It’s the one (concept) I most wanted to have fun with,” said Chan, who operates several restaurants at South Coast Collection in Costa Mesa and the Anaheim Packing House.
Chan’s landlord, Andrea Young, confirmed Chan is returning with one eatery instead of the three originally planned. Young, and her husband, Russell, lease the 23,000-square-foot food and retail hub from Vestar, which owns the The District shopping center. The space was formerly a Borders bookstore.
The Youngs, who helped create the original OC Mart Mix in Costa Mesa, sublease spaces to boutique, artisan businesses. They are planning a similar project called Union Market Mission Viejo at the Kaleidoscope Mall.
In late fall, the first of roughly 20 restaurants and retail shops slated for the Tustin marketplace began to open. A handful of owners representing smaller shops began to raise questions a few months ago when key anchors failed to open in a timely manner.
Some also questioned the Youngs’ ability to run a multi-tenant food and retail hub after learning the couple had previously been sued for similar projects they had managed in Costa Mesa (OC Mart Mix) and Las Vegas.
As of June, the only big food and beverage tenants that have opened at Union Market have been Kettlebar, The Central Bar and Portola. Young is a partner at Central, a wine bar, as well as two other food shops: Farmers and Youngstone Cheese.
Market 2 Place (cooked to order Italian food), Cubed (poke/fish salad), Crepe Coop, The Hatch and The Kroft (comfort food) have yet to open. The eateries, especially Chan’s slider concept, are expected to drive more foot traffic to marketplace.
Crepe Coop and The Kroft are expected to open soon, possibly by the end of June or early July. The Dirty Cookie is expected to open by July 4. The dessert shop plans to sell “shot
glass-shaped” cookies filled with a choice of various flavors of organic milks.
“We’re confident we’re going to attract a lot of people,” co-owner Shahira Rifay.
Vivian Khong, co-owner of Kettlebar, said: “Once all the (food) tenants open up, it will definitely flourish.”
Some shops can’t wait for that to happen.
Over the last several months, smaller shops have either closed, exited after lease disputes or fled before opening, including Timree, Chocolat Noir, Oh, Hello Friend, Olive Oil & Beyond and Honey & Butter.
Young said the center is 95 percent leased. “Vacancy is not an issue. "
She said her responsibility calls for building Union Market’s infrastructure and that she has fulfilled her role. “Any delays is (sic) not my delays.”
The Kroft, which initially was expected to open in March, was forced to re-route its ventilation system so it wouldn’t encroach on shoe retailer DSW, the second-level tenant.
Andrea Young said that was a “huge delay.” Next to Chan’s restaurant, the comfort food eatery is expected to be a huge draw. Its flagship location at the Anaheim Packing House has earned rave reviews.
Vestar spokeswoman Kimberly Daskas said “Union Market Tustin continues to be a positive addition” to The District.
“We have noticed an upward trend in traffic with a growing number of consumers frequenting Portola Coffee, Kettlebar and Central Bar, as well as the unique array of shops within Union Market,” Daskas said.
Some tenants, frustrated months ago by the center’s empty spaces, say they are more hopeful.
“It’s still challenging, but we’re happy to be here,” said Ivy Carnegie, owner of Drinkbar Juicery.
The shop, which sells cold-pressed juices, has been open for several months. Her husband Justin said he’s especially excited to hear that Chan is back in the fold.
“I'm stoked. That was the reason why we came here,” he said of Chan’s reputation for creating must-visit restaurants.
Erin Whitcomb, owner of Front Porch Pops and Torch S’more Co. said she’s growing more optimistic about the center’s future even though her shops are surrounded by vacant spaces.
“I still see potential in Union Market in spite of other tenants around us leaving in the past few months. That’s what has kept me in the game,” said Whitcomb, whose two brands can also be found at 4th Street Market in Santa Ana. “Maybe in six months the place will be much closer to what we thought it would be over a year ago.”
Tenants at Union Market Tustin
Open: Portola Coffee Lab, Kettlebar, Farmers*, Spice and Tulips, Woodsnap, Luella, Artisan Candle Shop, The Treehouse Shop, The Shangri-LA, Drinkbar Juicery, Front Porch Pops, Torch S'more Co., The Central Bar*
Coming: The Kroft, Market 2 Plate, Cubed, Youngstone Cheese*, Crepe Coop , The Dirty Cookie, The Hatch.
*Andrea Young is an investor or partner in these shops.