Say “Oui” to the Chicago French Market!
Published on November 9, 2023
The Chicago French Market has partnered with eATLAS on the French Market’s French Language Adventure. The scavenger hunt features eight stops that explore the French roots at some of the stalls in the French Market, including the croissant, banh mi, and mustard.
By Dave Lifton (@daveeatschicago)
Food halls are all the rage in cities across America right now, and it seems like there’s a new one opening up in Chicago every few months. But they all take their cues from the Chicago French Market, which became the Windy City’s first food hall when it opened in December 2009. It’s strategically located within MetraMarket, one level below the Oglivie Transportation Center on N. Clinton St. in the West Loop. The proximity to the CTA, Metra, and Amtrak lines makes it an ideal spot for commuters and those working in the Loop or West Loop to pop in for breakfast or lunch, or a quick dinner before heading home.
Inspired by European markets, food halls differ from food courts in that they’re a destination rather than built into an existing space like a shopping mall. Also, food halls tend to eschew national fast-food chains in favor of local chefs. As such, they provide opportunities for budding restauranteurs to take the next step up from food trucks–thereby sparing them the prohibitive startup costs–and give those with successful brick-and-mortar locations in neighborhoods a chance to branch out downtown.
As of November 2023, folks can choose from more than 20 vendors with food from all over the world. The cuisine options include Cuban, Vietnamese, vegan bowls, Southern, sushi, Latin American, Belgian, and, of course, French. Plus, the Suarez Market features salads, snacks, fresh produce, and other groceries, and you can even buy gourmet treats for your dog at the Barking Spot Bakery!
The dining area seats 300 and is capable of hosting private events. For those who choose not to dine in, curbside pickup, takeout and delivery options through the market’s online ordering system are available.
The Chicago French Market is the work of the Bensidoun family, which owns more than 80 markets throughout France, with 42 in Paris alone. They branched out to the U.S. in 1996, and now operate more than 100 worldwide. In addition to the indoor market in the West Loop, the Bensidouns hold outdoor weekly seasonal markets in 10 other locations throughout the Chicago area, including Gallagher Way at Wrigley Field, Western Springs, Highland Park, and Glen Ellyn. Check their website for dates and hours of operation.
These days, 7,000 people visit the food hall every day, but Sebastien Bensidoun, whose grandfather and great-uncle moved the family business from Algeria to France in the late 1940s, said that it wasn’t an immediate success due to the economy, and they also had to divert from their original vision to replicate what had been successful in France.
“The Chicago French Market opened in 2009, which was not the best time to open a business anywhere,” he told Voyage Chicago. Our goal was to create a year-round, indoor market with a mix of fresh and prepared foods, non-food items like flowers and gifts, modeled after our hugely successful markets in France. Finding the right mix of vendors was tough and I traveled all over the Midwest to meet with potential vendors. In America, there aren’t as many fishmongers or butchers so attracting those vendors was a challenge.”
The Bensindouns’ newest venture is The Rendez-Vous, a partnership with the Chicago branch of the French-American Chamber of Commerce that opened in October 2023. Located on the ground floor of 875 N. Michigan Ave. (formerly the John Hancock Center), the pop-up market brings a French cafe and bakery, art and fashion, and a meeting space to the Magnificent Mile.
The Chicago French Market is open Monday through Friday from 7AM to 7PM, and on Saturday from 9AM to 4PM.
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