Uptown Normal has several places to get a bite to eat. It’s about to get a dozen more.
Owner Vivian Doctora will open the R MarketPlace food hall on the first floor of the Trail East building next year. The marketplace will occupy 13,000 square feet and include between 10 and 15 vendors offering artisan and ethnic food, local produce, and products from local independent merchants.
It will be Bloomington-Normal’s first food hall—a restaurant type that's growing in more and more U.S. urban centers.
“It’s very similar to a food court,” Doctora said. “What’s different (about it) is that a food court is usually in a mall and it’s there for shoppers who are hungry. It’s usually a fast food chain type of restaurant. A food hall’s focus is on the food.”
With CVS the only grocery-like option in Uptown Normal, R MarketPlace will fill that need with a farmstand section featuring basic grocery items from local farmers.
“Bloomington-Normal is an interesting town and city because you have a student and a family vibe,” Doctora said on GLT’s Sound Ideas. “We want (ISU) students to feel like they can come and it doesn’t feel like the place is too expensive for them. We also want families to come in and feel like this is a place for them. We want to build a place based on the makeup of the community.”
The food hall will give small-business owners in the area an opportunity to test their concept in the marketplace before opening their own business. The mission is to foster entrepreneurship and support local farmers, Doctora said.
“I call it a small-business incubator,” said Doctora. “It’s (meant) to encourage people who have an idea but they don't want to spend a lot of money to do a storefront.”
Doctora, an ISU alumna, said the idea came from trips she and her husband took around the country. The Anaheim Packing District in California was a major inspiration for the entrepreneurial couple.
“We visited it and loved it because of the atmosphere and the idea of different food offerings all under one roof,” Doctora said. “I got an idea in my head and said ‘We have to do this.’”
The journey to opening a business was challenging for Doctora, especially with an idea as unique as hers.
“One of the hurdles that we went through is that we never owned a business,” Doctora said. “We don’t have any experience in owning a food hall. Getting financing from a financial institution has also been a challenge. Finding the right location was a challenge.”
“A lot times, when you look for a job, they look for experience,” said Doctora. “They’re wondering what have you done to ensure that you’re going to be successful in the job. It’s the same with opening a business. Everyone’s going to look at you and say ‘Do you have any experience? How do you know you’re going to be successful?’
There are not many minority women business owners in Bloomington-Normal. Doctora will quickly become one of the most prominent ones.
“It’s a dream that kind of came true in a way,” said Doctora. “My husband and I always wanted to own our own businesses. We’re both immigrants. We want to call Bloomington-Normal our town and our community. To have the ability to open a business with that background is huge, and we probably couldn't have done it without the support of people that helped us get where we’re at.”
Trail East, including R MarketPlace, is expected to open in August 2020. Vendors are still being recruited for spaces in the food hall, with construction beginning later this year.
People like you value experienced, knowledgeable and award-winning journalism that covers meaningful stories in Bloomington-Normal. To support more stories and interviews like this one, please consider making a contribution.