By LEIGH VINCOLA/ecoRI News contributor
PROVIDENCE — In 2014 David Dadekian of Eat Drink RI won a Rhode Island Foundation Innovation Grant for 300,000. His idea was to build a year-round food market that rivals the hugely popular markets in many major cities across the country, and strengthens the Ocean State’s food and tourist economies. Think Pike’s Place in Seattle, San Francisco’s Ferry Building or the year-old Boston Public Market.
On Aug. 6 Eat Drink RI hosted a market preview at the site that two years, many studies and thousands of dollars later has been chosen for the Central Market. These kinds of projects don’t happen fast — it took more than a decade for Boston’s market to open — but Dedekian and the Rhode Island food community at large are committed to seeing the project through.
The recent Saturday was a pivotal moment in this process, and dreams started to take shape when 28 potential market vendors set up for a day of samples and sales.
The chosen location for the Central Market is 25 India St., the former Shooters nightclub site on the waterfront with view of Narragansett Bay. Adjacent to the newly resurrected Newport Ferry terminal, the property is owned by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, which supports the development of a year-round market and what it could mean for the future of the waterfront.
Each of the preview vendors is part of the thread that has become a thriving local food scene. They’ve all expressed interest in being part of the market once it’s complete.
For many of these local food businesses, the Central Market would provide them a permanent home. “We badly need this,” said Roselette DeWitt, owner of Biggest Little Popcorn Co. “It’s all wrapped up together in this location for tourists and locals ... really high-quality Rhode Island foods, this great view, and the Newport Ferry.”
Other market preview vendors included New Harvest Coffee Roasters, The Backyard Food Co., Stock Culinary Goods and Ocean State Smoked Fish Co.
The event also brought hundreds of visitors who not only had the chance to shop, but to envision what the future could hold for this underutilized area of Providence. Visitors looked at proposed maps and asked many questions of the event organizers about market plans.
“As this was a first-time event in a brand new location, we didn't know what to expect, but the turn out was excellent,” Dadekian said. “Approximately 800 people came through the gate in a very rough space that was only promoted by Eat Drink RI. Imagine the constant traffic we can have once there is permanent building, with many more amenities, at a waterfront location.”
When asked about next steps, Dedekian’s response was investment. “We need to raise four to five million dollars from investors and then hope that the state will give us an incentive package as well,” he said.
Plans for the Central Market include a demonstration kitchen, commercial kitchen, event space and parking. The intention is for the market to be the hub of the local and artisan food sphere in Rhode Island.