Dock Lines: Liberty Public Market opens in Liberty Station

If you’re anything like my foodie friends and me, you’ve been eagerly awaiting the launch of Liberty Public Market, the much-anticipated public market that’s finally opened at Liberty Station, adjacent to Stone Brewing. It’s open daily from 11 a.m.-7 p.m.

By press time, with the arrival of Baker & Olive, an olive oil and condiment shop, 26 of the planned 28 vendors, mostly eateries, will have opened. The final two will debut in about six weeks, according to General Manager Josh Zanow. There’s potential for an additional four stalls.

The inspiration for Liberty Public Market (2820 Historic Decatur Road) derived from Seattle’s Pike Place, San Francisco’s Ferry Landing and a host of public markets around the country, including Zanow’s favorite from his former Napa home, Oxbow Public Market.

With San Diego’s abundance of fresh produce, seafood, flowers and food artisans, plus its legendary farmers markets and creative food trucks, a public market seems a natural fit.

Yet the last effort closed after 18 months in 2014. Spearheaded by farmers market maven Catt White and visionary entrepreneur Dale Steele who developed a public market in an old Barrio Logan factory, it fell victim to its difficult location, questionable parking and inadequate funding. White and Steele’s San Diego Public Market, partially funded by a Kickstarter campaign (to which I contributed), demonstrated the pent-up demand for a public market, but in a location more approachable for San Diegans and tourists alike.

Enter restaurateur David Spatafore, founder of Coronado-based Blue Bridge Hospitality, whose eateries include Stake, Leroy’s, Village Pizzeria and ice cream shop MooTime Creamery. Just as San Diego Public Market was failing in Sept. 2014 Spatafore announced plans to team with Liberty Station developer Corky McMillin to open an artisan market/food hall. 

After extensive planning and construction and permitting delays, Liberty Public Market finally had its soft opening in mid-March. 

Zanow, a restaurant business veteran, described it as “the hardest soft opening I’ve ever experienced,” because of its immediate enormous crowds. And the crowds keep coming.

“It’s been a fun project to be part of,” especially being able to hand-pick the vendors to create the market, Zanow said. He, Spatafore and others on the team visited farmers markets throughout the region and sampled the best food trucks to select their market offerings. They invited individual artisans to have stalls in the market, taking care to choose only one in each category.

“We set it up so the spaces didn’t compete with each other, so there’s synergy among the artisans,” each of whom was given a one-year lease, Zanow explained. 

Many merchants purchase their ingredients from the produce market (Garden Fresh), butcher (Liberty Meat Shop), Fishmonger (Fishbone, also offering prepared dishes), cheese shop (Venissimo) and other vendors.

You won’t find multiple coffee or sandwich shops, though you will find a taquería (Cecilia’s), an empanada stall (Paraná), a sausage shop (Mastiff), and Thai (Mama Made Thai) and New Orleans (Cane Patch Kitchen) eateries. In addition to the yet-to-open candy and sandwich shops, there are three sweet shops, Le Parfait Paris, selling French pastries and coffee, and Blue Bridge Hospitality’s pastry-chef-helmed Crafted Baked Goods, offering beautifully decorated cakes, and Scooped, a smaller version of MooTime, plus a florist (AE Floral).

The single sit-down restaurant, Mess Hall, located in Liberty Station’s former mess hall, still boasts its original 1960s-era ship painting-adorned cornice. Beer and wine are also available at  Bottlecraft and wine shop Grape Smuggler.

Enjoy assembling a meal or shopping for goodies to take back to your boat. And join me in rejoicing San Diego finally has its own public market.  

For a list of vendors visit libertypublicmarket.com.

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