Work has commenced on a Nixa couple’s project to transform nearly 4 acres of land in the Christian County city into a $3.7 million food hall and entertainment venue.
Rich and Leah Callahan intend to open their venture, dubbed 14 Mill Market, by fall 2022. Leah Callahan, an insurance adviser with Nixa-based Insurance Group of the Ozarks, said she and her husband Rich, who is general manager of Air Services Heating and Cooling/All Service Professional Plumbing, are funding much of the venture themselves.
“We are reaching out to some investors for a small portion, but for the most part, this is just the two of us,” she said, noting the project near the intersection of South Water Street and Highway 14, also known as Mount Vernon Street, is their first foray into the food industry.
The Callahans say the concept calls for a 12,000-square-foot building on the 3.6-acre property to house the food hall, which will feature food vendors, community seating and a 40-seat bar. Outdoor entertainment options also will be offered, including a stage for music concerts and space for games such as cornhole and bocce.
“They have 10 small concept kitchens that are chef inspired,” Rich said of the food hall vendors. “But it’s also a hangout where you can come and listen to live music or watch a sporting event.”
Leah said each of the vendor spaces will be roughly 320 square feet. The vendors likely will be on lease deals, ranging one to three years, which she said provides an opportunity to change the lineup on an annual basis. The intent is to offer a variety of cuisines with little overlap, the couple say.
“It’s always keeping new blood, so to speak, into that food hall,” she said, noting discussions are ongoing with undisclosed vendors. “I don’t think it’s going to be an issue filling those 10 spots. They are 10 small restaurants is the way we look at it. The chef is entirely going to be in charge of their small restaurant within our facility.”
The food hall vendors will surround a common area for customers to walk through or sit down, Rich said, estimating the indoor seating capacity is approximately 220 with additional seats outside.
He said Base Construction & Management LLC is general contractor for the project designed by Insight Design Architects LLC. Additionally, Toth and Associates Inc. is on board as engineers.
While common gathering spaces for food vendors, such as Route 66 Food Truck Park, exist in Springfield, a food hall concept is new to the Ozarks, the Callahans say. Kansas City and St. Louis both have food halls, including Parlor KC and City Foundry STL, according to Springfield Business Journal research.
An entrepreneurial plan in 2018 to open a food and beverage hall in downtown Springfield was scrapped by Good Spirits Concepts LLC due to architectural and engineering issues, according to Springfield Business Journal archives. Good Spirits co-owners Josh Widner and Jim Wilson instead decided to launch Best of Luck Beer Hall, a European athletic club-themed bar, in early 2019.
The idea to bring a food hall to Nixa was hatched in April when the Callahans visited Tulsa, Oklahoma, and dropped by Mother Road Market on a whim. The food hall opened in 2018.
“As we explored the food hall and the vibe and witnessed how people were enjoying it – not just the food but the activities and the community – the entire way back from Tulsa we talked about how that concept could work in our region,” Leah said. “We really did a research gathering mission at that point.”
The couple estimate they visited 14 food halls in seven states over the past few months, chatting with management at the venues, such as Jeff Thompson, director of food and retail strategy at Mother Road Market, to get mentorship on industry ins and outs.
Chris Russell, Nixa Area Chamber of Commerce CEO, wasn’t familiar with a food hall concept prior to Rich telling him about his 14 Mill Market plans a couple months ago. Callahan serves on the Nixa chamber’s board of directors.
“I had never been to something like that,” Russell said. “I had to do my own research on it and thought, ‘Man, this is a really cool concept.’”
Russell said Nixa has an active food service industry, but not much with an entertainment component that can draw locals and out-of-town visitors.
“I know people are going to love it. There’s going to be a lot of activities and events playing there,” he said of the food hall.
Parking for larger events at the venue will be a challenge, Russell said, adding the 14 Mill Market property is expected to have room for around 140 vehicles. But he noted people frequently use the nearby Nixa First Assembly of God parking lot when attending downtown events.
“When we have Sucker Days and we get 20,000 to 30,000 people down there, people figure it out,” he said of the annual festival hosted by the chamber. “They find a place to park.”
Land preparation work is in progress at the property the Callahans bought in May. A 1955-built structure known as the Wisner Mill and used for over three decades by D&D Feed and Farm Supply Inc. was torn down earlier this month. Rich said they considered incorporating it into the project, the way Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris did with the Ozark Mill for the Finley Farms development in Ozark. The idea was quickly nixed.
“It was really in very, very bad condition. Nothing like the Ozark Mill,” Leah said, adding most of the building was blocked off for decades, as some of its floors had rotted due to water damage.
D&D used the front portion of the building to sell bags of animal feed up until October, she said. The couple allowed previous owner David Atkinson to continue sales out of the mill for the past six months rent free.
During that time, the Callahans have salvaged some of the building artifacts, such as feed mixers, scales and oak that will be used in the food hall. The couple say the property is one of the original homesteads in Nixa dating back to the late 1800s.
“It was just really important since we couldn’t keep the building to at least try and retain some of those key pieces to put in our architecture,” she said.
Aside from utilizing some wood from the mill, the couple say the building will be designed with an industrial vibe, complete with exposed ductwork and large glass garage doors that can be opened or closed based on the weather. Plans for the open-air bar, which will have seating inside and outside, include mixed drinks and 36 taps. Beers from local breweries will comprise most of the taps, Rich said.
“We’re taking beverage sales and all alcohol sales,” he said. “That’s what we’re banking on as a revenue stream for us.”
The concept’s uniqueness was a key reason the Callahans chose to take the plunge into a new industry. They say the food hall’s appeal needs to extend beyond Nixa to be successful.
“Our marketing strategy is definitely not just going to be Nixa centered,” Leah said. “We hope 14 Mill Market is a food and entertainment destination of the Ozarks.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in May the all-items inflation index surged 8.6% over the past year, the highest increase since 1981.