W. Social food hall to transform Wright Dunbar from dining desert to food destination

The Historic Wright Dunbar Business District is about to go from zero food and beverage establishments to seven.

Construction has started on W. Social Tap & Table at 1100 W. Third St., and the $2.1 million project will transform a former conference center into Dayton’s first food hall.

The food hall will be home to a bar, Grind House Coffee & Tea Co. and five other independent businesses: De’Lish, ILLYS Fire Pizza, Taco Street Co., Soca and The Lumpia Queen.

The project will bring ample new food options to an area that has long been both a food desert and a “dining desert,” said supporters and business owners.

W. Social, a joint venture between Wright Dunbar Inc. and Dillin Corp., is expected to open in late fall.

“We have a mobile, wood-fired pizza business that we’ve been carting around for the last seven years,” said Robert Gunn, owner of ILLYS, which specializes in pizzas with turkey toppings. “So this is very exciting to be somewhere stable, with a controlled environment.”

The food hall will open in a 6,685-square-foot building that has exposed brick and ceiling beams.

A full bar will occupy the center of the space that will serve Grind House coffee products earlier in the day and alcohol later on. The bar will offer about 16 taps, craft beer, wine and cocktails, and will have TVs and seating for about 30 people.

The food hall expects to be open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

It will have inside seating, and new garage doors are being installed that will lead to a large outdoor patio space. Five local businesses will share the rest of the inside space and will have their own stations.

Soca operates a food truck that sells Caribbean dishes and plans to serve about 15 to 20 menu items to start with, including some that can’t be made in the truck, said Shafton Greene, the owner who lives a short walk from the food hall property.

“I’m excited to give people a bigger part of the culture of Trinidad and the Caribbean,” he said.

Gunn, the owner of ILLYS, said the food hall will provide a diverse range of eating choices from vendors that already have a strong following and a loyal customer base.

He said he looks forward to collaborating with the other businesses to make it a food destination.

Anthony Thomas, the owner of Taco Street Co., said he wanted to be in Wright Dunbar because he loves the area and his food truck business started there.

Taco Street now has a location in the food court of the Fairfield Mall in Beavercreek and serves Mexican-American tacos, like jerk chicken and fish tacos and birria tacos that are dipped in a broth.

“When my customers come from here all the way to Beavercreek, it’s a lot of travel,” he said at a groundbreaking ceremony on Tuesday for the food hall. “They’d rather have me around here, and this is the perfect place.”

Most of the vendors in the food hall have food trucks and are eager to get a permanent physical location, Thomas said.

Large swaths of West Dayton remain a food and dining desert and only have fast-food restaurants and the recently opened Gem City Market, residents and others said.

Jasmine Brown, the owner of De’Lish, says she wants to be part of something special in West Dayton.

“We don’t have a lot of sit down places where families can come and eat together and get good food and service,” she said. “The tenants, which I call my family, we’ve known each other for a while ... I’ve known Robert (Gunn) since first grade and to see the success of his family is really heartwarming.”

De’Lish will serve soul food and Cajun and Creole comfort foods, as well as its popular egg rolls and some vegan items, she said.

The Wright Dunbar Business District recently lost Texas Beef & Cattle, its only restaurant. But local officials and leaders say the food hall will help continue to make Wright Dunbar a vibrant and diverse historic district.

“This will be a catalyst for more development,” Dayton City Commissioner Chris Shaw said. “This is a valuable amenity for our city ... I think there are huge things on the horizon for West Dayton in particular, but the city in general.”

W. Social is just the latest project in an area that has benefitted from 25 years of strategic investments in housing, infrastructure upgrades and the preservation of historic buildings, Dayton City Manager Shelley Dickstein said.

“I want to thank Larry Dillin and his team,” she said. “He can invest his money in a lot of places ... we are so grateful that he chose West Dayton to help drive momentum into our district.”

Dillin said he wanted to be part of Dayton’s resurgence but felt that downtown already had plenty of redevelopment activity going on. He said he quickly fell in love with Wright Dunbar and its history, and was impressed by all the people he met.

He said a food hall wasn’t his idea ― it came from the Wright Dunbar board of trustees ― but he bought in.

Dillin Corp. plans to redevelop other buildings in the business district into a mix of uses, including housing and ground-floor retail space.

The new food hall has been in the works for a couple of years and will be similar to the COhatch, which turned the old Myers Market in downtown Springfield into a new food hall and offices, said Patrick Williams, the director of sales and leasing for Dillin Corp.

Williams, who helped spearhead the COhatch project, will be the operating partner of the W. Social food hall.

Wright Dunbar is an important gateway into West Dayton, and continued success in the neighborhood will build investor confidence in the larger area, said John Gower, urban design director and placemaking engineer with CityWide and the city of Dayton.

“There are literally tens of thousands of us who live west of the river and northwest of the river whose food choices are mostly in a car where you order through a speaker,” he said. “This is not only going to provide another amenity for Wright Dunbar ― it’s going to be an amenity for all the adjoining neighborhoods and the neighborhoods further out.”

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