Who's That Gal: Liz Morningstar of Boston Public Market
We know we're not the only ones who stroll through Boston Public Market morning, noon and night! The newly-opened market (this fall) already has the city buzzing with locally sourced food. We've even spotted vendors we remember from our respective childhoods throughout Massachusetts! If you're free tonight, don't forget to head to Ladies Lounge to hear Liz speak more in person about this fantastic resource we feel so lucky to live close to!
Name: Liz Morningstar
Occupation: CEO, Boston Public Market
Alma Mater(s): University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University
Current Hood: Beacon Hill
JUGs: We read about the development and its long anticipation before opening in Summer 2015. What was it like choosing the location, obtaining permits, etc.?
LM: Our location at 100 Hanover Street, alongside the traditional Haymarket, is actually part of a broader City of Boston effort to create a “market district.” Our building sits on land that was sold by the City of Boston to the Commonwealth in 1991 to make way for the ventilation stacks for the Big Dig – the building we call home is actually two, separate structures (a parking garage and an office building) that are wrapped around a large vent structure that dives deep below ground.
When the City sold the State the land, they required that the eventual use be market related. After remaining empty for over 12 years, the State designated the Boston Public Market Association that developer and operator of the Market in 2012, so it's fair to say the location chose us and not the other way around. Today’s Market is 28,000 square feet and home to just under 40 vendor stalls and a 3,200 square foot teaching kitchen.
In terms of permitting for design and construction of the space, the Market’s construction plans were reviewed by over 15 discreet city, state, and federal entities. Construction and design continued simultaneously through the winter of 2014-15. 2,500 square feet of recycled, donated New England barn board, and one mile of copper was used in the interior of the market. Despite record snowfall, a citywide industry shortage of construction subcontractors and 35+ individual stall fit outs, market construction was completed on time and on budget, creating over 100 construction jobs.
We are HUGE fans and consider the Public Market a "local gem!" It takes a lot for us to not stop in every morning on the way to work. Can you speak to the process of curating local vendors who want to rent stand space with you?
The goal of the market is to have the highest quality food products from the most local sources. In fact, the Boston Public Market is unique—the first of its kind in the nation—everything sold either originates or is produced in New England. There will be no citrus, no avocado or banana, no salmon or shrimp. When we look at prospective vendors, they must be local to New England, offer a variety of price points, represent the diversity of backgrounds within our community, and have the ability to and understand the importance of educating our customers about their products and production process. They have to have passion for what they do! Our vendors don’t simply operate as 40 individual businesses under the same roof – there must be a common commitment to creating a unique customer experience.
While variety is always nice, do you see certain vendors rotating or do vendors have a certain lease term?
Variety is nice and, obviously, running an all-local market will bring seasonal variety throughout the year. We’re betting on the fact that the average local shopper understands that you won’t find strawberries out of season. We’ve known and planned for the market to constantly change and evolve to meet customers’ needs and local availability. We’re continually seeking new and unique businesses to complement and enhance the current market mix. These new vendors can be permanent or even short-term for those with a seasonal product line or limited production capability. This morning’s market opened with three short-term vendors selling dog treats made from barley byproduct of a local brewery, a small family owned cranberry farm, and a rotating bakery stand that will change operators daily. Most permanent vendors lease a space for 1–2 years with the opportunity to renew, but we work closely with each vendor at the onset to tailor their lease terms to their individual business.
Have you always been someone who was interested in locally sourced food?
I’ve always loved public markets – Borough Market in London is probably my favorite – but, small, local markets anywhere in the world are almost always the best places to learn about the community that you are in. I love markets because they’re alive with sights, smells, movement, and energy. I love fresh ingredients, cooking (especially something new) and most of all, I love eating and drinking. You are more likely to find me grocery shopping than buying new shoes or clothes!
How do you think your experience in branding and marketing has helped the fast growth of BPM?
Our branding and marketing efforts were critical—especially before we were opened—in communicating customers and to our philanthropic investors, what we would become. We’ve been open just 4 months – we’re introducing the market to customers and would-be customers in new ways everyday. We work hard to choose language, photographs, our non-profit partners, activities and promotions, that all reinforce a subtlety of brand that connotes a lifestyle. Public Market customers choose to shop because of a good quality product and experience, but also because they like what shopping at the Market says about them. It’s important to remember that relationship with our customers in everything that we do.
Why do you think the Public Market has had such a positive effect on community?
Food is a common culture. No matter what our background, the amount of money in our pocket, we all need it and we all love it! The Boston Public Market allows people to meet the maker and learn about where their food comes from, it’s home to delicious food and to free community programming. I hope that visiting will anyone all who come to see how much we share.
Say you’re spending a day in the area, what would be your breakfast, lunch and dinner from BPM?
I can’t choose! But if I was a visitor and could choose between so many good options, I might get an avocado toast from Mother Juice and grab a coffee at George Howell. Have Jasper Hill’s Mac and Cheese for lunch. And for dinner, grab a skillet of the day from Nella Pasta.
What’s next for BPM?
The Market will change and evolve. We’ve expanded three vendors this month, we’re adding an ATM, and have proposals from 2-3 new vendors. We’re a start-up, so I expect, that we’ll look very different a year from now than how we look today!
Best business advice you’ve ever received: Never start anything without the end in mind
Fall or Winter: Fall
Favorite meal to cook at home: Asian on a weeknight, spicy sausage, pork, ragu when it starts to get chilly, anything Mediterranean in the summer.
Currently reading (since we are a book club): The internet in the middle of the night, child advice books, cookbooks, and All the Light We Cannot See (editor's note: we've read that!).
All photos credited to Chuck Choi