Marble City Market: New management means an exciting new era for the downtown food hall

·5 min read

Paul and Ashley Moody have had a large impact on Marble City Market since the downtown Knoxville food hall opened in November, serving up mouth-watering smash burgers proven to get people in the door.

But now, with the entire food hall under their management, Moody Foods Inc. is working to help Marble City Market regain the relevancy it had leading up to its opening at 333 W. Depot Ave.

That pre-opening excitement and foot traffic dwindled over time, as vendors regularly shared frustrations with former management company Hospitality HQ. In fact, half the original vendors are gone, and two vacancies remain.

The Moodys believe part of SmashCity Knoxville's success is related to their independence – not having to rely on Hospitality HQ for growth.

The duo has a strong social media presence and a high standard of "excellence," Ashley told Knox News. They'll be working to bring that mindset to the entire food hall with the new events, improved marketing and reimagined look they have planned for Marble City Market.

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The Moodys' proven business model not only works in Knoxville but has allowed them to open inside food halls in Omaha, Nebraska, with additional SmashCity concepts planned for Salt Lake City and Houston. And being in other markets has its advantages.

For one, the Moodys might come across vendors looking to expand to Knoxville, though it's likely locals would rather see homegrown entrepreneurs get the first shots at opening a stall. The Moodys also have their eyes on big-picture strategies working at other food halls – and not just those managed by Hospitality HQ.

When Regas Square ownership and Hospitality HQ began planning Marble City Market, they visited multiple bars and restaurants to see what Knoxville currently has to offer.

This recon was not to borrow ideas but, instead, to build something totally opposite – something unlike anything the Scruffy City has seen before. But a good portion of Knoxville still hasn't seen the food hall with their own eyes, Ashley said, and that's a problem.

In addition to SmashCity Knoxville, the Moodys also are behind the food hall's latest addition, Valley Fresh Kitchen.

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This soup and salad concept was brought to the food hall partially because the Moodys listened to an episode of Knox News podcast "The Scruffy Stuff" and took it to heart.

While the episode did criticize the lack of healthy options (a void now filled by Valley Fresh Kitchen), the main goal was to answer the question presented in its title: "Has Marble City Market lived up to the hype as Knoxville's first food hall?" 

Spoiler alert: Yes, and no. When it comes to extending the boundaries of downtown Knoxville, a goal stakeholders felt was attainable, the if-you-build-it-they-will-come mindset proved unrealistic – at least, under Hospitality HQ leadership.

Moody Foods plans to maintain a cordial relationship with Hospitality HQ, which currently has its own taqueria stall in the food hall. The Houston and Salt Lake City food halls getting a SmashCity –  those are managed by Hospitality HQ, too.

The Moodys are not blaming their predecessors for the food hall's downfalls but have a vision for growing Marble City Market – to get more people in the door, not just to eat and leave, but to socialize with family and friends.

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With this new chapter already underway, "The Scruffy Stuff" podcast analyzes how the Moodys can bring new life to Marble City Market, and how they can use their success to help individual vendors and the entire food hall grow together.

Hosted by growth and development editor Brenna McDermott and yours truly, downtown reporter Ryan Wilusz, the episode is available now on Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. You also can listen in the podcast player, below! 

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While Knox News is the best place to find the latest downtown news, "The Scruffy Stuff" podcast is the place to hear newsroom experts and guests push the conversation further.

Weekly episodes answer your burning questions about downtown Knoxville and cover a variety of topics, from business to lifestyle trends in the city's core — basically, anything and everything under the Sunsphere.

Ashley and Paul Moody, the people behind SmashCity Knoxville at Marble City Market, will be taking over as managers of the downtown food hall after ownership parted ways with previous management company Hospitality HQ. The Moodys have made a name for themselves in Knoxville's culinary scene with their smash burgers, which are becoming more available beyond East Tennessee as the couple continues to expand into other markets, from Houston to Salt Lake City.
Ashley and Paul Moody, the people behind SmashCity Knoxville at Marble City Market, will be taking over as managers of the downtown food hall after ownership parted ways with previous management company Hospitality HQ. The Moodys have made a name for themselves in Knoxville's culinary scene with their smash burgers, which are becoming more available beyond East Tennessee as the couple continues to expand into other markets, from Houston to Salt Lake City.

Episodes are released each Monday by downtown reporter and host Ryan Wilusz, along with visual journalist and producer Calvin Mattheis.

Growth and development editor Brenna McDermott is a frequent guest, along with other newsroom staff members whose specialties range from the University of Tennessee to local politics.

Have an idea? Want to be featured?

Between each episode, you can reach out to Ryan with feedback and your own questions about downtown Knoxville. The questions could become an episode, and your perspective might just be shared on the show.

Reach out to Ryan at ryan.wilusz@knoxnews.com, and be sure to follow him on Instagram @knoxscruff. You can also follow Knox News on Instagram @knoxvillephoto.

Ryan Wilusz: Knoxville's downtown reporter and urban explorer
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This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Marble City Market food hall changes with Smash Knoxville owners