Food halls are suddenly sprouting in New Mexico — a few years after they started spreading rapidly across the American landscape.

At least three food halls — in essence, indoor spaces with prepared food stalls and common seating areas — are in the works in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

Developers of the 33,000-square-foot Sawmill Market food hall in Albuquerque’s Sawmill District proclaim it will be New Mexico’s first food hall, with a planned opening in February. Meanwhile, a 15,000-square-foot Highland Central Market food hall also is about to start construction near Albuquerque’s Presbyterian Hospital.

But Santa Fe’s first food hall might sneak in ahead of the Duke City’s pair. Luna Center owner Ken Joseph plans to start work inside the former Talin Market space, 505 Cerrillos Road, as soon as he gets a building permit to create up to 20 food stalls anchored by a Bottega del Vino wine bar.

“I want to open it as soon as possible,” Joseph said, indicating a potential September debut at the same center as Radish & Rye.

In the meantime, Santa Fe’s Dr. Field Goods Kitchen was announced July 15 as one of the first four tenants at Sawmill Market. All but three of 24 stalls are spoken for but have not been announced, said Lauren Greene, who with her husband, Jason, is the concept developer of Sawmill Market.

So far, Dr. Field Goods is the only Santa Fe establishment signed up or in serious talks for Sawmill, though Green said some “small conversations, nothing serious” have been had with Santa Fe eateries.

“We would love to have a few more Santa Fe tenants,” she said.

Santa Fe restaurateurs also are sniffing at Highland Central Market, said Ian Robertson, marketing and communications director at Titan Development, the Highland developer.

“We definitely have seen more interest than we thought from Santa Fe,” Robertson said.

Food halls are making a belated entry in New Mexico, but some 275 food halls are now in place across the country, with 450 expected by the end of 2020, according to a report by commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield. Cushman counted only 120 food halls in 2016, with a 700 percent increase in their number from 2010 to 2017.

Denver has at least seven food halls, the first opening in 2013, and Salt Lake City expects its first three to open this year.

Food halls are the next step in restaurant evolution after the gourmet food truck scene emerged in the late-2000s. Food halls are typically local independent entrepreneurs — sometimes known chefs, other times startups.

“Food halls are a booming thing,” said Josh Gerwin, owner of Dr. Field Goods. “People love them. I want to ride that wave. It will be fun to see where it goes.”

Gerwin and Jason Greene knew each other as students at the New England Culinary Institute. Later, Gerwin opened up Casa Vieja in Corrales, which borders Albuquerque and Rio Rancho. The Greenes own Grove Cafe & Market in downtown Albuquerque.

The Greenes called Gerwin with the Sawmill Market idea. They were drawn to his farm-to-table ethic and by Gerwin operating his own butcher shop. He also fit their idea of filling the food hall with “the best of the best.”

“Truth be told, we had him on our hot list,” Greene said.

Gerwin will have a hamburger and hot dog stand with a display case of his butchered goods at Sawmill.

“I got my name known in Albuquerque with Casa Vieja in Corrales,” Gerwin said. “I’ve had a lot of customers come up from Albuquerque [to Dr. Field Goods].”

Sawmill Market LLC, the owner and operator of the market, is the brainchild of Heritage Hotels & Resorts CEO Jim Long. Heritage owns five Santa Fe hotels: Eldorado Hotel & Spa, Hotel St. Francis, Lodge at Santa Fe, Hotel Chimayo de Santa Fe and Inn & Spa at Loretto.

Heritage brought on the Greenes to bring the food hall to life, and they flew to Napa, Calif., to spend the afternoon with Steve Carlin, who can be considered the godfather of the 2010s food hall incarnation. Carlin in the 2000s developed Oxbow Public Market in Napa and was project manager for the Ferry Building Marketplace in San Francisco, back when Bay Area folks were scratching their heads at this new concept.

“He was a wealth of information,” Greene said. “One of the biggest things that stayed with me is the community of tenants you create. They need to be in the same vein of quality and vision to have tenant harmony. He said a food hall is a third place you go to. It’s not home, it’s not work.”

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