A look at what's going on in Trinidad, on H Street, and in the larger area north of Capitol Hill.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Border Springs Leaves Union Market


The popular vendor of lamb, and lamb sandwiches has left Union Market saying the market no longer fits the model that first attracted Border Springs. They announced the move recently on Twitter, but this Washington Post piece gives a little more context, and explains the reasons for the move. They aren't going far. They will do production work at Union Kitchen, but it doesn't sound like they will sell anything out of there directly.

Interestingly, the main issue seems to be that they first agreed to be part of Union Market (they were always technically in pop up, not permanent, status) with the understanding that it would be more of a food market where they could sell butchered lamb, and sausages for customers to cook at home. But over time, they say it became more of a high end food court, and they found themselves selling way more sandwiches than meats. Edens (the owners of Union Market) seemed to take a little umbrage at the whole "food court" assertion as you can see in the tweet below (Tim Carman, author of the Washington Post article characterizes their response).
How do you view Union Market? Does it differ from the original idea as you understood it? What direction would you like to see the market take, and do you think that direction would be economically feasible?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mall Food Court Drama!

Aug 16, 2013, 8:39:00 AM

Anonymous ro said...

Well, he's right. It has become a food court. A nice high-end food court, but a food court nonetheless. I find it very hard to do any real shopping there anymore and it doesn't seem that the management is trying to cater to those types. But I suppose selling sandwiches and entrees is probably more profitable than selling meat/produce by the pound.

Aug 16, 2013, 8:54:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Union market is getting better and better. I'm shopping there every week these days. I'm not a mutton fan, so I wont miss Border Springs. Harvey's sells their stuff anyway. I do wish that they would get a serious seafood vendor.

Aug 16, 2013, 8:55:00 AM

Blogger Nate said...

I've been using it as a food court. And enjoying it. Should I feel guilty about that?

Aug 16, 2013, 9:19:00 AM

Anonymous Oliver said...

I buy meat, dairy, breads, and veggies from Union Market every weekend, plus a whole bunch of additional things that make the week more delicious. I go on Sunday when the farmer's market is outside. Place is a really good balance of groceries, takeout, and sundries right now.

Aug 16, 2013, 9:19:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, it's an expensive food court; certainly not a farmers market. Yes, you can get meats from Harvey's, but there are only so many people willing to pay $10/lb for thick-sliced bacon (appx $1/slice) that isn't as good as Safeway. If I want to shop at a market, I'll go to the Saturday H St market on 13th St NE (though, sadly, those prices are higher than comparable markets, but I guess that's how it is now).

Aug 16, 2013, 9:37:00 AM

Blogger Tom A. said...


Yes, Clearly you are a bad, bad man!

Aug 16, 2013, 9:38:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

@Oliver - We do the same and I agree that there is a good balance. My wife and I would buy product to cook at home from Border Springs often, too bad they are leaving. Union Market has absolutely improved but still has a ways to go.

Aug 16, 2013, 9:42:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Union Market is a perfect day drinking spot when I "work from home" on Fridays. I definitely use it as more of a lunch and drinking destination than shopping although I still end up coming home with cheese, peanut butter ice cream, and sharpened knives.

Border Springs had great lamb gyros but their counter staff were kind of incompetent. Last time it took 40 minutes to get a couple sandwiches. I will still miss them though. I hope we can get a seafood vendor in there.

Aug 16, 2013, 10:06:00 AM

Anonymous Chris said...

Nate: of course you shouldn't feel guilty. You're using it in the way the developer intends, and you're enjoying it, and what could be wrong with that?

Personally, I was hoping that it would be more food-shopping oriented than sit-down-and-eat oriented -- Edens' complaints at the description notwithstanding, it *is* a food court. A very nice upscale food court, but a food court. Which, for me, is a bummer, because that isn't what I wanted. Well, tough for me; it's making money for them and as a food court it's satisfying lots of people, so more power to them.

My main complaint with Union Market that it's too open. The article says that the developers' strategist "wants to model the Edens project on the Spanish markets he visited as a chef with Jose Andres’s ThinkFoodGroup." I've been to those markets in Spain, and in particular Jose Andres' first love, La Boqueria in Barcelona, and one of the first differences one sees is how much more tightly packed are the vendors and the spaces between them. The density of vendors and patrons helps create a extraordinary level of energy that the Union Market's design makes impossible.

Aug 16, 2013, 10:09:00 AM

Anonymous H Man said...

Union Market is great. We use it to pick up pick up bread, dairy, etc..then, grab a bite to eat. I like the mix. My beef is their hours. I find many of the stalls close earlier than the posted hours. It is very frustrating to run in to grab something only to find they decided to close early.

Aug 16, 2013, 10:20:00 AM

Blogger Nate said...

Don't take my sarcasm too seriously. I really enjoy eating at Union Market, but I can respect the ambition to have it serve broader needs.

Also, to Chris, I find the criticism of the lack of density pretty interesting. It's true that in my favorite markets, there's a crucial element of having lots and lots of options packed together.

Aug 16, 2013, 10:53:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't get past the picture in the article of that fat fuck holding that cute lamb knowing he is going to slaughter it.

Aug 16, 2013, 11:33:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The "food court" comment is perfectly cutting. Gosh, how the Edens folks must have freaked out.

I enjoy the place, but "food court" EXACTLY describes whatever dissatisfaction I do have with the place. I wish it were more of a place to pick up reasonably priced seasonal foods (like so many other cities have) and not just another place to drop $30 on a meal.

Like I said, I do enjoy going there-- but its got some sort of fakery about it that is just so, so specific to DC.

Aug 16, 2013, 11:46:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I enjoy going there for ice cream and some fruit. However in general - the place is overpriced. Seriously overpriced. Many of my friends and colleagues who have been there have said that it didn't impress them because that was not what they were expecting it to be. I think many expected something similar to Eastern Market (in terms of selection and price). Instead - it is truly an expensive outing. I use it as a place to stop and get ice cream on my way home from work on friday as well as a place to pick up flowers and fruit on Sundays. Not complaining at all - but recognizing it's specific niche.

Aug 16, 2013, 2:06:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: Prices

The meat people at H St farmers market and other places have very expensive meat. Even sausage is like $13/lb or something.

Are they charging these prices just because they can (because we are idiots)? Or is that just what it costs for them to make a reasonable profit for their efforts as a small hormone free organic whatever operation?

I'm willing to support these farmers to an extent, just don't take advantage of my generosity.

As far as the original topic, UM doesn't really appeal to me. I go to Eastern Market (even though it is a little farther) or plain old grocery stores. I go to Litteri's frequently, but never really think to stop in at UM

Aug 16, 2013, 3:55:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

“The point is we’re trying to create this experience for people around food"

“I think the ultimate personality of the place is still evolving as our clientele and consumer base grows and continues to understand what the place is. For many people still, it’s a first-time experience.”

WTF is an "experience around food"? Sounds like they don't even know what they want it to be yet.

Aug 16, 2013, 4:06:00 PM

Anonymous 4th and G said...

@ Chris

The large spaces between stalls at Union Market probably has more to do with DC fire code requirements than anything else. I'm sure they would have packed vendors more closely had regulations allowed them to do so.

Aug 16, 2013, 7:06:00 PM

Anonymous KennyChesney said...

Good riddance!!!

Aug 16, 2013, 11:18:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

A jones for a Trickling Springs cone brings me in once a week. Would be twice if it wasn't for the Mennonite fidelity to the sabbath.

Aug 17, 2013, 1:23:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

What does Border Springs expect the developers to do? Ban selling prepared food? That would drive away a huge number of vendors and customers?

Aug 19, 2013, 11:14:00 AM

Anonymous Chris said...

@4th and g: that's a good point, and one I hadn't considered.

Aug 19, 2013, 2:15:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

for me, UM is not quite a food court yet, but it's getting there. I wish there was better produce more often and not just on Sundays. the power of the bread and the milk is what makes me think it isn't a food court yet. they're basic staples, but they are really awesome.

often when I am telling others about the dairy products, I catch myself making milking/squeezing motions with my hands

UM would be great if they got a fishmonger. it's kind of a pain to go to Maine Ave w/out a car

Aug 20, 2013, 2:09:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I first heard about Union Market (before it opened), I expected more of a market (real butcher shops, produce vendors, etc.). When it opened, I was a bit disappointed to discover that even the "butcher" (Red Apron) is mostly just a high-end prepared food vendor. But it seems like that's what the people want. Oh well.

Aug 22, 2013, 12:06:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know there were real butchers and produce vendors before Union Market entered in a blaze of glory, right?

Aug 22, 2013, 9:11:00 PM

Anonymous andrew said...

As I remember, Border Springs' stall started out as a table with big coolers full of sausages, and free samples.

Eventually, they started selling prepared food, moved the sausages into a tiny display case, bought a ton of cooking equipment, and got rid of the free samples.

...and they're surprised that their sales shifted to prepared foods?

Sep 9, 2013, 5:17:00 PM


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