North Oak Cliff will suffer a foodie loss this summer when Bolsa Mercado, the restaurant-market at West Davis, closes at the end of August. After seven years, the market's lease was up for review and the owners decided not to renew.
They'll continue the catering part of their business but shut down the retail portion, says Chris Zielke, who opened Mercado in 2010 with partner Chris Jeffers and Jessica Jeffers, plus Plan B Group principals Royce Ring and Alex Urrunaga.
"We always made our money from the catering portion, and that made up for the losses we saw with the front of the house," he says. "But I want to stress that we don't feel like this failed. The lease is up, and we're choosing not to renew. It has been more a labor of love for the neighborhood than a money-maker. But we're just not interested in doing that for another five years."
North Oak Cliff was a different place when the Mercado opened, a few blocks down from the center of Bishop Arts District. Rents have jumped significantly, and given the low margins in retail, the market could not endure an increase in rent.
"It's challenging doing something with low price points," Zielke says. "Even if you have 250 customers a day, if the average check is $10, it's not enough to stay afloat. And this neighborhood is not like Uptown, where you have a thousand people coming in every day."
Bolsa Mercado evolved over the years, starting out in a cool vintage brick building as an ambitious and idealistic market and wine store with fine dry goods, bread, cheese, and produce targeted to foodies. Its coffee bar drew customers, and it had a popular prepared-foods counter for eating in or to-go. It did well with its "dinner to go" bags, with all of the ingredients assembled for a dinner for two. Its breakfast tacos and extra-thick pancakes were best-sellers, and its wrap sandwiches were a hit.
But expectations run high with market-type businesses, where customers who are perfectly happy to spend $15 on a burger at a restaurant balk at non-discount prices on produce or dry goods.
Zielke and his partners also own Bolsa, Smoke, Chicken Scratch, The Foundry, and The Theodore at NorthPark Center. They just signed on to oversee management of the food and beverage operations at the Statler Hilton hotel in downtown Dallas.
They'll relocate the catering operation to a cheaper neighborhood. "We need a bigger kitchen," Zielke says.