Just five years ago, Metquarter in Liverpool was in decline. Hit hard by the rise of online shopping and the introduction of nearby shopping mecca Liverpool One years before, it was clear something had to change.
Enter Queensberry Real Estate, which, along with Bywater Properties, purchased the 130,000 sq ft shopping centre for £18m. Queensberry immediately began giving the space the Queensberry treatment.
“We breathe life back into underutilised spaces and reinvigorate spaces,” said Alex Hyams, asset and leasing manager for the firm. “This is what Queensberry does. It is our modus operandi.”
Everyman Cinema’s opening in 2018 was the beginning. But the first major breakthrough, according to Hyams, was signing on media and performing arts university LMA to 50,000 sq ft in 2020. That meant guaranteed footfall, with 1,400 students and 150 staff members on site every week starting in September.
“That was a massive lease of life for the scheme,” Hyams said.
The next key step was creating a new food hall: General Provisions Outlet, which opened to the public on 10 June. Its initials paying homage to Metquarter’s past as Liverpool’s general post office.
GPO joins other Liverpool food hall and food market veterans: Baltic Market at Cains Brewery and Duke Street Food and Drink Market.
Coming in at 11,000 sq ft, GPO has 11 vendors serving up a variety of cuisine from Levantine to Japanese to southern American. Each trader is new to Liverpool. Most dishes come in under £10.
There is no set target audience for the food hall, according to Matt Bigland, founder and director at The Milestone Group, which manages GPO. Instead, he hopes GPO is serving up something for everyone regardless of whether they are after a coffee break, family-friendly dinner fare or cocktails before a night out.
GPO fits 350 covers with current Covid restrictions. When those are lifted, it will have a capacity of around 500.
Bigland wants those customers to be loyal.
“I don’t want to be a destination,” he said. “I want them to be here two to three times a week.”
Using technology, he has a plan to keep people hooked. Milestone Group developed the iBe Loyalty app. Part online ordering system, part rewards card, the app showcases each menu item available with vibrant pictures and detailed descriptions. It takes information from its users (such as total spend, date of last visit and frequently purchased items) and uses it to retarget them. It also offers cashback opportunities. Students at LMA can use the app to grab an extra 20% off their purchases and a further 5% cashback.
This is not the first food hall for the Milestone Group, which also manages Cutlery Works in Sheffield. But Bigland said GPO has taken the company’s initial food hall concept to another level.
“We’ve raised the game for Liverpool,” he said.
Liverpool marks the beginning of Bigland’s planned food hall empire. Milestone Group’s vision is to have 10 food halls in the UK, each with its own individual identity. Bigland is looking to Leeds (“Leeds definitely needs a food hall”) and Manchester as future locations. He is not worried about competing with Manchester’s other food halls either.
“We’ve seen what has been done. We’ve seen what is there,” Bigland said. ”I think we’d be something fresh.”
Even though Milestone Group owns traditional restaurants and gastropubs, it sees food halls as the way of the future – especially for restauranteurs starting out. GPO charges non-capped turnover-based rent for its spaces and provides general management, toilets and other necessities. All the chefs need is their food and cooking equipment. Because the rent is based on how profitable a stall is, Bigland explained that restauranteurs are working with food hall managers to meet the same goals of increasing footfall and sales.
Bigland sees GPO and other food halls as restaurant incubators. They function as space for a chef to give proof of concept and market interest.
“We want [chefs] to get to a point in 18 months or two years where they have been incubated and we can let them move on and get their first brick and mortars,” Bigland said. “It’s a natural churn.”
It also keeps the food hall interesting and fresh, he added.
While GPO is the latest Metquarter addition, the project is not over yet for Queensberry. There are more spaces to let and asset manager Alex Hyams is not giving up on traditional retail. On the ground floor, the development group is committed to “creating a thriving retail offer,” he said.
But that doesn’t mean it cannot be accented with non-traditional lettings. For instance, a sports massage therapist is setting up shop soon – hoping to recruit business from the LMA students.
“For me, it’s about keeping an open mind and talking to the business community and to the occupiers to hear what they need,” Hyams said.