Anthony Bourdain’s unrealized dream comes to life: “Tony would say, ‘Darn it, you did it without me’ ’’

Anthony Bourdain traveled the world, eating everything from silkworm larva soup in Seoul to sealing eyes in Quebec, and broke bread with presidents and prime ministers. But he had a remarkable food dream that never came true: opening a global market.

In 2013, he first met KF Seetoh, a Singaporean food expert who was working together to open Borden Market. He envisioned a NYC version of the hawker markets in Singapore that he absolutely loved. It will be a melting pot of cuisine and culture, with earthen pot rice made from charcoal and Vietnamese pho simmering and served at midnight. There will be blood, rush, energy in a butcher stall and on the floor.

He told Sitoh that he envisioned more than 100 food hawker stalls with vendors from dozens of countries in a huge space on the Hudson. Seetoh knew this would be no easy feat between holding visas from myriad countries to obtain financial aid and permits. But Bourdain persevered, and he assembled a team to make the dream a reality.

Anthony Bourdain dreamed of opening an international Singapore street food style market. Now, a glimpse of that vision is coming alive with the newly opened Urban Hawker Market.
David Scott Holloway
Chef KF Seetoh (L) discussed the idea of ​​an international street food market with Bourdain nearly a decade ago.  Here, he cooks at the inaugural World Street Food Congress in New York in 2013.
Chef KF Seetoh (left) discussed the idea of ​​an international street food market with Bourdain nearly a decade ago. Here, he cooks at the inaugural World Street Food Congress in New York in 2013.
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But in 2017, after years of work on the project, Bourdain admitted that “the stars may not align at Pier 57” where he sought to stand Bourdain Market. Then, in June 2018, Bourdain died of an apparent suicide at the age of 61 in a hotel room in France.

“When he passed, I said, ‘How do we continue? Seetoh told The Post.

Now, a glimpse of Bourdain’s vision is coming to life.

The newly opened Urban Hawker Market will host 17 vendors, 11 of whom are food vendors from Singapore.
The newly opened Urban Hawker Market will host 17 vendors, 11 of whom are food vendors from Singapore.
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Husband and wife team of owners Suleiman Rahman and Annie Ahmed with chicken satay from their stand Padi at Urban Hawker Market.
Husband and wife team of owners Suleiman Rahman and Annie Ahmed with chicken satay from their stand Padi at Urban Hawker Market.
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On Wednesdays, Setoh and UrbanSpace, the company behind several city food halls, are soft-opening Urban Hawker in Midtown West. The 11,000-square-foot space is on 50th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues – not on the water – and will hold 17 – not 100 – vendors. Eleven of the 17 vendors are from Singapore, and most are family-owned businesses that have been cooking up delicious food from across Asia for decades.

“We’re telling a story about where all this delicious food came from,” said Seetoh.

It’s a bitter opening for the massive Bourdain project that he never saw successful.

“Tony would say, ‘Darn it, you did it without me,'” Saitoh said.

Bourdain’s ambitious idea for a $350 million market first surfaced in 2014. The following year, he confirmed that he and his colleagues had sub-lease the main concourse and mezzanine of Pier 57. By 2017, he expected to open Bourdain Market with 100 vendors. Spread in and out over 100,000 square feet from around the world. Restaurant stars of the time, April Bloomfield and Ken Friedman of Spotted Pig, were on track to operate two food stalls.

Pier 57
Bourdain’s ambitious idea for a $350 million market first broke in 2014. The following year, he confirmed that he and his colleagues had sub-lease the main concourse and mezzanine of Pier 57, pictured here.
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“It would all be transparent and authentic,” Bourdain told the New York Times in 2015, “not sterile, but chaotic in a good way, with hawkers and vendors and places to eat. Where in this city can you find it? “

The Vision was to give Bourdain fans a chance to taste everything they did on their television journey.

“People want Tony’s shows to come to life,” Stephen Werther, Bourdain’s business partner in the venture, told the Times in 2015.

Rendering of the proposed Bourdain Market.
A rendering of the proposed Borden Market from design firm Roman & Williams.
@bourdainmarket / Instagram

Bourdain and Werther enlisted design firm Roman & Williams, which designed restaurants such as Lafayette and Ace Hotel. The developers estimated 20,000 visitors a day. But the logistics – especially securing visas for 100 different vendors – turned out to be very challenging.

“It ultimately didn’t make financial sense and we weren’t able to close the deal,” says Roman & Williams co-founder Robin Standfer in the 2021 book “Bourdain: The Definitive Oral Biography,” which chronicles Bourdain’s long-time career. Written by Assistant. Laurie Wolver.

“It couldn’t create the revenue that everyone wanted. It was too complicated to operate, and Tony wanted real fire. The health department would have issues because the markets he liked had different rules, and regulations and The restrictions were in place; they didn’t have the requirements for new developments in New York City,” Standefer says.

As of 2016, Bourdain & Werther had yet to secure a lease, due to the headache of needing subleases for their many different vendors. “It was an impossible dream,” a real estate insider told The Post’s Steve Cuozzo in 2018.

Midway through 2017, Werther dropped out of the project, and market openings were pushed to 2019.

Bourdain’s close friend, Ariane Daguin, recalled talking to him about the state of the market in 2017. It was the last time he would ever speak.

“They put together a group of people who were going to do the development, which was very ambitious because it was a huge space,” Daguin, the founder of D’Artagnan Foods, told The Post. “It was no fault of theirs, maybe the real estate people didn’t see exactly the same vision and they wanted more revenue…it’s me.”

Raymond Kiang with signature chicken rice dish from Singapore-based Urban Hawker vendor Hainan Jones.
Signature chicken rice dish from Singapore-based Urban Hawker vendor Hannan Jones.
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As of December 2017, Bourdain announced that the venture would not come to life.

“Ultimately, there were no partners. So this project became a dream. The kind of gritty, f-ked up, smelly, intense, constricted atmosphere he wanted to create scared the sh-t out of people,” Standfer” Bourdain: The Definitive Oral Biography.

But, Standfer also says that Bourdain never completely abandoned the project.

Urban Hawker Singapore food hall..5
Urban Hawker’s assortment of dishes.
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“There was always this little secret area of ​​discussion like ‘Maybe someone else will come with the money. Why can’t we put this incredible vision in another place?'” she says in Wolver’s book. “There was always hope for that potential. “

Sitoh also never gave up. A few years after the project turned, he came to New York and partnered with Urbanspace. Together, they landed on the idea of ​​a Singapore hawker market that would be a more modest interpretation of Bourdain’s original vision.

The vendors eagerly signed on.

Suleiman Rahman, who runs Paddy, a Malay-inspired hawker stand with wife Annie Ahmed, said, “This is our first expansion in the US. When they heard that Anthony Bourdain’s project had been revived, we said we were interested in getting involved. keep.” ,

Seetoh also announced on his Instagram page that he is ready to hire migrants seeking asylum in New York.

Anthony Bourdain
“I’m a firm believer in the belief that a bowl of spicy noodles is a portal to absolute happiness,” Anthony Bourdain once said.
Tamara Beckwith

The market will, in some ways, be a tribute to Bourdain and the foods he tastes.

He once wrote, “I am a firm believer in the notion that a bowl of spicy noodles is the door to complete happiness.” “Many of my happiest moments these days are centered on sitting on low plastic stools, somewhere in Asia, eating chili-jacked noodles in broth.”

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