The food hall boom extends to the eastern edge of the Triangle this week, while making a kind of roadside dining history.
Three years in the making, The Old North State Food Hall will open its doors Friday, Aug. 26, completing the transformation from an old JRs Cigar warehouse to a 10-vendor fast-casual food court along Interstate 95.
“We’re America’s only interstate-adjacent food hall, the only one,” said Old North State general manager Nathan Lambdin. “We’re calling ourselves America’s food hall.”
Where to find it
The Old North State Food Hall is at 67 JR Road, Suite 300 in Selma, just off of U.S. 70 and exit 97 on Interstate 95.
The food hall moves into a landmark of I-95 travel, the JRs retail warehouse that’s been visible from the interstate for decades. There’s still a large JRs cigar shop next door to the food hall, but much of the space is unrecognizable inside since renovations began in 2020.
There are 10 vendors in the Old North State Food Hall, plus the Long Leaf Tavern, a bar built into the original JR cigar humidor. Eight of the 10 vendors were founded in North Carolina and move into the food hall as a first brick and mortar or a restaurant expansion.
▪ Aroma de Cuba: This popular Johnston County food truck will serve Cuban sandwiches, plantain chips, empanadas and potent Cuban coffee.
▪ Barley & Burger: Founded in Rocky Mount from owners Brandon Clarke, Travis Ellis and bestselling author Etaf Rum, this burger side project will focus on smashburgers, griddled on a flattop.
▪ Bean & Bubble: This project from married couple Sophia Woo and Nathan Lambdin brings Black & White Roasters coffee, boba tea and poke bowls to Johnston County.
▪ Butter Cream: Also from Woo and Lambdin, Butter Cream will serve ice cream, Taiwanese shaved ice and freshly baked cookies.
▪ Cock-a-Doodle Moo: Born from a popular food truck, Cock-a-Doodle Moo will bring comfort food to the food hall, serving barbecue, sandwiches, wings and fries.
▪ Curry in a Hurry: This popular Triangle food truck opened its first brick and mortar location in Raleigh’s Morgan Street Food Hall. Now owner and chef Alaksha Surti expands to Johnston County with a menu of curries, Kati rolls and crispy samosas.
▪ Fuku: Johnston County has landed the first North Carolina location of this trendy chicken sandwich shop from celebrity chef David Chang. From the founder of Momofuku restaurants, Fuku serves fried chicken sandwiches and waffle fries.
▪ Luna Pizza: The owners of this pizzeria from Greenville traveled to Italy to hone their pizza-making skills. Luna features Neapolitan-style pies with blistered crusts, meatballs, salads and desserts.
▪ The Mac House: This mac and cheese bar bakes up special takes on the comfort food favorite. Look for buffalo chicken mac and cheese, Caribbean jerk, bacon and truffle or specials like bacon poutine.
▪ My Cielo Taqueria: This New Hampshire taqueria heads south for the brand’s second location, adding street tacos to the food hall, plus nachos, tortas, burritos and quesadillas.
▪ Long Leaf Tavern: Built in a cigar humidor, this bar will feature beer and spirits from North Carolina brewers and distilleries. There will be eight draft beer taps, all serving local beer, with a focus on Johnston County’s Double Barley and Deep River.
The Old North State Food Hall comes from Selma’s AdVenture Development and has been in the works since 2019. The COVID pandemic put a longtime pause on the food hall, and its management was handed over to national food hall operator Hospitality HQ.
The food hall’s GM, Lambdin, grew up in Clayton and knows the space better than most.
“My grandmother lives right over there behind the trees, been there 30 years,” said Lambdin, who was previously involved with his wife’s former restaurant MOFU Shoppe in Downtown Raleigh. “When I first heard there was something going on across the street from Grandma, and that it was a food hall, I had to know what that was about.”
Who it’s for
Nambdin and the food hall owners aren’t shy about what kind of response they expect from diners, both the locals in Johnston County and the hundred thousand drivers passing by.
“We expect to be the busiest food hall in the country,” Nambdin said. “That’s a bold claim, I know.”
There are billboards advertising the food hall as far away as the Virginia line. Nambdin said the interstate traffic is enormous and likely to tip the success of the food hall, but that its vendors were arranging to fill dining gaps in Johnston County.
“This is bringing 10 really interesting, chef-driven concepts to an area that desperately needs it,” Nambdin said. “I think it’ll be really good if we can pull in the interstate traffic, but at the same time we’re very focused on feeling like part of the community and being a place for locals, especially the bar.”
Part of the beauty of road trips is finding lunch and dinner spots offering a taste of place. Nambdin said the food hall packs that into once space.
“This is the country’s introduction to North Carolina hospitality and North Carolina chefs,” Nambdin said. “I’d rather stop here than a Wendy’s, you know what I mean?”
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