An underground Atlanta food market debuts “above ground”

Just over a year ago, a secret flash-mob style food fair made its first appearance in Atlanta.  The Atlanta Underground Market featured home-cook vendors who tested out their goods on curious consumers. 

It became so popular that last weekend, the “underground” market debuted “above ground.”  But now that the secret is out, can the new business model succeed?

The Atlanta Nosh opened to the public last Sunday with some 82  vendors selling unique foods in a 75-thousand square foot lot in Atlantic Station.

At five bucks to get in and one to seven dollars a tasting, this super-sized smorgasbord was no ordinary food festival.

The vendors are mostly home-cooks, would-be caterers and people with a love of food. Some quit their day jobs, some still work, others are exploring options.

“My name is Stella Osborne,  I’m an architect, found myself unemployed twice in last three years, did some soul searching and realized I loved to cook and am good at it,” says Osborne, “So here I am, selling pig candy and paleo brownies and see where it takes us!” she continues.

They’ve invested anywhere from a few hundred to more than 10-thousand dollars into their start-ups.

“We are  “Natural Almond,”   a brand new Atlanta based company that produces hand crafted almond butter,” Osborne continued.

The Atlanta Nosh is the public version of the Atlanta Underground Market, a well known secret among culinary circles for the past year.  

Started by entrepreneur, Michaela Graham, the mobile, monthly, private food-fest gave aspiring cooks a chance to test out their offerings on food lovers without too much hassle or investment.

Graham saw it as a business incubator.

“It allows people that really have a passion for food to get some feedback, and that gives them a stepping stone to go on to maybe get the catering license and do further things.”

And many did.

Word spread quickly and soon Graham had 12-thousand people on her email list. At first hard to recruit, vendors were now clamoring to get in.  As the market grew, event space was harder to find, lines longer to control.

“The underground market maybe got a little too successful to keep going that way.”

Graham decided to take the market public, weekly, and in one permanent location.

Moving above ground meant a changing the business model: more vendors, more permits, licenses, and red tape for Graham and vendors to invest in.

No doubt those who came were gastronomically enriched. But, not enough customers came Sunday, for the market to turn a profit.

Graham expected crowds of 5000 or so.

“Unfortunately we had less than what we had with some of the underground markets. And I thought that being public that would multiply in numbers,  and unfortunately that didn’t happen.”

Despite the first week’s low turnout, neither Graham , nor vendors like Monica Mabiza from Zimbabwe,  are giving up.

“I expected to see more of regular participants. but hopefully it will get better once people know we are here.”

Graham plans to move the market to a better spot in Atlantic station, decrease the number of vendors. And keep looking forward.

“Well, you just have to change things,” says Graham, “You just have to push forward because there’s no way to go back.”

Due to rain this weekend, the market is postponed until next week. You can find out more about the Atlanta Nosh visit their website http://atlantaundergroundmarket.com

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