City Market lands another fresh-food vendor

The Indianapolis City Market has landed another fresh food vendor. Locally-based pretzel-maker A Taste of Philly has agreed to lease 200 square feet of space inside the downtown market.

The historic market is on the cusp of initiating a $4 million upgrade, with the bulk of the money generated by a downtown tax increment financing district. The project is slated to go out for bidding in late July or early August. Last month, bakery Circle City Sweets debuted inside the City Market. A Taste of Philly is the second small business to buy into Mayor Greg Ballard’s market overhaul plan.

Over the next year, City Market’s main hall will see vendor stands consolidated into smaller footprints with new facades, improved lighting and colorful hanging pennants. The revamp also will include a regular schedule of musicians and performing artists to attract visitors, with a new focus on fresh food.

A Taste of Philly, which will open its City Market outlet on Wednesday, fits the new mission. Founded last August by brothers Patrick and Chris Wojtalik, the small business has already established a substantial clientele at 670 E. 42nd St. Patrick Wojtalik, 35, said he and his brother grew up outside Philadelphia, and “Philly-style” soft pretzels were a childhood staple. But when the pair relocated to Indianapolis, they couldn’t find them here and begged their parents to bring some on every visit.

“We just saw room in the market for this product,” he said. “We saw people on the East Coast really enjoying them and thought there’s got to be people here who would enjoy them the same way we did.”

To get A Taste of Philly off the ground, the brothers invested $100,000 for equipment and space just south of Broad Ripple. Thanks to a group of part-timers, the small company now has the equivalent of three full-time employees. Patrick Wojtalik gets up every morning around 4 a.m. to begin “twisting” the pretzel dough, which is then refrigerated as it rises; it is baked throughout the day. The pretzels, which are offered in signature linked groups of three, sell for $2.75.

Although it’s only been in business 10 months, A Taste of Philly already has built up a substantial wholesale clientele. Customers include little league teams and concession stands, swim clubs and several restaurants, such as Upland Brewing Co. and the Flatwater Grill.

Farmers' markets have also offered the Wojtalik brothers a place to showcase their wares. For months, Patrick Wojtalik said, he’s been selling pretzels at the City Market’s Wednesday farmers markets. In the winter, he said he sold 150 on an average day. But in recent months, those sales have risen to 600 or 700. Those figures bolstered his confidence about expanding permanently in the City Market, even though other small vendors have struggled there.

“I come from Philadelphia, and that’s where I got pretzels, in the middle of the city. I wanted to touch that market,” he said. “We like that audience, the office workers. We wanted to get a foot in the door somewhere.”

City Market Executive Director Jim Reilly, also a Philadelphia native, said he made it a point to check out A Taste Of Philly as soon as he heard about its debut last summer. He said the business fits well into the market’s new vision of mixing lots of small vendors together to generate a wide variety of new fresh food options for patrons in addition to the traditional stands.

Leased space inside the market now goes for $15 to $22 per square foot, Reilly said, with the lower end going to fresh food vendors and more expensive rates for prepared lunch cuisine. Reilly said he’s in talks now with vendors who would like to sell fresh cheese, meat and soup.

“We’re now getting calls every week and are able to pick and choose vendors, and the type of vendors,” Reilly said. “We’re at the point where we’re getting the best of the best and can pick among produced vendors. We’re not going to settle for second-best anymore.”

Reilly hopes to transform the City Market’s mezzanine into a bar, and is in talks to bring in craft beers made by members of the Brewers of Indiana Guild.

“We’re real excited about the Taste of Philly,” Reilly said. “Especially as the beer concept takes shape, I can see at least 15 or 20 pounds [of new weight] a year on me [alone], between the pretzels and the beer.”

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