In October 2020, a year and a half after it debuted, Broadway Market closed for what it called a "winter hibernation." But winter came and went, and the food hall at 950 Broadway remained shuttered. In July 2021, chef Jesus Silva told Westword that there were plans in the works to reopen that September
, but developer Mark Shaker ultimately decided to let the space go.
"It's so sad that the facility isn't used as a food hall anymore. They built out this beautiful space with beautiful equipment," notes Kim Le, the owner of Playground Asian Food Hall
, which is now planning to put a virtual setup in the space — several concepts, all created by Le, will use the kitchen spaces to make food that will be available via delivery. That way, customers avoid having to pay separate fees to order different types of food as you would with a traditional delivery service. With a flexible lease in place, the ultimate future of the building is still unknown, but the kitchens will be used at least one more time when this concept debuts, hopefully by the end of the year, Le says.
Le has a background in marketing and grew up cooking, and she decided to go all in on food when she found herself spending more time in the kitchen at home during the pandemic. She also started offering to help small businesses like coffee shops with their marketing, and started a nonprofit, Little Big Fridge
, to help feed those in need.
The idea for a virtual food hall was sparked one night when Le and her now-fiancé wanted to order different types of food for dinner. "I've been working on it all year," she says of the project. From developing the brand, marketing and menu to learning about the tech behind virtual food-hall operations, she's had plenty on her plate.
Kim Le has been developing the menus for Playground's various concepts for a year.
Playground Asian Food Hall
During a six-month lease at the CloudKitchen facility at 810 Vallejo Street, Le was able to learn a lot about the virtual kitchen business. "CloudKitchen gave me the chance to know that I can go bigger. It was nesting me until it gave me an idea of the spectrum of what I can create," she says.
Playground Asian is currently focused on corporate catering as Le works on moving into Broadway Market. Her concepts are all Asian fusion-based, with options such as tacos, kimbap and chicken wings.
Le is also launching a grab-and-go program at Denver International Airport, a project that's taken a year of development and may start as soon as this month. The offerings will be placed in a kiosk at Great Divide Brewery and will later expand to other areas. "People are tired of the same food at the airport," she says. "Let's develop a menu that excites people." Instead of boring ham-and-cheese sandwiches, for example, her veggie-based line includes items such as dumplings, veggie bao buns and a vegan sweet-chile pork meatball banh mi.
Le is also continuing to expand Little Big Fridge's mission; she's currently learning more about how schoolchildren are fed, and she hopes to make an impact in that space in the future.
"It's a little crazy operating as a virtual food hall in a food hall," Le admits. But she's excited to keep finding new ways to feed people.