Time Out Market Co-CEO Didier Souillat
Photo: Arévalo PhotographyTime Out Market Co-CEO Didier Souillat

Interview: ‘Time Out Market is about representing the best of the city under one roof’

Time Out Market Co-CEO Didier Souillat on why the Market is more than just a food hall and what Osaka can expect from the first Time Out Market in Asia

Lim Chee Wah
Written by
Lim Chee Wah
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2025 is set to be a big year for Osaka. The Kansai city will be hosting its second World Expo 55 years after it played host to one in 1970. This is also the year Time Out Market finally comes to Asia, as the food and cultural hub is scheduled to open in Osaka ahead of the renowned world’s fair.

After the announcement of the opening of Time Out Market Osaka, Time Out Market Co-CEO Didier Souillat paid a visit to Osaka and Tokyo to kick start the project. Souillat has considerable experience in the retail and hospitality industry, with key roles in the Hakkasan restaurant brand as well as luxury retailers including Selfridges and Harrods.

We spoke with him for a deep dive into the DNA of Time Out Market and what makes this food hall and cultural attraction the physical manifestation of the unique Time Out experience. We also discussed the Market’s plans for expansion, especially in Japan.

We always say Time Out Market is not just a food hall. Why is that?

The media part of the Time Out Group has always been telling and encouraging people to go out and experience the best the city has to offer – and it’s not always about food. It’s also about culture, drinks, exhibitions, fashion… All these things we bring to life in a physical space that we call the Time Out Market.

We are food-led, but we are the first food and cultural market. And the Market is editorially curated, meaning we’re in close partnership with the media part of our Group and its professional journalists who curate and advise who goes in, who does what, and what event we feature, as they have decades of knowledge.

What criteria does the team use to select who goes into the Market?

We create the space. The Time Out editorial team and the food director will then decide the mix that represents the city well.

For example, we say there should be a soba place, a ramen place, udon and tempura. I’ll go to the food director and say, ‘Give me three of the best ramen or udon in the city.’ And together we’ll then try their food and invite the very best of them to join the Market. 

For our vendors it's a great opportunity to join us because it’s good for them, for their brand, for their marketing and the PR. It’s good for us, too, because what we do is we give them a sign of approval that they really are the best the city has to offer in their segment.

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What then is the difference between the restaurants’ original venue in the city and their outpost at the Time Out Market?

We don’t do chains; we do individual restaurants that are followed by the community and have authority on what they do. We don’t want them to come to the Market and do something else. We want them to represent what they do well.

Sometimes we get famous chefs to do something completely different that they’ve always wanted to try but never had the time, the opportunity or the money to do it. We give them the space to experiment.

What’s to risk in a place like Time Out Market where you have so much footfall already? You have thousands of covers everyday coming in, so you can try new things and experiment. 

So Time Out Market is a place to showcase what they do best. It’s also a place for the chefs to be creative and experiment.
Photo: Eva Sakellarides

So Time Out Market is a place to showcase what they do best. It’s also a place for the chefs to be creative and experiment.

Our job, and that's what our media team does very well, is to discover the up-and-coming chefs that have a following, who are really established but are cooking from a truck, always doing pop-ups only because they can’t afford to open their own restaurant. So with the transition, we give them the opportunity to come into their first brick and mortar. We promote them, we market them, and usually what happens is they then get investors to take care of them and lead them to bigger things. That’s also part of our job to develop people.

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Are the restaurants at Time Out Market permanent, or do they have to meet a certain sales quota?

When we set up Time Out Market at the beginning, we wanted people to be able to come and just cook. Therefore we provide them with the facilities; everything is set up for them. They just make sure they have the proper supplies, proper quality, and cook.

Every restaurant comes with a one-year deal, and we want them to be there longer. But the city evolves quickly. You cannot be static like a department store where everybody signs leases for five years and there’s always the same thing.

Let me give you an example of how this works across all our Markets: we’ve changed four out of 18 vendors in Time Out Market Dubai after one year. To reflect what Dubai is about. And sometimes our vendors want to move on, too, for example to open a new restaurant following their time at the Market. A city moves, new trends come, and you’ve got to be able to represent that and bring novelty. The Market has to be relevant.

So Time Out Market is like a microcosm of the food scene in the city.

As much as we can. It’s difficult to represent a city like Osaka or Tokyo into one space. We try to take big spaces. Three thousand square metres in Osaka – that’s a very big space by Japan standards. Because we’re trying to have as much authority as we can with the space we have. It’s impossible to represent an entire city in a Market, but we try to get as close as possible to authority, and that’s important. 

Let’s say you’re a tourist and you’re coming to Osaka for the first time, you don’t know where to go. You don’t know what the food is like. If you go to Time Out Market Osaka, you'll get a great taste of the city – from local chefs and restaurateurs. It will represent the best food Osaka has to offer.

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Lisbon is the very first Time Out Market in the world, which opened in 2014. Has the concept of Time Out Market evolved since Lisbon?
Photo: Duarte Drago/Shutterstock

Lisbon is the very first Time Out Market in the world, which opened in 2014. Has the concept of Time Out Market evolved since Lisbon?

The DNA is the same: representing the best of the city under one roof. Because we’re very localised – our designers, our management team, our chefs are all local – every time you walk into a Time Out Market, you know you’re in one. It reflects the city it’s in.

The Markets have also evolved, especially because of the pandemic. We’ve become much more digital now on the order taking. We believe people need to have a choice, so you can go to the counter and speak to the chef and order there. There’s an interaction which is important. Or you can sit at your table, take your phone out, place your order on the app, and it’ll tell you when it’s ready. You can then go pick it up. So that’s evolved. We didn’t do that before; there was no digital interaction.

How important is it to be able to interact with the chef?

It’s a very important element. Otherwise it's a dark kitchen. We’re different. It's about connection.

In all our Markets, accompanying the name of the chef is a small paragraph about the food they serve, and why they are chosen. So we always speak about the chef, the history of the chef. There’s a history about the building. The history is important, the chef is important, and everything needs to have a story.

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Are there other things that have changed because of Covid?

In the future, we want to have bigger outdoor spaces, because we’ve seen how important outdoor spaces are. What we’re sure of now is that we’re actually a safe place to be because our spaces are so big. And the air filtration system that we have is hospital-grade.

What’s very interesting and reassuring to see is that the moment we reopened, people came back. They miss interaction and they want interaction. So this communal feel is going to stay. It’s not a fad.

Time Out Market will make people feel safe and comfortable socialising again.

Exactly. And I think we will have to evolve with society, in what people want. We’ve got three years before we open in Osaka. Things are going to evolve, change and we have to adapt as we do, and stay ahead.

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Time Out Market Osaka: being the first Time Out Market in Asia is a very big deal, an important milestone. So why Osaka and not Tokyo?
Photo: Akane Suzuki

Time Out Market Osaka: being the first Time Out Market in Asia is a very big deal, an important milestone. So why Osaka and not Tokyo?

You need three things to have a Time Out Market in a city. You need a foodie city. Osaka has a saying – kuidaore – which means eat until you drop. Number two, you need to find a location with enough space to be authoritative. 3,000 square metres? Good. Third, you need a partner that makes sense – and Hankyu Hanshin is an amazing partner.

Now, people say why not Tokyo? Well, those three things haven't happened in Tokyo, yet. I hope they will happen. But it happened in Osaka first, so that’s why.

On this trip to Japan, you’ve been to a lot of food halls and restaurants to experience the food scene in Osaka. How is Time Out Market Osaka different from all that? And what’s Time Out Market bringing to Osaka that’s different?

What I’ve seen a lot of is great quality concepts in one space. But what you can’t do is order from all those concepts and share with all your friends at one table at one go in a synergistic way. This is what we’ll bring. You’ll be able to order from 15 chefs or 15 restaurants in one go, and eat all together at one table and share.

I haven’t seen it yet. Now, people might do that by the time we open. And we’re going to do something else when we finally open. The one thing we’re going to definitely do is the activation part – that’s very big for us. DJs on friday nights, it’s fun. Doing an art exhibition with Time Out Media is interesting. Give a chance to artists to express themselves. We have plenty of walls in the Market. It’s so easy to give a wall away. This is a new canvas, express yourself, it’s yours for three months. 

Art is part of what we do, but we also have events. The drag queen bingo is very famous for us in Miami, Chicago and Boston for the moment. It could be something that comes to Osaka as well.

We could have sip and paint events. And you can say that Monday nights could be Japanese poetry night. Who else does that? That's why we are different.

We're also different in Osaka. This development is a new part of the city that's being built. Also, it's going to be a hub for people coming through Osaka Station. And especially with the World Expo in 2025, we want to be a space where the community can meet, and where international visitors can meet the community.

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This sense of community and socialising – that's going to be a big part of the Market.

During the pandemic in the summer of 2020, we reopened all our Markets in the US. Not to make money, but to be relevant and keep being relevant. Also, we are here because of the community.

By reopening, the community that had been working from home or hidden behind for so long started congregating again in our spaces. That's what we are. I think we have become hyper local during the pandemic. The chefs are local, they work with local suppliers, our job management is local, our contractors are local. It creates a lot of jobs for the community. That's very important.

We announced Time Out Market Osaka in May this year but the Market is only opening in 2025. That’s three years away. Does it usually take that long?

No, but the expectations would be super high. 

We started speaking to Hankyu Hanshin nearly three years ago. During Covid we continued communicating, and we made it happen. And then you have to build, you have to design… 

But we're not doing the curation now. Nobody knows what the trend will be in three years. The curation normally won't start before 12 to 15 months before we open.

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Are we going to try to do something new and different for Time Out Market Osaka, compared to the other Markets?

Every market has a wow feel. That's why I'm going to hire a great local design team, so that when people come in, they have this wow moment every time.

If you go to the Time Out Market in Dubai, first you have the Dubai fountains right here at the Burj Khalifa, that's already wow, double wow. When you go to the New York Market on a rooftop, you're between the Manhattan Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge, and you're looking at the Manhattan skyline. That's wow, right? So there's a story everywhere.

You visited the site where Time Out Market Osaka is going to be. You’ve seen the architecture models. What are your first impressions of the property?
Photo: Akane Suzuki

You visited the site where Time Out Market Osaka is going to be. You’ve seen the architecture models. What are your first impressions of the property?

It's a huge allotment, and I'm glad Hankyu Hanshin has the vision. The amount of parks they are creating, and event space, it's amazing. There's going to be more parks in that area than anywhere else in Osaka. It's a very community driven concept.

It’s also the point of arrival for people coming for the World Expo through Osaka Station. The Time Out Market is going to be on the same level. It will probably be the first big thing they see when they come in.

It's a really big mixed use development. A lot of people are going to be living there, working there, and that’s where tourists will go, too. So it's the last three segments that will ensure that everybody is successful.

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What other Markets are coming over the next few years?

We've announced London, we've announced Porto for 2023, Abu Dhabi for 2024, Prague for 2025, and Osaka for 2025. 

We're talking to a lot of partners around the world that want to have a Time Out Market in their space. So I'm sure a few more will be announced by then.

Is it a goal to have a Time out Market in every Time Out city?

Yes. Time Out is present in 333 cities around the world. I'm not saying there will be 333 Markets. But where the Time Out media is strong. Tokyo is strong. Dubai is strong. London is strong, New York, Chicago… So those cities.

That's why we know we need to open London as quickly as possible. This is the birthplace of the brand. It's over 50 years old now. Hopefully 2023 will be the year where we do open in the UK.

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