One week ago, Eater published a story about two Houston tourists who walked into Quincy Market and ordered a cold lobster roll with crawfish tails tucked inside. In the aftermath of the initial story, there was outrage. There was an apology.
But for many Bostonians, a Quincy Market food vendor falling short was not a surprise. The sordid tale confirmed what many residents already think: When it comes to the food, Quincy Market flops. The market’s owners, on the other hand, have a different view: “With millions of visitors passing through Faneuil Hall each year, it is inevitable that there will be a few patrons who are not satisfied with the selection of vendors or their offerings, as with any major attraction,” a spokesperson tells Eater.
In last weekend’s newsletter, Eater asked readers to submit their theories on why and how Quincy Market became the avoid-at-all-costs food hall that it is today. Readers responded at length. Read on to find answers from diners who have known the market for decades, plus the full response from the market’s current owner, Ashkenazy Acquisition. (In one case, anonymity was granted to a respondent to protect job security.)
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When the Faneuil Hall Marketplace re-opened in 1976 following an extensive redevelopment, Quincy Market, the center building of the three at the marketplace, had the very best food attracting thousands of people each week. Most of the original tenants came from the wholesale Boston food market. There were no chains and every morsel was fresh, original, and delicious. It became a major tourist attraction, although initially conceived as a market for Bostonians.
Sadly it fell apart when, owing to its uber success, it was bought by a developer who let it run without management and the tender, love, and care that any retail center needs to survive. The City of Boston has done nothing and so the tenants are uninspired and tired. No one now seems to care, and energies have turned toward the Seaport which is certainly entertaining but not in the same historical and unique manner that Faneuil Hall Marketplace was and could be again with care.
— Carol Todreas, Faneuil Hall Marketplace’s director of public relations and assistant to the development director during the 1970s overhaul
I worked at [redacted] when I was in high school around 1989. Their flagship dishes then were scallops wrapped in bacon and stuffed scrod. What the tourists didn’t know was that whatever food didn’t sell at the end of the night got ground up, mixed with breadcrumbs, and became stuffing for the stuffed scrod.
While Quincy Market was a great alternative to fast food chains and served local specialties to tourists, it remains in the past. Food courts with fast food chains have been replaced by food halls with inventive local vendors. Time Out Market is today’s Quincy Market — creative, modern, and well-curated. Quincy Market, like movie theaters and airports, relies on the captive consumers: tourists herded into its cavernous and chaotic hall as part of their itinerary.
The only solution is to completely reimagine it, drawing from contemporary and successful models, to make it a destination for both tourists and locals. Is there a commercial incentive or the will to do so? I’m not sure…
— Maciej Czarnecki
Outside of the issues that all food and beverage establishments are facing — escalating prices of goods, labor shortage, increased wages — there are specific conditions at Quincy Market that impact the quality of the food. First, the booths are not sized to produce the necessary amount of food when Quincy Market is jam-packed. There is little prep and refrigeration space so when things get busy, the operators get sloppy and that impacts the quality of the offerings.
More specific to Faneuil Hall Marketplace is the tension between vendors and the landlord. You have a landlord who seizes every opportunity to drive rent up and vendors who have been there since the beginning of (FHM) time when it was very much an “if you build it they will come” era. Profits came easily, so vendors became lazy and complacent. These opposing forces unfortunately create a situation of mistrust and a complete lack of collaboration between ownership and tenants. It’s a shame what has become of this important historic asset in the heart of our city.
I have been in the restaurant and food service industry for well over two decades in Boston and I can tell you this is not a recent phenomenon. Over the past 10 years or so, maybe longer, Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall have been on a steep decline from the original concept of ‘all things Boston.’ From locally owned and unique shops and restaurants to the now generic and national brands that dominate the landscape down there, there is nothing that makes for a compelling visit, except for possibly the buildings themselves.
From an operator's perspective, Quincy Market is a very expensive place to conduct business. The high cost of occupancy per square foot, including triple net fees, make high volume and low food costs a must. In that scenario, quality is not necessarily a priority. Factor in labor costs, labor turnover, and the high cost of food and you can see why the name of the game for operators is ‘fast and cheap.’ You also have to consider most of the folks that go there are not repeat customers, so there is no danger of losing a loyal patron to a bad meal. Even when dissatisfied customers post on social media about bad experiences, like Lennie Ambrose, it’s very easy for the operators to ignore or discount. Tourists and locals alike would be better served visiting one of the many good food halls around Boston that have sprung up over the past few years.
— Robert Platner
I remember when Quincy Market first opened (long before it was a tourist destination) and the places there were like the Fenway Time Out Market — offshoots of local restaurants, and pretty good. There was a nice butcher selling grilled meats and sausages and some nice seafood places. I think tourist areas attract such a surplus of people that restaurants do not have to work as hard to attract customers and can let their standards drop, which is cheaper. The tourists who want better quality (like us) go elsewhere.
— David Abrams
The vendors don’t care about repeat business, because they know the tourists that they serve will not be back. They can serve bad food and have no reason or incentive to serve good food.
— Frank Pellegrino
When I first moved to Boston, over 25 years ago, I remember Quincy Market being better (not great, but certainly passable). I ate there relatively frequently. My impression is that it is run like a mall food court, and it has about the same quality of food if a bit more diversity.
When I went with my son on a class trip to Washington D.C., we ate at a number of food courts that were designed for tourists and other large class trips. And there’s a reasonable point that, if you have 30 middle-schoolers to keep track of, some of whom will only eat mac and cheese or chicken fingers, it’s good to have a central tourist location where you can feed all of them. As far as I know, Quincy Market is pretty much the only such place for downtown Boston outside of the kid’s museum or aquarium cafeteria (where the food is, if anything, worse).
There have been a few bright spots in the Quincy Market history. (I remember when Beard Papa had a store there!) But overall, it speaks to the need for better food choices for large tourist groups. The new food halls in Boston and Fenway may be nice, but they are too high-end for kids.
— Vivian Abraham
I lived in Boston from 1996 as a college student up to about eight years ago and still keep track of the food scene. The market has pretty much always been the same — weird businesses with seemingly no connection to any sibling neighborhood restaurants.
As a younger person, I just assumed this was how it would be in any other large city. It was Boston’s version of Times Square if you will. It wasn’t until I visited SF’s Ferry Building about 12 years ago that I realized how truly awful and embarrassing Quincy Market was for Boston. Why wouldn’t someone want Clear Flour, for example, to be slinging fresh bread down there? Or one of the great coffee roasters to have a stall?
My only thoughts are:
- Long-term leases with higher-than-market rents.
- Larger commercial food operators are preferred by the ownership of Quincy over mom-and-pops.
- Proximity to the North End.
- Too much seasonality for local operators to be interested. Lack of consistent locals as they steer clear of the tourist trap.
That being said, I was glad to visit the Boston Public Market which is close and is really what Quincy should be. Obviously, we now also have large hip food halls like Time Out in the area that promote local food makers.
Even if Quincy Market wanted to change, is it too late?
— Chad Robertson
Faneuil Hall Marketplace is committed to supporting small businesses and maintaining a strong sense of community while ushering in a new era of growth and revitalization for downtown Boston. In the past year alone, we have launched seven new, locally owned and diverse food concepts at Quincy Market, adding to our roster of predominantly locally owned eateries, many of which have been in the Market for decades.
Thanks to substantial relief from Faneuil Hall Marketplace during COVID, businesses here have been able to come back from pandemic-era hardships. With millions of visitors passing through Faneuil Hall each year, it is inevitable that there will be a few patrons who are not satisfied with the selection of vendors or their offerings, as with any major attraction. We hold an incredibly high standard for food quality at Quincy Market and, as we continue to evolve to meet the ever-changing needs in this industry, we are proud that Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market continue to serve as a top destination in the Boston area while showcasing the local charm at the heart of our city.
— A Faneuil Hall Marketplace spokesperson