Thursday, June 29, 2023

[UPDATE] Citizens Market Over Promises, Under Delivers at Phipps Plaza

If you've considered going to the new "Citizens [Culinary] Market," aka the food hall at the newly "reimagined" Phipps Plaza, keep reading.  Rather than the 25,000 square foot food hall standing out as the "crown jewel" of the mall's multi-million dollar makeover, it's more like its "Cubic zirconia,": fake, dull, and just not as good as the real thing.  

The venue lacks the originality, quality, and variety of popular Atlanta food halls like Krog Street Market and Ponce City Market or Nashville's Assembly Row, and doesn't have the Atlanta Beltline or Broadway to deliver tons of tourists to its doorstep.  

With pre-existing challenges and the generally negative attitude towards Buckhead (have you seen the metal detectors, police and K-9s?), Citizens needs to deliver on experience, consistency and service, unfortunately all areas in which it seems to fall short.  

The food hall - it seems a stretch to even call it that -  was assembled by experienced operators C3 (Creating Culinary Communities), Legends, and Simon Property Group, so you'd think it would the best thing since sliced bread.  Unfortunately, the food venue has been described as "contrived," "pathetic," and "boring," among other adjectives, by critics, reviewers and others.   

"Citizens was the brainchild of Sam Nazarian, launched in February 2020 as a partnership between sbe Entertainment Group, Simon properties, and Accor to pioneer new culinary technology. C3 jumped into the ghost kitchen space as the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered restaurants across the country. The group partnered with acclaimed chefs like Dani Garcia, Masaharu Morimoto, and Dario Cecchini to build restaurant brands designed exclusively for carryout and delivery. These partnerships led to restaurants like Krispy Rice, Umami Burger, Ella Mia."

Phipps Plaza and its management have been in business long enough to know Atlantans are incredibly fickle and rarely show sustained support for out of town chefs or concepts.  Genuine Pizza IN Phipps Plaza (Michael Schwartz), Craft/craft bar (Tom Colicchio), Southern Art (Art Smith), AquaKnox (Las Vegas), 5 Napkin Burger (New York), The Cowfish (Charlotte) and Ocean Prime (Columbus, Ohio), among others, all found limited success in their Atlanta arrivals and shuttered soon thereafter.  

A food hall was the original plan for the large space below Life Time Athletic but Simon pivoted to Pinstripes, a bowling venue, restaurant and bar in 2019 before flipping back to the food hall plan in 2020.  

In addition to the "food hall," Phipps Plaza is also already home to Davio's Northern Italian Steakhouse, Nobu, and Ecco, as well as outposts of beloved local bakery and cafe Alon's, Starbucks, and Cafe Bistro at Nordstrom.  Fast casual options at the mall also include Johnny Rockets, Rock's Chicken & Fries, Earl of Sandwich, Beto's Tacos and Fresh Squeezed Juice Bar.  The mall has been without a true food court for more than a decade following the 2012 opening of Legoland Discovery Center (now Lego Discovery Center) which replaced the majority of the mall's former food court offerings.   

Phipps Plaza also has not one, but three, full-service restaurant vacancies in Grand Luxe Cafe, Agency Socialteque and Tavern at Phipps.  (The former Genuine Pizza space was converted into retail space and is today home to an enlarged Valentino.) 

The biggest "miss" in our opinion is the complete lack of "local flavor," i.e. ANY local concept, chef or operator at Citizens.  More than half of the aforementioned existing dining options are either Atlanta specific concepts or are owned by local entrepreneurs.  

The concepts featured in the venue are: Umami Burger, Krispy Rice, Sam's Crispy Chicken, Sa’Moto, EllaMia, Cicci di Carne, El Pollo Verde, and Soom Soom.  None of these concepts have anything to do with Atlanta.  All are simply transplanted versions of moderately successful concepts from other markets.  Not only that, some of the menu items at one of the concepts, are just slightly different version of menu items from a completely different concept.  This phenomenon is likely at least partly due to the fact that all of the concepts share a single communal kitchen and all of the concepts have a single operator in common.  

Diners go to food halls for variety, not repetition.  

Some diners have likened the experience and decor of Citizens to that of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but with higher prices and less exciting food.  

The entire food hall is what the youngins today would refer to as "mid" i.e. it's average or mediocre, but hey, as Levar Burton would say... "you don’t have to take my word for it!"

Below are a few reviews from Google and left recently by those who have given Citizens a shot.  

"Buckhead's Krog Street Market! No. Actually, Buckhead's public school cafeteria. And the customer service? Right on par with the food. Please get it together, we were so excited about the concept."

"The overall feel of Citizens reminds me of a college student center food hall."

Of Soom Soom ... "It felt like if Cava charged you more money for less options."

"Was dissatisfied with the $55 we spent on sushi from the Krispy Rice place. It wasn't any better than $5 gas station sushi."

"Overall, Citizens has great potential if they offered better food and not just pricey vibes, especially because people are usually coming here during their lunch break." 

"Went with some friends. All the other reviews ring true: understaffed and undertrained. Bar will never gain traction here: no napkins, no guns for soda which will kill efficiency, and slooooooowwww service. Were never given menus. Probably won't return."

"I don’t normally review eateries, but Krispy rice ( sushi ) at citizens market was some of the worst sushi I’ve ever had. I ordered the hamachi roll and it was just paste. Not actual fish. Nothing about this was redeemable, not the look, not the ingredients, the taste. Honestly, you can get better sushi at Kroger."

"It is not up to expectations they shared in press articles. Low signal for browsing, very poor service understaffed or poorly trained, it takes ages to get your food, food is not in line with prices. It made lunch an unpleasant experience. I will not be coming back.  Parking: Very poor or inexistent signage."

"Don’t trust the hours. Says it closes at 9 pm and we’ve gone twice at 7 pm and it was already closed"

"Do not eat here. I was honestly insulted that this food hall felt they could serve such horrible food and get away with it. I’ve had better sushi from the grocery store and my friends chicken sandwich was totally raw inside. It was disgusting."

"Atmosphere: professional and clean. Simple, modern design.  

Food: mediocre but incredibly overpriced. I expected to pay too much at Phipps but this was insulting even by Phipps standards  

Service: nice and polite but I waited 20 min for a sandwich and it wasn't busy at all. No idea what took so long." 

It's not all bad though...

"Awesome food, killer vibe, craft cocktails... this place is awesome.  I tried the Karaage and popcorn shrimp at Sa’Moto and then we sat at the bar with indoor/outdoor seating, great cocktails and beer/wine selection" - said Ben Richards, Assistant General Manager Citizens in a Google review

Lysanne Camacho, Food & Beverage Manager with Legends, left a five star review on Google.  

Others, too, gushed over Citizens and even mentioned specific employees in ways that make you wonder if they are also associated with the business.  

"Sunshine! Is so kind! I love eating at the EL POLLO VERDE amazing place really good food the rosemary chicken is to die for delicious!!! plus awesome staff!"

"This Restaurant is beautiful the Atmosphere is wonderful, the Food is delicious.  A variety of different Food Stations, from Seafood, Italian, Sushi, Burgers, Chicken sandwiches, and even meals for Vegetarians.   I had a Grilled Shrimp Salad with Basil Dressing!  Thumbs up!  Simply Delicious!!!  Come check out the Citizens in the Phipps Plaza in Buckhead!!  Love it!!  Vegetarian options: A variety of Salads!  Great for Vegans and Vegetarians!!  Kid-friendliness: Great place to bring Children.  Parking: Plenty of Parking space, Free parking"

"Excellent cuisine and customer service experience! The vibes are good and the people are OUTSTANDING. In particular, Belle, Sunshine, Stacy, Tradell and DeeDee.

For an amazing salad checkout El Apollo Verde and for a great drink, Citizens Bar is the spot.!

One of the newest reviews is perhaps also one of the most accurate.

"First of all, you should read through all of the reviews and discount every single one that mentions a staff member specifically by name (those are almost always written by employees, friends, and family).  Then you'll have the true rating of Citizens:  about 2.5 stars.  

I was really looking forward to this place opening up, thinking it would be similar to Politan Row in Midtown.  Unfortunately, despite Citizens being even more expensive than Politan, the food here is fairly mediocre.  

The service has improved since opening week, but still a bit spotty.  Overall, definitely not worth it.  There are much, much better options in North Buckhead for quick-service dining."

On our recent visit in preparation of for this post, we counted at least ten "wayfinding" markers directing/advertising Citizens existence to would-be diners around the mall.  Despite this, we counted more employees than diners during our weekday lunchtime visit.  A subsequent evening visit returned similar results with the added observation that most restaurants started to wind down pre 7pm, ahead of their planned closure but more than an hour before the 8PM closure stated on Google and elsewhere.  

Simon this past fall closed on its acquisition of a 50 percent stake in Jamestown, a company known for curating food halls like Ponce City Market and Chelsea Market in New York.  One would have hoped that this acquisition would have had a material impact on Simon's creativity and perhaps one day it will, but if Citizens Market is any indication, we are far from it.  

C3 operates another Citizens Market which offers a similar variety of restaurants and receives similarly critical feedback.  Four out of five of the venue's most recent reviews on Google of their New York market at Hudson Yards are one stars with multiple comments of overpriced food, long waits and surly employees.  

Have you been to Citizens Market?  What are your thoughts on the offerings at Citizens Market? When was the last time you visited Phipps Plaza?

Please share your thoughts below.


Anonymous said...

No one wants to go to Phipps when you can just go to Avalon and not worry about getting shot or robbed.

Ham said...

I enjoyed The Tavern when it was there nothing special really, but a nice location and decent salad. Now days if I'm at Phipps and hungry I just grab a croissant at Nordstrom's. In all honesty even those of us that still enjoy a visit to "The Mall" don't really hang out there. If I need to visit Brooks Brothers, I park beside Neiman's, run in, grab whatever and run back out.

CloseOTP said...

Everything is a food hall now. It's the name that gets people's attention. The problem is, overuse of it cheapens what people think of a food hall. Just like regular restaurant, there's a hierarchy - fast food, fast casual, sit down, etc. There's food court and food hall. Two different things in my opinion, but food hall sounds better.

As for the review comparing the sushi to gas station sushi, all I'll say is that there's such a thing as gas station sushi??

Anonymous said...

Southern Art had a good run.

Coming from the Northeast, I love the food hall concept, but it can't just be renamed food court.

Anonymous said...

I'm from out of state and even stepping in thought oh wow! To discover huge dissatisfaction and disappointment. I was excited for the concept and in the hopes of some southern food and good vibes. It was dull and scary. I've eaten better at an airport.

Anonymous said...

You can also get a snack at Saks’s, Macys’s and Bloomingdales’s and the food court at Lenox’s!!!!!

Alex said...

described as "contrived," "pathetic," and "boring,"

That pretty much describes Atlanta in general. The most unoriginal large city in America that tries to copy ideas from other cities, except they usually do it a decade later.

Anonymous said...

I just don't go to Phipps anymore. Haven't been there since Feb 2020. With all the crime reports about Buckhead I don't go to Phipps or Lenox. Plus I miss the Belk that was there.

Anonymous said...

Great article Eli!

I have not been to Buckhead in years since I've moved away. So when I read "(have you seen the metal detectors, police and K-9s?)" I'm thinking what happened? How did it get so bad? Is it the mayor? Now I'm thinking it's the chicago of the south. Scary.

Anonymous said...

Terrific Levar Burton reference.

Anonymous said...

The worst Atlanta out of all the Atlantas you have seen.

Anonymous said...

Sushi is such an overpriced overrated ripoff. Buy a can of tuna, instant rice, wrap it in a lettuce leaf and pick it up with chopsticks and save a bundle of cash

JF said...

It's disappointing Eli that you let all the pearl clutchers post comments in an obvious attempt to show their true identities rather than inspiring spirited discussion.

Anonymous said...

Crime is everywhere post COVID with the depression and inflation we've had to deal with. It's not limited to Buckhead or Atlanta. It's in Gwinnett. It's in Alpharetta. It's in every major American city and suburb. To not go to Citizen Hall because of all the hysterical crime reports is sad. But when Republicans give us COVID, tank the economy and then give everyone a gun, what does everyone think would happen?

Kevin said...

Great article and completely agree about Citizens. My wife and I work out at the new Lifetime upstairs, so we were excited for this to open. What a disappointment. Very homogenous, bland and boring. With so many other great food halls with diverse local chefs with Asian, Hispanic, European backgrounds and influence, this really didn't hit.

As a side note, I think Phipps has really improved overall and Buckhead in general is coming back stronger than pre-pandemic. Hardly the "Chicago of the South", ATL crime is down across the board 30%+ and every US/global city experienced a surge in crime and lawlessness from 2020-2022.

Last, Atlanta is very original in many, many ways and influences other cities. I mean, walk along the eastern trail of the Beltline. This was conceived well before the High Line in NYC or other locals and in fact Citizens is such a disappointment BECAUSE there's such a rich, diverse concentration of local talent, especially when it comes to food.

Hit 'reset', Citizens.

Richard said...

Great article and completely agree about Citizens. My wife and I work out at the new Lifetime upstairs, so we were excited for this to open. What a disappointment. Very homogenous, bland and boring. With so many other great food halls with diverse local chefs with Asian, Hispanic, European backgrounds and influence, this really didn't hit.

As a side note, I think Phipps has really improved overall and Buckhead in general is coming back stronger than pre-pandemic. Hardly the "Chicago of the South", ATL crime is down across the board 30%+ and every US/global city experienced a surge in crime and lawlessness from 2020-2022.

Last, Atlanta is very original in many, many ways and influences other cities. I mean, walk along the eastern trail of the Beltline. This was conceived well before the High Line in NYC or other locals and in fact Citizens is such a disappointment BECAUSE there's such a rich, diverse concentration of local talent, especially when it comes to food.

Hit 'reset', Citizens.

Alex said...

JF, what's the point of having an open forum if you only want one sided comments posted? Go back to Reddit where every other comment is censored and removed.

Anonymous said...

So sad to see Phipps in such decline, I’m shocked that ultra high end stores like Bottega Veneta and Gucci still can survive at Phipps, the clientele on a Saturday afternoon at Phipps in horrendous

Anonymous said...

After going through five metal detectors, I dodged constant gunfire to try and get some chicken tenders at Phipps Plaza, I barely survived the man behind the counter's nunchaku attack, then when my food came up I was fortunate enough that the chef missed when he threw his knife at me, I sat down to eat and saw that my chicken tenders were riddled with bullets, I was afraid to complain so I tried to serpentine maneuver through the war zone that was Saks Fifth Avenue to get back to my Range Rover, unfortunately it had already been stolen and stripped for parts. Somehow I made it back to my condo but I saw at least three hundred dead bodies along the way. Will not come back 2/10 experience.

Anonymous said...

The food hall near perimeter is apparently failing miserably as well. Word is that all the places in that one are owned by the same guy. It's just one restaurant that serves several different style of food - and all of it well below par. People should have known when you can order off any menu at the same place.

Nashville food hall is pretty awesome.

Jewel said...

I brought a friend who was visiting a few months ago from Alabama to Ponce City Market, thinking she would be impressed. She was new to the food hall concept and called it a modern day mall food court. Which I’m not sure was a compliment. Her comment got me thinking, with food halls popping up everyday all over Atlanta, what’s the sustainability of the business. What will the landscape look like in 10 years?

Kenbud said...

I'll add some positive comments since this article seems to be (way over) written to piggyback on negative Buckhead news (and no i'm FAR from a Buckhead homer.)

I was disappointed in the food hall. Mostly because of the space itself, but I realized it wasn't made for me. It was made for the elite, and Phipps clientele. Once I saw it through that lens, I was impressed. It's extremely elegant and has all the greatest hits: Chicken, Pizza, Sandwiches, Sushi, Bowls, etc.

The pizza place was pretty good.

Krispy Rice was priced so high, I still can't bring myself to buy it.

El Pollo Verde is excellent. VERY flavorful and nice combination. The Pesto veggie bowl is amazing, and so is Sam's Bowl.

Sam's Crispy Chicken is worth the visit. An absolute dream of a chicken sandwich. I couldn't believe how good it was, and at around $10-12 it's roughly the same prices as a restaurant (but a million times better). Again, one of the best chicken sandwiches I've had in Atlanta. I hope they figure out a way to stay afloat.

Anonymous said...

I tend to think the trend of "Food Halls" is pretty much they are just mall food courts without a mall and generally trend towards non chain places.

That being said most of what is purchased from them is little more than fast food due to the nature of how they are designed. There is only so much preparation that can go into a smallish kitchen/prep area and their offerings tend to skew to pretty generic or standard but the cost is premium due to the fact they are all about location and atmosphere, and no one wants to wait a long time to eat.

That really isn't criticism as much as it just a reality. Food halls appeal to a certain clientele that wouldn't dream of being in a mall in 2023 and also gives something new and "trendy". Some of the same people who would rip on an Olive Garden or CFA would gladly pay more for a meal at a food hall that isn't much different, but if that floats their boat it's fine.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous : You can't get Tiffany, Saks Fifth Avenue, YSL, Bottega, and many other luxury brands at Avalon. Avalon just has basic brands.

Anonymous said...

The "high end" brands at Phipps sell their tackiest collections to broke wannabe Real Housewives and rappers. You think the Tuxedo Park crowd is shopping there? Lol! You have to go to NYC, London, Paris, etc. for truly high end fashion.

Anonymous said...

What’s in your closet?

Anonymous said...

And don’t forget, when you were in the bathroom someone shook their pee pee at you and winked!

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous: Why do you have to go to those cities for true high-end fashion? I can get my Kiton, Brioni suits in Buckhead and I also have a Bespoke Tailor nearby. I can purchase Audemars Piguet Watches at Lenox and Patek Philippe watches at Brown&Co. I see the Tuxedo Park crowd at Phipps and also dining at Nobu. What about you?

Anonymous said...

First off, you're not getting a high-demand AP (Royal Oak) or Patek Philippe (Nautilus or Aquanaut) at an AD, especially in Atlanta. Secondly, those watches are mostly for dumb athletes and cringey influencers now. Manufacturers like Philippe Dufour, Romain Gauthier, F.P. Journe, A. Lange & Sohne, Greubel Forsey, etc. are more respectable.

It sounds like you're just regurgitating brands you read about in GQ. Haha!

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous - Actually I have several AP and PP watches (Royal Oak 15202, Nautilus 5711 which I actually got from Tiffany at Phipps in 2016 are just examples before the watch hype. Unfortunately, Tiffany at Phipps had their Patek AD removed a few years ago but I continued the relationship at Brown&Co). I got the 15202 from Bal Harbour in Miami as I have purchased several AP watches from there before Atlanta got AP. I have since purchased a couple CODE 11:59's and another Royal Oak at the AD in Lenox (which is actually run by Watches of Switzerland), it's easier to get "high demand watches" when you have a lengthy purchase history without selling the watches for a flip. That is why I also was allocated Steel Rolexes from Brown&Co (even though there are huge waitlists for others). I have watches from A. Lange & Sohne (Datograph), Grand Seiko (Snowflake, White Birch), and Jaeger-LeCoultre (several watches) as well. This is venturing way off topic though. If you want proof, just provide me an email or some form of contact and I can send you the photos.

Anonymous said...

No, I don’t want any nude pictures

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

You have several PP’s? Yikes!

Anonymous said...

Your response, 'LOLZ,' seems more suited to an online gaming chat than a serious conversation. If privacy concerns are preventing you from revealing your identity, consider creating an anonymous email address.

Anonymous said...

…..said anonymous

Anonymous said...

I certainly have valid reasons to keep my identity under wraps. These are some of the watches I currently have with me, not accounting for those secured in my safety deposit box or at my other properties:

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

My husband and I were so excited when we learned this place was going into Phipps. It is absolutely terrible based on two attempts to eat there, and even the people that work at Phipps stores are saying the same. It’s more like a cafeteria than a food hall; they have one kitchen that supplies food to several food stations.
It is almost a ghost town each time we have walked in there, mainly out of curiosity as to how many are going there. I can’t imagine it’s going to last more than a year or two before they hopefully bring in Jamestown or the folks in charge of Politan Row to convert this area to a fabulous food hall like those in Ponce City Market, Krog, and Colony Square.

Anonymous said...

Had read about it and after a movie we decided to check it out for a bite. First we couldn’t find it as the signage is really unclear. We asked around and finally find it. What a disappointment. It looked like a company canteen. There was no one actually eating and very few manned counters. The choices were pedestrian so we decided to not even bother. We left the mall and ate in our neighborhood in Chamblee were there are a lot of new and interesting places.

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