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Market Fresh

The charming Sebastien Bensidoun, the Chicago liaison to the Chicago French Market, explains the secret to its success.

Sebastien Bensidoun talks food in the Chicago French Market.

When we want to channel Paris, a stroll through the Chicago French Market in the Ogilvie Transportation Center (frenchmarketchicago.com) transports us there one whiff at a time. And that was exactly the goal, according to Paris resident Sebastien Bensidoun, whose family co-developed the concept along with Chicago-based U.S. Equities Realty. After more than three years in operation, the market is now one vendor short of full occupancy, making it one of the hottest places in town for a quick bite, or a week’s worth of groceries.

How many vendors did you start with when you opened in 2009?
We started with 26. Now we have 30 solid vendors with only one slot left. By the time this story prints, it should probably be filled. Our latest additions are Bebe’s Eatery, Beavers Coffee + Donuts, Lillie’s Q and Le Cafe du Marche.

So, what’s the screening process like?
We screen any potential vendor really well to make sure they are the right fit. It’s about a two- to three-week process that involves analyzing their product, visiting their restaurant or shop if applicable, and generally just really getting to know the owners. No matter what type of vendor wants to come into the market, we have certain regulations in place to keep things standard.

What type of criteria do you have to meet to become a vendor?
We want to make it an experience that is local, unique and as authentically European as possible.

How frequently are you in Chicago to oversee the progress?
I am in Chicago three to four times a year, but I am on the phone with our market manager every day—sometimes at 1 or 2am Paris time due to the brutal time difference between Paris and Chicago.

Aside from the frequent phone calls, what else do you do to ensure your market is in check?
Our local market manager is expected to regularly do product control of all products in the market. There are also 13 cameras, so I am watching my market every day—not like a crazy man 24 hours a day, but I do watch things such as whether or not lines are too long, if a chair is obstructing a walkway, etc. If so, I make a phone call.

What’s been the biggest challenge?
It was at the beginning when a lot of people said, ‘You are a crazy guy to open a big thing like that with the economy.’ But my father called it. He said, ‘This market will take two and a half to three years to take off—and he was exactly right.

So, what’s next?
We are looking to open one to two indoor locations in suburbs so far.

What do you love about running markets in the United States versus Europe?
I really love America, and honestly, I’ve always loved Chicago ever since I was a young boy and I used to come here to visit. Like I said, I don’t mind staying up until 2am to help promote the friendship between France and America. To me, it’s the best country ever.