Life is starting to return to Urbanspace.
Hastily created in the wake of Isabella Eatery’s collapse, the food hall opened on the third floor of Tysons Galleria in December 2018 with promising reviews and a handful of local restaurants that built up loyal followings — just in time for COVID-19 to grind business to a halt in the spring of 2020.
Some tenants, like Andy’s Pizza and Donburi, have reopened, while others, including Stomping Ground and Hei Hei Tiger, shuttered either permanently or temporarily, leaving much of the 41,000-square-foot space empty and darkened.
That is expected to change soon, according to Candice Mensah, founder and owner of the Ghanaian food stall Hedzole.
A regular presence at the Springfield Town Center and Mosaic District farmers markets, Hedzole is expanding with a pop-up in Urbanspace that will open in early March, Mensah announced on Feb. 12.
It will join Andy’s Pizza, Donburi, Twelve Twenty Coffee, the British restaurant and bar London Chippy, and the most recent addition, Empanadas De Mendoza, which opened in December. She says there are other vendors on their way as well, either on a permanent basis or as pop-ups.
“The second week of March, that’ll be the official kick-off of Urbanspace being fully open,” Mensah told FFXnow.
Tysons Galleria owner Brookfield Properties and Urbanspace did not return requests for comment by publication time.
Born in D.C. and growing up in Alexandria, Mensah’s journey to Tysons Galleria began in her mother’s kitchen, where she ate and learned to cook traditional Ghanaian dishes like jollof rice, okra stew and waakye.
Mensah’s parents both immigrated to the U.S. about five decades ago from Accra, the capital of Ghana. The word “Hedzole” means “freedom” in Ga, a language spoken by the Ga-Adangbe ethnic group indigenous to that region.
Inspired by the response to her mother’s food at international festivals hosted by the family’s church parish, Mensah dreamed of opening a restaurant, but she didn’t realize she could make it a reality until 2018, when she struck up a conversation with the owner of a Cuban restaurant while visiting a friend in New York.
“I was telling him about my dream of one day wanting to have a restaurant but not having a culinary background, and the words that he said to me was, ‘Just do it,’” she recalled.
Though skeptical that the process would be so simple, Mensah started looking at local farmers markets and eventually introduced Hedzole at the annual Taste of Springfield festival in June 2019.
Described by Mensah as a “contemporary approach to traditional Ghanaian cuisine,” Hedzole utilizes a fast-casual model where customers start with a rice base and add proteins and a soup or sauce. Aside from the protein options, the ingredients are all vegan, and meals come with sides of cabbage and plantains.
The result provides enough variations to appeal to both traditionalists and newcomers. Mensah wants to bring her culture’s food to new audiences, while also pushing back against the perception of African cuisine as hard-to-find or inaccessible.
With one of the largest Black immigrant populations in the country, the D.C. area has a thriving community of African restaurants, particularly around Alexandria, in downtown D.C. and Maryland, though they remain rarer in the Tysons area.
“They’re there, but they’re not always maybe in settings where all of us go to, and that was another thing that was important to me with Hedzole,” Mensah said. “I wanted to be in spaces where all of us are, so all of us can experience Hedzole.”
Conversations about bringing Hedzole to Tysons Galleria began prior to the pandemic, but the past two years gave Mensah time to refine the menu and expand her customer base, thanks to the uptick in popularity of farmers markets as one of the few public activities available in summer 2020.
Depending on how well the Urbanspace pop-up does, Mensah could land a permanent spot in Tysons Galleria, allowing her to focus on Hedzole full time. She currently juggles it with her day job in the health care consulting industry.
“Hedzole has been running during the main farmers market seasons from summer to early winter, and then pretty much goes into hiatus after the winter,” she said. “I wanted the opportunity to see what it would be like in a brick-and-mortar, to get that experience in order to transition into taking this full time.”
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