COME ONE, COME ALL

Robert Baj, President of the Management Board, CBR Events, who operate Warsaw’s Hala Gwardii, talks with the WBJ about what makes Hala Gwardii loved by all. INTERVIEW BY MORTEN LINDHOLM

COME ONE, COME ALL

WBJ: Could you tell us the back story of Hala Gwardii and why do you think you’ve been so successful?

In September 2017, soon after the opening of Hala Koszyki, CBR Events opened Hala Gwardii four months after winning the tender against nine competitors and signing the lease with the City of Warsaw. We successfully commercialized all of the available space within a short time, and that was the first sign our offer had emphatically met the needs of the market from the tenant side. We rebuilt the electricity grid, toilets, water grid, fireproofing installations, heating, and ventilation in the space of only three months and, from the first day of launching we observed immediately that visitors enjoyed the space and already felt a sense of attachment. We think we did a very good job of creating a wonderful environment for the community to visit us and to buy niche products from our farmers’ market, to dine with us at our spacious communal tables, or to have fun in the evenings whilst enjoying our program of events. Our offer is for EVERYONE and not limited to a particular consumer segment. On any given day, you will see young people, business people, tourists, and older folks from the neighborhood sharing a table and enjoying all of these attractions -it’s a place where you ‘come as you are’ and I think it’s this socially diverse atmosphere that really defines us.


How did you set about creating Hala Gwardii?

From the outset when we prepared the tender we were working with the Bulanda Mucha architectural studio. We knew we’d have to collaborate with a top-class and renowned studio, so despite knowing that the original lease was only for three years (and featured a possible 18-month cancellation option on the city’s side), CBR Events strongly believed we had something very unique that we could offer. As we were not the owners of the building we were somewhat constrained by what we could do with it, but we adapted the budget to match the contractual situation. With that in mind, I think we have done a very good job of listening to the community and providing the offers and the fun that they seek. Our offer is true to the communities’ needs. We think the authenticity of our products and the vendors who sell these products can stand up to any other offer in the city. We also managed to integrate with and complement the pre-existing surroundings.  


A lot has also been made of the way you have used the heritage of the hall to maximize its atmosphere? 

That was something we worked closely with the architects with and they understood the goal clearly. For that, we particularly owe our thanks to Włodzimierz Mucha who believed in the dream as strongly as we did. We thought that it was important to keep the large scale of the hall intact, thereby allowing the natural light to illuminate the beauty and scale of the hall. You will see the history of the hall exposed on the large photos of the boxers who once fought here and won a gold medal in 1953 whilst competing under the watchful eye of their coach, the legendary Papa Stamm.  


In your view, what are the biggest strengths of Hala Gwardii?

Quite simply, we cannot be directly compared to any other project in Warsaw. Everything we do, from A to Z, is focused on gastronomy. We have local vendors and even international ones putting their products and passion onto the floor every weekend. We are not connected to any shopping mall, office project, or residential investment – for us, the market, gastronomic offer, and cultural activity represents the heart of our business model, and this is blended into the community and the neighboring area around the Hala Gwardii building and, importantly, to the amazing and legendary Hala Mirowska food market next door. Secondly, we offer a real and valid experience that’s strongly accented by our free and regular events. This is a place free of any pretense and that’s strongly reflected by our wide customer base. Whilst some food halls merely ‘liven up’ an office or residential project, for us, F&B and events are the heart of our offer and this makes us really unique. 


How important to your success has been the roster of events? 

We are proud to have held over 150 events, all of which have been free of charge. As an example, I think our food festivals have been totally unique though we’ve also hosted boxing galas, weekends dedicated to zero waste, art exhibitions, and some truly special one-off concerts. Our events are a regular and important part of who we are and in many cases, they’ve created a sense of solidarity and established a sense of community that is shared by our visitors, tenants, and the management of the hall. Bearing in mind the unbelievable situation in Ukraine, we’re also preparing events and we will actively stand up to the plate to help as much as we possibly can. We are a crossroads for people willing to share their experiences within our walls. I think we have done a very good job of creating an authentic environment where real people want to meet: to talk, to discover, and of course, to enjoy great food and drink.


warsaw
morten lindholm
hala gwardii
cbr events
robert baj

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