Meet the Women Who Founded the Popular Midnight Market

In 2016, Jersey natives Alysis Vasquez and Perla Nieves founded Jersey City's first foodie nightlife experience, now one of the city's hottest events.

Instagramming a food find at Midnight Market in Jersey City. Photo courtesy of Alyssa Ki

Midnight Market might sound a bit mysterious (even ominous, depending on your bedtime). In reality it’s a foodie’s dream come true. Started in November 2016 and the brainchild of best friends Alysis Vasquez and Perla Nieves, it’s a 21-and-over bi-monthly indoor food-fest that gathers (roughly) 20 vendors in one space for your (roughly) five-buck tasting pleasure. Bonus points, it all  happens before midnight (from 6:30-10 pm) and it’s always in the same place, Harborside Atrium in Jersey City.

We caught up with Vasquez, who along with Nieves is busy prepping for the final Midnight Market of the season.

Table Hopping: You’re an indoor event, but your last event of the season is June 14. Why no summer?
AV: Once winter hits, for all food vendors, if they don’t have a brick-and-mortar [spot], they don’t have anywhere to sell. We shine in the winter when people are aching for that outdoor feel, come in do the whole festival feel.

TH: Your price points are low. Do vendors really profit?
AV: People make money at Midnight Market! Really, even though they’re selling $5 or $7 food. I have a vendor that does some of the big night markets in New York City and they do the same sales at our events. It helps that our foodies are engaged, making sure it always stays a food-centered event.

TH: You guys have regular DJs and drinks. But was that always the goal—to stay food-centered?
AV: I’m actually also a chef. I trained and had a catering company, did food festivals and pop-ups. I went to the French Culinary Institute and worked at Craft for Tom Colicchio for a while. I bopped around to different places, did the whole fine dining thing. But I’ve always wanted to do my own thing. Midnight Market is basically what Perla and I always wanted to have for ourselves, going out.

TH: From a food or foodie-perspective, then, why rotate vendors every event?
AV: We thought ‘If we’re doing this monthly or bi-monthly, let’s keep it interesting.’ We keep a few classic [vendors] that everyone loves, otherwise there’d be riots in the street! We always have el Lechon de Negron. They do these delicious Disco Fries with beautifully flavored pork on top. And the empanadas are always flying off the shelves. But she’s in Union—how else are you gonna get her except here? We also have Eemas Cuisine. He does Hawaiian food [out of Orange]. Spam Musubi’s his thing—basically it’s kind of like a big sushi roll with teriyaki-glaze sautéed Spam, topped with furikake. It’s the most delicious bite. We try to bring people things they can’t get other places.

Grabbing some Hawaiian vibes at Midnight Market in Jersey City. Photo courtesy of Alyssa Ki

TH: It’s been noted that Midnight Market functions as a sort of incubator from younger food businesses, and a testing ground for local spots.
AV: Local restaurants who are moving into a space, they’ll use us a way to access the Jersey City community. Standing businesses can taste-test new concepts. You have the perfect demographic of foodies to say yay or nay to your stuff—all feedback you’d spend tons of money to get from marketing companies. And Perla does food photography, videos and marketing content for our vendors sometimes, pushing businesses to get out there. It’s is a foodie space, so it really is a perfect place to kind of get a grasp of that community.

TH: What about young businesses? Can they sign up?
AV: We have a new project in Jersey City, the “Jersey City Night Market at Journal Square,” by the Path Plaza. It opens June 1, and all green, young businesses are invited to be a part of that. It’s not 21 or over, just a family thing, from 4pm to 10pm. It’s going to be twice a month, going through to October. The last date will be October 19. We partnered with Rising Tide Capital and the Journal Square Special Improvement District—entrepreneurs and non-profit, sort of full-circle giving back to local business community. The whole idea is we have the most diverse neighborhood in the most diverse city in the country, right here. So we’re really inclusive, really international.

TH: Speaking of inclusive, your vendors are 75 percent women. Was that on purpose?
AV: In the beginning, it wasn’t. But we realized a lot of spots were either run by women or owned by women. And any of the guys we work with, they’re so down for the cause. It is a very female-powered event, but it’s more like ‘You make a good product!’ It just so happened a lot of women were applying.

TH: Your tagline is “Drink, Eat, Dance.” What’s the age range of attendees? 
AV: We definitely have Baby Boomers at our events. We want any age to come, and our DJs play great music. All sorts. Afro, 90s, Spanish, classic. We once had an older couple, both had canes, walk up to an event at 6:20. They said ‘Our granddaughter told us we should come.’ They said they’d come in and grab some food and go soon, because it’s cheap. But then it was 8:30 and I saw them leaving! They said “It was just so fun to watch all the people! Now we’re gonna go home and pass out.” Everyone loves good food and good music.

TH: You have a partnership with the Liberty Science Center. Is that the same as Midnight Market events or a separate event?
AV: The Liberty Science Center started with the “Liberty Science Center After Dark” and brought us in as the food element. We partner with them to bring in the food vendors, so it’s kind of like a Midnight Market-meets-Liberty Science Center, every third Thursday, all year long. The next one’s “Game of Thrones” themed. The last one in April sold out at 3,000 tickets.

Tickets to the final Midnight Market of the season are still available online. (Tickets run cheap: VIP is only $13.) Once the season starts up again, you can find them every second Friday at Harborside Atrium, 210 Hudson Avenue, Jersey City. 551-227-7022. Admission to the first-ever Night Market at Journal Square is free, but you can register here. That’s held June 1, 4 to 10pm, at the Journal Square PATH Plaza in Jersey City.

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