Here’s an interesting update on the Café Europa saga.
Assistant City Manager Chris Wilson said that the request for proposal (RFP) process was being used for Café Europa because the same process had been used for the Gillespie Golf Course snack bar, with the notable exception that Gillespie Park was not turned over to a private nonprofit to manage.
Since the Gillespie Park snack bar was run by an African American and Europa was run by a white male, the city couldn’t be seen as having one process for renewing food service leases for blacks and a different one for whites.
What Wilson didn’t mention was that the RFP process for the Gillespie Park snack bar was a dismal failure and that the Gillespie Park snack bar had been closed for over a year. It is now in the midst of its third RFP process since the original lease expired.
Wilson also mentioned that an RFP process was used for the kitchen facilities at LeBauer Park.
At LeBauer Park, one of the two take-out-only restaurants is closed – Noma Food & Co. – which along with Ghassan’s, was chosen to operate at Le Bauer Park closed. Evidently in Greensboro people don’t come to a park to eat Asian food. Everything I’ve heard about the food at Noma has been complimentary. It didn’t appear to be the quality that was the issue, but the food concept didn’t go over at the park.
So with this RFP process that the city has recently instigated for leases, it has a 66.7 percent failure rate as far as restaurants go.
By comparison, in the renewing the lease of a long standing, good paying tenant, the city at Café Europa for the past 18 years had had a 100 percent success rate.
At Gillespie Park the previous owner was also successful and wanted to continue to operate the snack bar, which in my opinion is really more of a small restaurant than a snack bar.
The city is not a business and it isn’t run like a business, but also the city staff should not set as a goal losing money. Nobody has paid rent at Gillespie Park for over a year. Before the RFP process was used, the city collected rent for years from the same tenant.
Nobody is paying rent for the Noma space and the percentage of gross revenue that is being collected from Noma is zero.
From a business perspective, continuing to rent restaurant space to successful tenants is a far superior method than the RFP process.
How long will the city have to rent out the space at Gillespie Park in order to make up for what will be 15 or 16 months with no rent being paid?
In fact, Gillespie Park, far from being an example of why the city should use the RFP process for leasing food service space, would instead be an example of why the city shouldn’t use that process.
According to a recent study in the food service industry, most restaurants close in the first year. Of those that make it through the first year, 70 percent close in the next three to five years.
So the odds of bringing in a new restaurant owner to Gillespie Park are that it would fail, and if a new restaurant is brought into to the Café Europa space, the odds are that it will fail also.
The city is not a business but that doesn’t mean that when it is involved in business ventures it can’t use good business practices.
If the RFP process is the process that is going to be used for all leases that expire, then it is time for the City Council to step in and have that policy reviewed to see if it indeed makes good sense from a business perspective, or if a far better policy would be to renegotiate leases with good tenants when leases expire.