Who will be serving ice cream and coffee at the new library complex? That was the topic of a meeting between Columbia County officials and local restaurant owners at the Columbia CountyGovernment Complex on Wednesday.
Representatives from BG's Deli and Fine Catering, Gorin's Cafe, The Upper Crust and Serendipity attended the meeting and offered suggestions on how the county should outfit the restaurant and conduct itself as landlord.
The 1,050-square-foot cafe will be under the same roof as the library and performing arts center, scheduled to begin construction in Evans Towne Center this fall. The cafe will not come with a grill so the vendor will serve only coffee, ice cream, deli sandwiches and other items that won't require greater than microwave cooking.
Most of the restaurateurs at the meeting suggested that the county should offer the potential vendor of the cafe the first right of refusal for any catering business that the library complex may hire.
"The cafe is too small to serve any high-end food items, so to make a go of this we'll need to be able to do more than serve ice cream and coffee to walk-in traffic," said Marty Matfess, owner of Serendipity. "The catering will be how we'll make our money."
County officials and Andy Crosson of BG's Deli discounted the idea, saying that would be unfair to the public and the library.
"If I had had a bad experience with the cafe owner and was told I would have to use them as my caterer for an event I wanted to have at the library, I simply wouldn't hold the event at the library," Crosson said.
The county community center manager, Sandy Boner, added, "I believe it would be illegal for the county to push one business over another. We can't show that kind of favoritism."
Boner and Community and Leisure Services Director Barry Smith attempted to alleviate concerns of the potential vendors by pointing out that the cafe will have a substantial amount of built-in traffic.
"People will visit the library every day and walk right by your business," Smith said. "You'll also be connected to the justice center and government complex, and you'll be able to get business from people holding meetings here and people going to the performing arts center."
The restaurant owners suggested that the county shouldn't charge a flat rental fee, but could possibly charge the vendor a monthly percentage of the cafe's profits to reduce the vendor's financial risk. The county also could make certain concessions, like including water and electric in the rent, to make the offer more appetizing.
Restaurant owners also offered advice about the cafe's design. They immediately suggested that more electrical outlets be installed. They also said that space needed to be included for, among other things, an ice machine and Internet ports.
"That was a very productive part of the meeting for me," said Facilities Planning Manager Mark Costner. "This is exactly the kind of input I was wanting to get so we can take care of the problems now before it's built instead of having to go back and fix something later."
The library is set to open in the fall of 2005. The request for proposal will be sent out to potential vendors in the next two to three months.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.