Saturday, December 06, 2008

Fair Food Plans Move to Rick's Space
Funding Sought from USDA for expansion

Back in September I reported that Reading Terminal Market GM Paul Steinke would like to relocate the Fair Food Farmstand to the space since vacated by Rick's Steaks. It's looking more likely, as the market and the Farmstand are now working on the details of such a move. Steinke said Fair Food could pop up along 12th Street as soon as early 2009.

From the RTM's perspective, having a produce purveyor located behind a broad expanse of windows on the market's busiest pedestrian perimeter cements its image as a place to buy food for home preparation and consumption rather than as a mere food court.

For the Fair Food Farmstand, the move would further its educational mission by dramatically increasing its visibility while providing needed expansion space.

It's no secret that the Fair Food Farmstand has been seeking to expand since it has outgrown its current space, acknowledged Ann Karlen, the White Dog Foundation's director of Fair Food programs, including the farmstand. Initially the FFF considered enlarging its existing stall into some of the adjacent seating area. Those plans were placed on hold while Karlen and her colleagues considered the future direction of the non-profit operation and funding possibilities.

The move won't come cheaply. Karlen, however, believes much of the funding can be secured through a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, based on preliminary discussions with officials in charge of disbursing grants for programs like Fair Foods'.

"We've outgrown our space and were planning on expanding even if we didn't move," Karlen said. The new location "is the perfect size, more than double what we have now. It's a premier location on a busy corridor with window frontage. We're a non-profit, and a big part of our mission is promoting local food, so it gives us more visibility, furthering our educational mission while allowing us to expand the business."

Steinke told me Fair Food might first take over the kitchen area of the former cheesesteakery and expand, as needed, into the stall's seating area on a seasonal basis when they've got more produce to sell. A Fair Food Farmstand café, serving soups, sandwiches and other items prepared from locally producted agricultural products could also be part of the future.

Besides obtaining funding, one of the more difficult aspects of any move will be refrigeration. Like many other purveyors, all of the Fair Food Farmstand's refrigerated storage space is located in the rear of the market (others have their storage space in the basement). Stand volunteers will have long a long way to haul those boxes of produce every morning when they relocate.

More Cheese Steaks

The Down Home Diner put cheese steaks back on the menu and is touting that fact with their blackboard.

Cheese steaks are also on the menu now at the Dutch Eating Place as well as Spataro's, which added them when they relocated to center court more than a year ago.

But that's not all.

The market recently gave permission to Carmen's and By George to augment their existing menus with cheese steaks, beginning in the New Year.

GM Steinke says any number of existing cheese steak sellers from outside the RTM have filed applications to become vendors. He said those application will be considered if a suitable space becomes available. Steinke's point of view is that the demand for cheese steaks is big enough to profitably support multiple vendors.

One suitable space could be the vacant stall opposite Tootsie's Salad Express, which formerly housed Everyday Gourmet and, before that, Andros. The space already has a heavy-duty exhaust system installed, which is necessary for any sort of grill operation.

In the adjacent space, temporarily being used by Kauffman's Lancaster County Produce, the paperwork is moving along for a new pork purveyor to replace Dutch Country Meats, which gave up the ghost earlier this year. A draft lease is now being reviewed by prospective butcher.

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