Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Garces, Vetri: Joint RTM Kitchen Bid

Expect a joint bid to operate the Reading Terminal Market's demonstration kitchen from Jose Garces and Marc Vetri. The bid, according to Paul Steinke, the market's general manager, would be submitted by their respective non-profit arms: the Garces Foundation and the Vetri Foundation for Children.

Rick Nichols, retired Inquirer food columnist, flanked by Steve Poses, founder of
Frog/Commissary, and Chef Garces, in the market's kitchen in June 2012
Other potential bidders include Drexel University, The Restaurant School, and the Opportunities Industrial Center. Steinke said private operators have also submitted proposals.

Trinity Busch, executive director of the Garces Foundation, in response to my inquiry, said "it's too early for us to discuss this as the idea is still in consideration by our team." A Vetri Foundation representative said the proposal "is still very much in draft". 

The star-power of a combined Garces-Vetri bid would be hard to beat. But the OIC, the pioneering job-training non-profit founded 50 years ago by the late Rev. Leon H. Sullivan, runs Opportunities Inn, a separate program to develop hospital industry workers. That effort is funded by the Reading Terminal Market's owner, the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority.  

The demonstration kitchen became available when the market declined to renew the lease of Anna Florio, proprietor of La Cucina at the Market, who had operated the facility at two different locations within the market since March 2008. In addition to classes, Florio ran kitchen-centric "team building" events for companies and other organizations.

Florio ceased operations at the end of March. In mid-April the market put out its request for proposals; the deadline is this Friday, May 16.

Steinke said he's waiting to review the proposals until after the deadline, but said there has been a "strong level of interest".

Sal Vetri, Marc Vetri's dad, and Brad Spence, Vetri's chef partner at Amis,
in demonstration at market's kitchen in June 2012.
Sharing the demonstration kitchen with a private operator, as was done with Florio, provided rental inome to the market, but there were also conflicts in the scheduling of events.

Such conflicts, said Steinke, "are very much on our mind. We need to preserve right to reserve the demontration kitchen for community events more frequently and intensively than in the past. Thats clear in the RFP and a priority well be pursuing as we review the responses."

Operating and programming the kitchen directly was one approach Steinke considered, which would require the hiring of at least one program manager by the market. Although that remains on the table, the market's board decided to ask for proposals in an effort to encourage other possibilities.

A Garces-Vetri operation certainly works to the market's advantage in terms of promotion: having the two chefs create and design programs would make the market's demonstration kitchen a culinary showcase. For the chefs and their foundations, operating the facility at the city's premier food mecca would bolster their non-profit programs and further their luminosity in the Philadelphia food firmament. Because of their educational emphasis, a joint Garces-Vetri operation would be less likely to create scheduling conflicts than a for-profit operator, who would seek to cater private events in the kitchen.

The Garces Foundation focuses on health, education and nutritional issues faced by Philadelphia's "underserved immigrant community", according to its website. The Vetri Foundation for Children "was established to help kids experience the connection between healthy eating and healthy living".

Operation of the market's demonstration kitchen would be a natural for either Drexel -- which operates culinary arts and sciences program under its Center for Hospitality and Sports Management -- or the Restaurant School.

In its request for proposals, the market asked for "the most creative ideas that can elevate and enhance the [market's] food and culinary traditions." The RFP said the market sees the demonstration kitchen "as a vehicle to increase the visibility of the market; serve as an engine for public and private education and instruction regarding the region's food traditions, cuisine and culinary arts; and operate in a manner that fulfills the market's mission." 

Any operator would also have access to the adjacent Rick Nichols Room, a multi-purpose event space with direct access to the demonstration kitchen. Both rooms are located at the head of center court.

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