City of New Bern Commissary Kitchen and Marketplace Discussion Revived

New Bern Board of Aldermen Meeting July 13 2021
New Bern Board of Aldermen meeting on July 13, 2021

Are you wondering what happened to the original plans for a City Commissary Kitchen and Marketplace for the location at 205 First St. in New Bern?

Let’s unpack this…

The Volt Center at Craven Community College (CCC) is also located at 205 First St. The center offers training courses in a variety of skilled trades like HVAC, CFC/EPA Certification, Plumbing, Forklift Operator, Electrical to Intro to Home Brewing and a number of courses. It also has a makerspace.

After years of planning, the scope of work changed during the New Bern Board of Alderman Meeting on April 13, 2021. Takeaways from this meeting include:

– Dr. Ray Staats, President of Craven Community College, shared a proposal for the next phase for the Volt Center. During his presentation, he mentioned, in 2019, the college met with six restaurant owners to discuss their employee training challenges. The conversation stalled because they didn’t have the facilities available to train. He said, “I’m pleased to report that the New Bern Area Chamber of Commerce is reconvening that group…to talk about the next phase.” He also noted the need to train restaurant operators, not chefs but line cooks, food prep, hospitality workers, counter and wait staff. He talked about the Volt Center success. At one point he mentioned the kitchen being part of the Adult Enrichment Program Gingerbread house making class.  Dr. Staats mentioned the college’s healthy equipment budget up to $200,000.

– A few of the Aldermen asked when the scope of work changed and there was a long discussion about a City Market and Commissary Kitchen. An Alderman also made a request for community involvement in the discussions.

According to meeting minutes:

– Mrs. Ohlensehlen, Community & Economic Development Manager, confirmed if the kitchen were in place, food trucks could use the facility to prepare their items. However, the College’s program could not support for-profit businesses. If the original vision were pursued, it would need to be funded through grants or City funds.

– Alderman Aster made a motion to authorize the City Manager to work with Craven Community College to form an agreement for a lease of building 6 for a commercial kitchen, seconded by Alderman Bengel. Upon a roll-call vote, the motion carried 4-3 with Aldermen Best, Kinsey, and Harris voting against it.

– Prior to the motion being seconded…Alderwoman Harris felt the City was rushing to make a decision, and she again questioned why the City could not fund the project itself to help create jobs…Alderman Best felt the Board would be doing a great disservice to the citizens of Wards 1, 2, and 5 by not allowing a farmer’s market, entrepreneurship opportunities, and all the other programs in the initial plan. She felt the Board should have had additional meetings before receiving the presentation and being put in a position where it was required to vote on the topic.

It’s not over

During the BOA meeting on July 13, 2021, Alderman Barbara Best rekindled the conversation during new business. She said, “I want to bring back to this board, a discussion that happened April 13…Dr. Staats from Craven Community College come before this board and made a presentation to us in reference to the commercial kitchen and also a lease agreement for the college to take complete possession of the entire campus…that lease has not come before this board yet, so I just want us to take a deeper dive into that conversation. We had two young ladies here tonight that spoke on behalf of the dire need for a commissary kitchen. I too feel that way because at that particular meeting, I was very adamant about it and so was Alderman Harris and Alderman Kinsey…about having that facility there where we can provide some resources for our citizens. At that meeting I also made a statement that I know Amanda and her staff at Development Services was working on trying to land some grants and along with our City Grant Writer, Ms. Margaret Shields have been working on grants to try to upfit that kitchen…It’s been a concern of mine. I don’t want to see that project just be thrown away. Because we as a City, we work for all of our citizens and if we can have some resources available to us through grants…I think that is a win-win situation for us to obtain and upfit that kitchen.”

There were many twists and turns during the 1+ hour discussion. At one point, they voted, it was a tie, so they continued the conversation.

Alderwoman Harris made the motion, “We’re gonna create a working group and then come back to the board and present what we have come together with”. The final vote was unanimous.

So, there’s still the possibility for Workforce Development, Commissary Kitchen and a City Market for food trucks and entrepreneurs to prepare, cook, and sell their goods.

Food for thought:

– Restaurant owners are responsible for training their employees, so how does the College’s proposal not support for-profit businesses like the six restaurant owners they met with?

– Is it a conflict of interest for an Alderman to be involved in the decision-making and voting process that benefits their own restaurants?

– Kevin Reese teaches Culinary Arts Class at New Bern High School. Graduates seeking employment would be candidates for local restaurants. He writes, “This class will not only be cooking because my main focus will be job skills, interview skills, professionalism, communication and then cooking”. – New Bern High School

– Commissary Kitchens are popular in cities across the country. I spoke with Cody Suggs, with the Town of Burgaw Parks and Recreation Department, He told me Burgaw’s Incubator Kitchen facility opened in 2009 in a historic train depot. It’s a full-sized kitchen for caterers, food trucks, food prep, canning, etc. He told me that it doesn’t take a lot of staffing to maintain. He runs the daily operations. Before people can use the kitchen, they get a permit to use the facility from the local health department.

Listen to the meetings and decide for yourself:

BOA Meeting for July 13, 2021

BOA Meeting for April 13, 2021

What do you think should be the final outcome? Share your thoughts with us via email.

By Wendy Card