A Restaurant for the People

Hindsight is 20/20. In the way of mismanaged government spending hindsight is at a capacity of the Hubble Space Telescope.

For taxpayers in Raleigh, NC, concerns are beginning to mount around the city’s “metropolitan style”, “low country” investment that opened last January at One Exchange Plaza, a building the city purchased in 2003 for $8 million. In efforts to “lure” an economic stimulus – the upper floors are occupied by employees of Raleigh’s planning, inspections, utilities and development services departments – the Raleigh government subsidized $1 million to advance the operation of The Mint on Fayetteville Street.

The young establishment that has yet to celebrate its first anniversary has gained many detractors, including competitors that see it as an unfair practice and taxpayers who begin to speculate on its frivolity considering the state of the economy and the style of menu.

Dishes average around $28.00, with eclectic offerings such as poached kangaroo and Kurobuta pork.

To the disgruntled competitors the city insists that the practice is no different than what a landlord would do to secure tenants.

An assistant city manager told R&I: “Our intention was to treat this like a private sector deal. I think that’s what some people have not fully grasped.”

But the quality of the deal is what others are beginning to scrutinize. The goal for the first year is to break even. In order to hit that mark the restaurant will have to revenue $2.2 million by January. At the moment they are averaging $140,000 a month, a pace that leaves them half a million shy of their projection.

Most restaurants struggle to turn a profit within the first year or two or three, however when investments are garnered with taxpayer money – and as it should have been foreseen – the turnaround has expectations of coming quite immediately, whether it be realistic or not.

And as focus becomes clearer in the passing months, with consideration for the tumultuous state of the industry, toiled in rising fuel and food costs, the inhabitants of Raleigh will begin asking more fervently – most have already started – if this endeavor, not short on ambition, was ill-conceived. Perhaps the citizens of Raleigh will be proactive in the next term and appoint restaurateurs rather than politicians.

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