What’s Happening with Honest Weight at the Empire State Plaza?
For about three years, Honest Weight has had an area for serving lunch in the middle of the Concourse at the Empire State Plaza. In many ways this endeavor has been a success. According to Rick Mausert, our new CCO, on average we bring in about $650 a day in total sales and serve about 58 customers. In the past, profits from this came to about $35,000 a year. However, for the future they’re projected to be $20,000 and less as cost increases continue. The situation is changing.
Our old lease ends in May, and we found ourselves in the position of having to consider whether we wanted to renew. Since we had to give our landlord, the NYS Office of General Services (OGS), our decision by February, Rick decided to make a presentation on this topic at the January 3rd Board Meeting. He explained that he had come to the conclusion that it didn’t make sense to sign a lease for five more years. He then explained his reasoning in careful detail.
First of all, he said that we now have a fixed three-year lease, but OGS now says we have to take a five-year lease if we want to stay where we are. The first year would be flat, with no increase, and then the increases would be five percent each year. So, we would be tied to a longer, more expensive lease. Also, as specified in the lease, OGS requires us to make capital improvements to our operation. Rick estimates those costs at $35,000.
Then there’s the matter of our competition, which has been growing. Three eateries are immediate competitors: Au Bon Pain, the Dutch Pot, and Mazzone Hospitality. The Dutch Pot is new and Mazzone Hospitality has recently increased their square footage. We are also somewhat limited by OGS rules. For example, they don’t want our menus to conflict with those of other lunch operations and, in general, they will not let us adjust our venue.
Finally, Rick believes that most of the people passing our operation at noon are not looking for a place to buy lunch; rather, they have already eaten the lunch they brought from home and are just taking a walk. In fact, our sales have been decreasing over the past year and 20 percent of the rentable space in the Concourse is vacant. For these reasons, Rick suggested that we not sign the new lease and instead find other ways to use the resources and energies that we’ve invested in this operation. In the end, the entire Board agreed with Rick and voted not to accept the new lease.
Ending Plaza Operations Opens Other Possibilities
While there was some sadness and disappointment with the decision, some people saw this decision as an opportunity to expand Honest Weight in new directions. Letting go of Honest Weight at the Empire State Plaza will make available two staff and a van that have been dedicated to that operation. Also, we will have the money that we won’t be paying to the State for rent.
Here are just two of the suggestions for spending the money and freed resources that were offered following the vote turning down the new lease: (1) buy a soft ice cream maker and make it a major feature of our store; or, (2) buy a food truck that would travel to various sites such as the State Office Campus and the Empire Plaza in the summer months. CCO Rick Mausert also suggested expanding some existing departments. There are many possibilities.
If you have suggestions for how these freed resources can best be used, send them to the Co-op Voice, and we will pass them on to the Board and Management.