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City Beautiful 21 » Carrboro, Culture, Economic Development, Food, Reader Mailbag » Weaver Street Market GM Responds to Panzanella Closing Post

Weaver Street Market GM Responds to Panzanella Closing Post

A few days after my recent post on the decision to close Panzanella restaurant in Carrboro, I received the following reply from Weaver Street Market General Manager Ruffin Slater.  I have reproduced it below in full, without any editing, with his permission.

Dear Patrick,

Thanks for your email. I appreciate you sharing how much Panzanella has meant to you and your disappointment over the decision to close. The Weaver Street board creates the policies that govern the co-op’s direction and outcomes, but the final decision was my responsibility so I want to tell you more about the rationale and process.

Since the recession in late 2008, fewer community members have been eating at Panzanella. When Panzanella’s lease came up in 2010, we decided to renew for three additional years with the anticipation that the number of diners would rebound. In spite of our efforts, Panzanella has 25% fewer diners today than we did in 2008. In the meantime, expenses have gone up, including rent, utilities, salaries and health insurance. The combination of declining customers and rising expenses means that Panzanella has been incurring significant losses.

With Panzanella’s lease coming up at the end of this year, we needed to decide between two difficult options: closing, which would disappoint loyal customers and displace staff; or making a multi-year lease commitment, which would risk incurring continuing losses. In making this decision, I tried to weigh the interests of owners and employees as well as Weaver Street’s long-term goals.

I very much appreciate that there are many loyal customers like you for whom Panzanella means a great deal. As Panzanella is part of Weaver Street Market, we look at the restaurant with a holistic approach: is the business model sustainable and does it benefit the co-op as a whole to continue? When Weaver Street opened Panzanella it was one of the few restaurants featuring local food. Now there are many choices. While this is great for our town, it means that Panzanella doesn’t play the unique role that it once did.

Since we renewed our lease three years ago, Panzanella has been trying to attract more diners. Over this period, sales in each of our Weaver Street stores have gone up each year, while sales in the restaurant have continued to decline. The upswing in store sales after a difficult recession tells us that the stores fill a need with our owners and customers. In contrast, the decline in Panzanella sales tells us that the restaurant fills less of a need than it once did.

In an effort to keep Panzanella open, we could have slashed expenses. Panzanella has higher costs than most restaurants because it uses higher priced ingredients and offers benefits such as paid time off and health insurance. However, this approach would have compromised our food offering and created a second class of employee within our co-op. We could have tried a different concept or changed locations, but this would have required an even bigger investment and even more risk.

In an effort to keep Panzanella open, we could have continued to subsidize the losses with revenues from our stores. This kind of cross-subsidy makes sense if it helps to accomplish the co-op’s broader mission. However, subsidizing Panzanella precludes other potential uses for those resources. We receive a lot of feedback about ways Weaver Street should improve, such as making the food in our grocery stores more affordable or filling positions in the co-op that have gone unfilled since the recession. At some point, it doesn’t make sense to continue to postpone progress on these goals in order to keep Panzanella open

After weighing all the factors I made the difficult decision that the responsible choice was to close Panzanella. In order to develop a positive transition path for Panzanella employees, it was necessary to make a definitive decision about closing and to develop a clear timeline. This allows us to concentrate time and energy in placing staff in other positions within Weaver Street or making a smooth transition to a new job. We have started that process and I’m hopeful that it will have a positive outcome.

Thanks for taking the time to express your feelings about Panzanella. Panzanella has made a great contribution to building community and to growing the interest in local food. It has been a wonderful restaurant and it sad for it to close.

Sincerely, Ruffin

Ruffin Slater, General Manager
Weaver Street Market
437 Dimmocks Mill Road Suite 10
Hillsborough NC 27278
P. 919.241.1767
ruffin@weaverstreetmarket.coop

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4 Responses to "Weaver Street Market GM Responds to Panzanella Closing Post"

  1. blakeR says:

    Thanks for posting this Patrick. I was surprised when I heard the news too. I’m glad Mr. Slater took the time to respond. I assume that since he didn’t address your suggestion of halving the lease space that it was not a possibility? That seemed the obvious solution to me upon hearing the news, since I have rarely seen Panzanella full the last few years.

    Although I’m not sure how much it would help Carr Mill Mall to have one more empty/revolving store space to fill. . . I guess that’s a topic for another post, but it’s a question that continually intrigues me.

  2. Patrick says:

    Blake, while I’m not certain, I assume that where Ruffin states: “We could have tried a different concept or changed locations, but this would have required an even bigger investment and even more risk,” that a subdividing of the space (which would have required Carr Mill Mall’s approval) fell into that category.

    To your last question, I think it will be interesting to see if Panzanella’s space gets filled with another restaurant, or a high-end retailer more like the other stores that mostly occupy the Mall.

  3. newperson says:

    Despite what is being said, the bottom line is that customers aren’t showing up. This is not true at Acme, Glasshalfull, Lantern, Crooks, or any of the other restaurants that Panzanella had to compete with. At least, they had to compete with them to get my $.

    The pizza oven is really what Panzanella had to offer. Otherwise, I’m sorry to say, the food just isn’t that good, and hasn’t been.

    Two: A restaurant is way, way, way outside of Weaver St. wheelhouse. I’m genuinely surprised that it stayed open as long as it did.

    Obviously this is my opinion, but I seem to be in good company on this one. With all the amazing food in the triangle, it’s just not possible to justify spending that kind of money for the food that was there.

    Case in point: Sage. It’s gnocchi is AMAZING. Cooked by a little old lady that knows her business. And, it’s $12. At PNZ, it’s $18! And it’s bland.

    1. Patrick says:

      First, newperson- thanks for joining the discussion! I agree with you that the pizza offerings at Panzanella were their strong suit. That said, I also had several great experiences there with the seafood entrees and the pasta dishes. I haven’t been to Sage, I’ll check it out. I hope you’ll return to chime in on other items in the future. Thanks for reading!

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