By Stefanie Jackson – The future of a local catering and meal delivery service remains uncertain after Northampton supervisors failed to agree on new lease terms for the historic Eastville Inn, which is owned by the county and leased by the business owner for its commercial kitchen.
Louise Oliver, owner and operator of Kitchen Sync, was not present at Tuesday night’s public hearing on the Eastville Inn, but local developer Eyre Baldwin spoke in opposition to her previous request for a three-year lease agreement.
He wanted the lease renewed on a month-to-month basis to allow supervisors the opportunity to explore other options for the Eastville Inn.
Baldwin said that the Eastville Inn, which is in need of heavy renovation (the second floor is completely unfinished), previously was appraised for only $37,000.
He had received permission from Eastville’s town manager to have the building appraised, Baldwin said.
He once offered to buy the Eastville Inn for $200,000, and on another occasion, his business partner offered $150,000, despite the low appraisal.
Baldwin has made improvements to nine buildings in Eastville. “Matter of fact, every project I’ve ever done has … been repurposing and restoring buildings,” he said.
He has a vision for the Eastville Inn, which would use the entire building, attract visitors to town, and generate tax revenue.
Baldwin would like supervisors to make a new request for proposals for the inn and provide him an opportunity to explain his ideas.
He did not specify the type of business that would be run in the Eastville Inn, but most of the previous tenants ran restaurants.
Oliver previously contended that a restaurant is not a good fit for the Eastville Inn because it has little to no available parking and foot traffic in town is light.
Furthermore, the long, narrow kitchen is inconvenient for servers delivering orders to guests in the dining room, but it’s ideal for catering, Oliver has said.
Restaurants struggled to stay open at the Eastville Inn, but Kitchen Sync has remained successful since around 2015. Oliver has more than 500 private clients and many corporate clients. The business even grew during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, when people couldn’t or wouldn’t eat in restaurants.
Northampton County Administrator Charlie Kolakowski had negotiated with Oliver on the terms of the new lease agreement, which would include a rent increase and a requirement that the Eastville Inn open three days a week for meal service, presumably breakfast and lunch, he said.
Oliver has said she would serve lunch every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, leaving each Friday open for pick-up and delivery of her pre-made meals.
But Supervisor John Coker indicated he would not vote in favor of a three-year lease; he would consider no more than a two-year agreement.
Supervisor Oliver Bennett suggested possibly reducing the lease term to one year.
Chair Betsy Mapp said she believed Louise Oliver wanted a three-year lease because she will need to purchase additional food service equipment to provide breakfast and lunch service, and she expects it will take three years for her business to “break even” on the investment, Mapp said.
Coker said, “I’m pleased with the fact that they’re going to have a restaurant, but I think that building … needs a lot of work, OK, and we need to make sure that we’re going to do that, we’re going to keep it.”
Northampton supervisors “don’t want to be in the real estate business,” he added.
They had hoped to sell the Eastville Inn for a “good price” but decided none of the offers were acceptable. “Now we’re rethinking what we’re going to do,” Coker said.
He made a motion to table the matter, which passed in a 4-1 vote, with Mapp opposed.