New kitchen?


The Board of Supervisors debated this question at its meeting Wednesday afternoon (June 3).  Back in the spring, installing a commercial kitchen for Fluvanna’s Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) came close to making the cut for the fiscal year 2016 budget but ultimately fell by the wayside in a difficult budget year.

But a time-sensitive opportunity to buy some used kitchen equipment at close to half price led extension agent John Thompson to resurrect the question to supervisors Wednesday afternoon.  “It’s up to you whether or not to seize this opportunity,” he told them.

Having a commercial kitchen would bring benefits to the county, said Thompson.  It would function as a teaching kitchen for VCE but also as rentable space for the county’s various food-related businesses that must by law use a commercial kitchen to prepare their products.

Naming some of those businesses, Thompson said that each has “overcome the hurdle of a commercial kitchen because they had to,” some by renting commercial kitchens in places as far away as Farmville and some by biting the bullet and investing in a commercial kitchen of their own.  “If we could provide that middle ground, so that they could rent for a time period, develop their pocketbooks so that they could afford a commercial kitchen if they wanted to on their own facility, then that would be a honey spot for the local county government to be able to generate revenue [and] provide something for the local agribusiness industry.”

Thompson looked around the state at similar facilities and said the average hourly rental rate for a commercial kitchen like the one he was envisioning is $33.  Renting the kitchen to a business or an event for only four hours a week – a conservative estimate – would yield close to $7,000 per year, which could help mitigate the investment required to install the kitchen.

The drawbacks of a commercial kitchen include the cost, said Thompson, who estimated the price tag at about $32,000 plus another $5,000 for the used equipment currently on sale.  Upkeep on equipment would also be a factor.

Thompson said he may be able to secure donations or grants to cover part of the cost, but that at least one potential donor was waiting to see whether supervisors rallied behind the idea with funding.

“I can’t promise you results,” said Thompson, who didn’t make any claims about whether the kitchen would end up paying for itself through rental fees.  “What I can promise you is that the facility would be used by us for educational programming, and what I can guarantee you is there’s a lot of interest in this type of business in this region… There is opportunity here.”

There is a kitchen in the Fluvanna Community Center right now, though it is not comparable to a new commercial kitchen.  And when it fills up with different groups, Thompson said, “you realize that the space could be much better… A kitchen, in a house or in a business, is the heart of what’s going on.  And we’re working on a really little heart in a really big building.  We’ve got lots of opportunity and I think we need to seize that.”


A few years ago, supervisors gave the economic development authority (EDA) $35,000 to distribute as microloans to small businesses.  Since no one has applied for the microloans, County Administrator Steve Nichols said the EDA may end up returning the money to the county.  That money could potentially pay for the commercial kitchen.

“I have no doubt that this commercial kitchen will be a success,” said Chairperson Mozell Booker.  “I support [spending] this amount.”

“If you’re trying to provide a pathway for entrepreneurs and promoting agribusiness as one of the things that Fluvanna has to offer, it seems to me that this is very reasonable,” said Supervisor Tony O’Brien, who called the kitchen “a conservative, low-risk investment that would benefit our community.”

However, O’Brien said, he was very aware of the agreements made during budget season amongst supervisors, who ultimately voted unanimously on a budget and tax rate for the first time in recent memory.  And in that agreement a VCE commercial kitchen didn’t make the cut.  For that reason, he said, he was reluctant to push the idea.

“I’m bothered by it,” said Supervisor Don Weaver.  “I’m bothered by the way it’s gone about and the way it’s being presented.  I don’t think anything’s wrong with what Mr. Thompson’s doing – but we did have an understanding.  And I feel as if that’s being circumvented, and it disturbs me.”

Referencing the $35,000 potentially being returned by the EDA, Weaver said, “What always amazes me is how government can find the extra money… The shape this year’s budget is in, I think every Board member knows that it was stretched to the limits, and we took things off and put it into the future that we probably shouldn’t have.  And here the inference is, well, we have $35,000… As far as I’m concerned, a deal is a deal.”

“That’s why…I’m very hesitant on making a motion about this,” said O’Brien.

“That’s the problem with government, though; that’s what I’m saying,” said Weaver.  “Here’s another pot.  We don’t think about where we really probably need it.  And that is – how about all those items that we took away off of this year’s budget that we probably really needed?  Do we need [the kitchen] more than [those items]?  I don’t know… I’m not against what you’re saying or doing – I think it is good.  But everybody wants something.”

Once grants, donations, and rental fees come in the amount of money spent could be smaller than the initial $32,000 to $37,000 figure.  “This isn’t going to bankrupt us,” Weaver acknowledged, “but that’s where it starts.  It starts with a grain of sand and it builds up.”

“One, you have an opportunity to buy some equipment at a deep discount,” said O’Brien, “and two, you have other people waiting on us to show some commitment as to whether they move forward [with donations].”

Supervisors agreed to revisit the question at their June 17 meeting.

Absent from the meeting was Supervisor Bob Ullenbruch, who was attending to an emergency in Connecticut.

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