Café Europa May Lose Its Space
Café Europa, a downtown anchor for 18 years, may lose its home in the Cultural Center beside LeBauer Park. On Jan. 25, Greensboro Downtown Parks Incorporated, the nonprofit organization empowered by the city to manage LeBauer Park, held a mandatory Request for Proposal meeting for all parties interested in bidding on Europa’s space, as well as the kiosk formerly operated by Noma.
GDPI did not exist when Jakub Pucilowski purchased Europa in 2014. Pucilowski had worked for Europa founder John Rudy as a waiter and bartender since 2001. When he bought his retiring boss’s iconic establishment, his lease was with Greensboro Parks and Recreation, who continue to manage the other properties inside the Cultural Center.
On Jan. 10, the LeBauer Park social media page posted that “Greensboro Downtown Parks is seeking proposals for two food and beverage operations located within and adjacent to LeBauer Park,” with one being the former Noma kiosk and Europa as the other. This news went viral on Jan. 23 with an 8:34 a.m. Facebook post (shared over 120 times in 12 hours) by Europa patron Jeffrey Barbour explaining that the space coming open for bidding belonged to his favorite restaurant, which he believed was being unfairly forced out. An afternoon post by City Council at Large Michelle Kennedy expressed concerns over “communication, public trust and the manner in which we treat our local businesses” was also widely shared.
Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan weighed in on her Facebook page at 9 a.m. on Jan. 25. While she expressed her fondness for Café Europa, she stated the restaurant had been paying considerably less than market value for their space, and that they had been “notified in June about the competitive RFP process.” She also wrote that she intended to ask that Europa “get the Right of First Refusal to bring their lease into alignment to reflect similar terms and conditions of other downtown small business restaurants.”
Vaughan is one of two elected officials on the GDPI board, the full membership of which can be found at www.greensborodowntownparks.org/board. The executive director of GDPI is Rob Overman, who was appointed in April of 2017.
At 2:30 p.m. on Jan. 25, Overman conducted the RFP meeting inside the former Noma kiosk. The meeting was mandatory for all parties intending to bid on the space occupied by Europa. Pucilowski attended as a prospective bidder. So did his longtime employee Martina Faltova Cope, who announced her own intention of also bidding on the property,
After the meeting, I asked Overman why his organization was managing a property inside the Cultural Center that was not part of the park. He replied that, as his organization already managed the park’s two restaurant kiosks, “it made sense to the city to have us also manage that space, as it’s the only for-profit entity in that building.”
When I asked when that decision had been made, Overman replied that it had been voted on in December. I also asked if he was aware of Vaughan’s Facebook post, in which she said she would ask his board that Europa be given the right of first refusal and a chance to bring their current lease in accordance with terms of other downtown small business restaurants. He replied that he was not aware of the mayor’s post and could not comment on it.
I asked him if it was true that Café Europa had been informed in June about the competitive RFP process. “I was not involved in that conversation,” he said, “but to my knowledge, they were made aware at that time that Greensboro Downtown Parks would be taking over the space. For us, it was simply a matter of filling out the appropriate paperwork and making an amendment to the Memorandum of Understanding that we have with the City of Greensboro.”
While Pucilowski’s lease will expire on April 30, he disputed the claim that he’d been duly informed of this process in June. “I was not informed in writing about any of this until early November. That is when I received a written statement of what was going to happen. I believe there were conversations in June, but they were mumbled and full of words like ‘possibly’ and ‘maybe’ and were certainly not actionable.”
He also said that his restaurant’s proximity to the park has not always been beneficial, citing the period from summer of 2015 to fall of 2016 as one in which construction removed most of his customer parking and in which dust from the “sand pit” of the work site made his patio “unusable.”
“If I had been fully aware of the fact that the disruption to the normal operation of this restaurant based on the construction on the park and then the overtaking of its management by GDPI would occur, I would have probably have taken a hard pass on purchasing,” Pucilowski said.