Special Meeting of the State Committee of Vendors
Friday, February 11, 2022
Chairman James Warth called the meeting to order at 3:30pm. Vice Chairman Terri Lindstrom called the role.
The following individuals were present:
James Warth, Chairman
Terri Lindstrom, Vice Chairman
District Representatives: Kurt Ponchak, District 1; Colton Knight, District 2; Mitzi Bowen, District 3; Randall Crosby, District 4; David Stevens, District 6; TJ McCormick, District 7; Sead Bekric, District 8; Edward Spence, District 9 Alternate; Daniel Ochoa, District 10.
Bureau of Business Enterprise Staff: Bill Findley, Bureau Chief; Maureen Fink, Operations Manager; Alan Risk, Compliance Officer; John Ahler, Business Analyst; Greg Coon, Marketing and Site Development Manager; Bernie Kaiserian, Region 2 Business Consultant, Jay Payne, Region 3 Business Consultant; Rafaella Diershaw, Region 5 Business Consultant; Janet Chernoff, Administrative Services Consultant; Mary Ellen Harding, Administrative Assistant.
Licensed Vendors: Alton Palmore, District 1 Alternate; Mike Renaud, District 2 Alternate; Jose Quintanilla, District 7 Alternate; Antonio Gonzalez, District 10 Alternate.
Division of Blind Services: Robert Doyle, Director; Trina Travis, Deputy Director.
Jim Warth opened the meeting by requesting that an additional subject be added to the agenda. He would like to discuss including thirty-six months of reimbursement requests to all applicants synopsis for the selection cycle. Kurt Ponchak made a motion to approve the agenda with the addition. Seconded by Colton Knight. Passed without objection.
Bill Findley explained that the program has noticed trends in food service that have reflected changes in tastes over the past few years. This was happening before the pandemic resulted in temporary closures at locations. The program has tried to adjust by converting some locations to micro markets or vending. Recently we were made aware of an evolving situation at the Broward Government Center snack bar. We wanted to bring the situation to the attention of the Committee along with similar circumstances at other locations to update them and get input. In September 2021 a vendor took over the location on a Type II. The plan was reopen the food service when appropriate. The food service was reopened in December with limited success. The Type II operator has tendered their resignation effective February 28, 2022.
Maureen reported a similar situation at the Rohde building in Miami. Sales of $400,000 were reported in 2019. The location was closed most of 2020 and reopened in October 2021. The Type I operator resigned effective October 31 of that same month. A Type II operator took over and ran the facility for three months. He recently resigned. Both operators resigned because the facility did not have sufficient sales to cover their costs. Another operator has accepted the facility on a Type II. Maureen is suggesting that he limit the offerings to grab and go breakfast items until more of the building population returns. Food service at the Claude Pepper building was closed in mid-January for numerous reasons including low sales. Maureen is suggesting that the facility be converted to a micro market and that the kitchen could be used to supply other micro markets in the area. The dining area will be closed due to construction for the next few months. This should give us time to assess the facility. The State Regional Service Center in Jacksonville has been closed since 2020 and the operator is only doing vending. Sales at this location were on the lower end of the scale and were just over $100,000 in 2019. There are some locations that are doing okay including the snack bars in the courthouses in Jacksonville, Tampa and West Palm and the Justice Center in Miami. Food Service in NASA, Jacksonville Sherriff’s Office, Blount Island and Orlando are also at an acceptable level.
Division staff spoke to representatives from the Broward Government Center earlier today via Teams and the Region 5 Business Consultant Rafaella Diershaw has met with them in person. They support the program and want to continue to have food service in their location. The Business Enterprise Program (BEP) has had trouble over the last few years securing an operator for this location who will do a good job and is willing to stay. The staff from the center indicated that the population returned to their building in the summer of 2021. They indicated that there were at least 890 employees in the building. They also said that there are regular Commission meetings that draw additional people. The general public can access the cafe but most public business conducted on the first floor and the cafeteria in on the third floor. There is signage on the first floor advising people of the third floor food service. The Broward County Government Center staff said that they need a facility with consistent hours that can accommodate staff who take breaks at 10am and 2pm and lunch at 12noon or 1pm. They want variety, hot food and full vending. They also want affordable prices but indicated that was last on their list. They mentioned that there is a private contractor with food service at two other buildings. They have equipment similar to a snack bar and have hot food catered into the facilities. Currently the snack bar at the Broward County Government Center is open 8am -12 noon and the operator has indicated he plans to resign effective the end of February.
There was a discussion about options for this facility. Mike Renaud suggested marketing the location and Kurt Ponchak asked if there were any new licensees in the area. Both questioned the current hours of 8am – 12 noon. Mike suggested providing a fair minimum return for an operator who is willing to operate these type of locations. Bernie Kaiserian expressed concern that this could result in the program supporting a facility that may not be viable for a number of years. He also mentioned the number of Type IIs the program currently has is due in part to the decline in the number of licensed vendors over the past few years.
Antonio Gonzales in the current operator of this facility. He said that he did not open until 8am because the staff at the building does not arrive until 8am. He tried staying open until 2pm for the first month but customers did not come into the location after 11:30am. He also tried to accommodate their requests for made to order food but just could not make any money. He wanted to do breakfast only but they wanted lunch. He said that he did not feel that there were more than 300 people in the building.
Daniel Ochoa expressed the opinion that it is hard for a Type II operator to make money at a food service location. He told the group that he had doubled the sales at his first facility because he gave 100% of his time to the location. Sales dropped almost immediately when he accepted another Type I and did not have the time to dedicate to his Type II facility. He experienced this again when he tried to operate the cafeteria at Rohde as a Type II. He feels the only way to be success at the Broward Government Center is to have an operator that can devote a 100% of their time to the location.
Colton Knight suggested drafting a letter to the Governor asking him to bring staff back to buildings. He feels that the BEP cannot ask new vendors to take over a facility that is not viable. He suggested consolidating the facility as a micro market into a route similar to what is being done in Tallahassee.
Maureen told the group that a micro market at this location would be problematic because of the public access to the building. She suggested grab and go foods using a cooler and hot box. Jose Quintanilla suggested serving breakfast only and Maureen said that it might be possible with a food machine with lunch options. Antonio does not feel this would be a viable model as that is not what the building wants. Daniel Ochoa agrees that South Florida is different and that they want made to order fresh food. Rafaella shared sales from the past several years with the group. This facility did $174,000 in 2018 and $200,000 in 2019. Sales went down to $82,000 in 2020 and were $72,000 in 2021.
Kurt Ponchak made a motion to extend the meeting to 4:45pm. Seconded by Colton Knight. Passed without objection.
David Stevens asked if there was anyone locally that could add this facility to their route. Currently there are only two other vendors servicing facilities in the area. Orlando Ramirez has the south Broward route as a Type I and BSO on a Type II. Paola Espinoza has a Type II on the north Broward route. Colton asked about transitioning the location into a micro market and adding it to one of the routes. The public access to the location would make it hard to make it a micro market and the building is not interested in that type of service. Bill confirmed that it has been problematic to get a Type II operator with the time to dedicate to a second facility. There are not any vendors in the area interested in running this facility. Vendors from outside the area have trouble relocating to South Florida because of the high cost of living. Recently two new operators accepted facilities in Tallahassee due to the lower cost of living and increased opportunities.
TJ McCormick suggested getting a teaming partner to run the facility. Bill said that the vendor would have to make those arrangements as the Division could not. Mike Renaud felt the location would not be attractive to a teaming partner because there are not enough sales. Bill wants to reach out to the District 9 Representative, Orlando Ramirez for ideas. Orlando was unable to attend this meeting. Maureen suggested partnering with a culinary school. Robert Doyle felt that partnering with a school or third party would be a good idea as he would hate to lose a potentially viable facility. He also suggested looking at DBS or VR clients as possibilities for staff. Ed Spence suggested reaching out to the sub-contractor that runs the food service at the post office in Miami. The operator Daniel Ochoa and Maureen will follow up. Alton said that we need to verify that there is sufficient population and Bill agreed.
The meeting has run longer than expected and there will not be sufficient time to discuss the other subject. Kurt Ponchak made a motion to adjourn. The meeting adjourned at 4:52pm.