Scippio touts ATL based establishment over locals vying for space in Union Station

Union Station is located on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

Scippio touts ATL based establishment over locals vying for space in Union Station
February 20
04:20 2020

During a recent Finance Committee meeting, City Councilmember Annette Scippio let it be known that she prefers Murrell’s Cafe, a restaurant that operates out of Atlanta, over two local entities vying for vacant space in Union Station. 

Here’s what we know: Union Station was originally built in 1926. After World War II, rural travel declined and so did activity at the station. After housing an auto repair shop for near 30 years (1970s-early 1990s), in 2010 the City of Winston-Salem approved a $19.3 million renovation project. The renovation project, which was completed in 2018, was designed to transform the old station into a multi-purpose office space with retail spaces and a restaurant. 

A few months before phase one of renovations were expected to be complete, City Council approved a lease with Elizabeth’s Pizza, a 30-year-old family-owned local restaurant chain, to be an “anchor” in Union Station, but that agreement was short lived. Less than a year after the owners of Elizabeth’s Pizza agreed to be a tenant in Union Station, they pulled out after Councilmember Scippio voiced her opposition with the deal. When discussing the deal with Elizabeth’s Pizza, Assistant City Manager Damon Dequenne said, “I guess they feel like it wasn’t the right opportunity for them at this time.” 

A few weeks later, a ribbon cutting ceremony was held for Union Station. Elected officials and dozens of other people with a vested interest in the Union Station project came together for the event, but with no tenants in the building and nobody planned to move in, soon thereafter the community began to ask questions about the future of the project.

Talks about bringing a restaurant to Union Station were reignited earlier this year when the Finance Committee listened to proposals from three different investors during a public meeting in January. Two of the proposals came from local investors. One came from Simply Soul, a local restaurant owned by Sonya Waddell. The restaurant, which also offers catering, is currently located on South Main Street, and Union Station would be its second location. 

The second proposal came from Eats Urban, a new joint venture created by Providence Culinary Training, the company that owns Zesto’s Burgers and Ice Cream on New Walkertown Road, and the Winston-Salem Urban League. 

The third proposal came from Michael Murrell, a graduate of Winston-Salem State University who owns Murrell’s Café, which is located in Atlanta.  

Each proposal has its own nuances and merits. For example, Simply Soul is looking to rent two suites totaling 3,914 sq. ft. Proposed rental terms include at least a three-year lease totaling $90,000. The initial terms of Murrell’s lease is 10 years with an additional five-year option totaling over $350,000 for the same square footage Simply Soul is looking to occupy. Eats Urban’s initial lease agreement is for five years with an option for an additional five years totaling $206,000 over 10 years for the same two suites, plus additional space totaling 4,718 sq. ft. 

According to Dequenne, with the exception of Simply Soul, each proposal includes a clause where the city will fund kitchen construction and kitchen appliances. The city will cover the cost for all plumbing, electrical work, and the construction of grease traps for all three restaurants. The proposals for Simply Soul and Murrell’s Cafe will offer “soul food,” while Eats Urban says they will serve “Southern comfort food.” Simply Soul and Murrell’s will also have breakfast/brunch options, while Eats Urban will not.

Eats Urban is the only proposal that will include culinary arts workforce training. Providence Kitchen, which is part of the partnership that makes up Eats Urban, already provides culinary arts workforce training at two different locations in the city. 

When discussing the proposals during an informational session last month, members of the Finance Committee discussed what they would like to see from each of the business owners moving forward. Council member Jeff MacIntosh noted that all three of the proposals will generate less than what Elizabeth’s Pizza would have generated. 

“When Elizabeth’s Pizza came, there was pretty substantial criticism about the dollars that we were going to get back on our investment. Over the first 10-year period, that deal was going to return us $380,550,” MacIntosh continued. “These three proposals, one returns $90,000, one returns $206,000 and the other returns $350,000. They all fall short of that deal that we were critical about.”

During a second informational session last week, although a vote wasn’t on the table, Councilmember Scippio let it be known that she prefers Murrell’s. Scippio said she loves all three options and all three offer something special, but she wanted to go with the organization that has the most experience. 

“If you asked my opinion of who we should go with, I would have to say that I would go with the organization that would bring the most experience and the capital to open and bring a great image to the neighborhood,” Scippio said. “I’m looking for a restaurant that appeals to the students and the residents that are near by and in the East Ward, as well as the rest of the community at large.

“I think the one group that brings the most to the table right now in terms of their commitment and in terms of their financial commitment and ability to hit the ground running the day it opens, I think is Mr. Murrell’s Cafe and I would be in favor of that.” 

Shortly after the meeting, James Perry, CEO of the Winston-Salem Urban League, voiced his displeasure with Scippio on Facebook. Perry wrote, “I was pretty disappointed to learn that Council woman Annette Scippio supported a random guy from Atlanta to operate a Union Station restaurant over local businesses and organizations like Simply Soul, Winston-Salem Urban League, Zesto’s and Providence Kitchen.” In a separate post, Perry also noted that Eats Urban’s proposal is the only one that includes workforce development and that Scippio never mentioned that she had issues with their proposal.  

In response to Perry’s post, Scippio said her choice was based on who she believes has the best expertise and financial stability. “My choice is based on who I believe has the best expertise, the best financial stability, and the desire to be exceptional,” Scippio wrote on Perry’s Facebook post. 

“I have not deceived you nor have I given a preferential treatment to either entity. I do not base my decisions on friendship but I seek fairness for all.”

The Finance Committee, which meets the second Monday of the month, is expected to discuss the proposals for Union Station again next month. Copies of each proposal are available on the City of Winston-Salem’s website.

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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