By Mary Spicer

Meadville Tribune

With February sales up 12 percent over January’s numbers and warmer weather on the way, John Clendenin, president of Meadville Market Authority, is optimistic that The Market Grille restaurant, now in its 10th month, will start showing a profit in March.

This isn’t an easy time to be in the restaurant business, Clendenin said Friday during the authority’s monthly meeting. In fact, he explained, the Sysco Corporation, one of the restaurant’s main suppliers, will soon close its Jamestown distribution center and serve customers in this area through its Pittsburgh facility.

Authority member Don Clawson, however, didn’t agree, noting that area restaurants appear to be booming. “I think we’re talking ourselves into a negative economy,” he said.

Authority members agreed that this would be a good time to have a professional look taken at the operation of the restaurant, which occupies the west end of the Market House. Clendenin said he would investigate the possibilities.

The sales floor of the Market House is also enjoying an upswing in sales, Market Master Alice Sjolander said, presenting figures for cashier sales indicating sales in January were up more than 10 percent over January 2008 and February sales were up by more than 30 percent over same month in the previous year. Both January and February cashier sales more than doubled sales recorded during the same months in 2004.

A portion of the money used to pay the building’s operating expenses is generated by charging each vendor a percentage of sales.

With greater emphasis being placed on foods — especially gourmet, organic and local offerings — Sjolander is confident the turnaround will continue. “A lot of people going to Wegmans and the Whole Foods Cooperative (in Erie) are staying home to shop,” she said.

Authority members gave a thumbs up to a new hot pepper sauce — the first item bearing a distinctive Market House label — that was introduced earlier in the week.

Although Sjolander’s long-term vision for the Market House label has it focusing on foods grown and processed locally, she launched the label in conjunction with a small, trendy manufacturer in Delaware familiar with the intricacies of distributing edibles under a custom label.

Several authority members expressed optimism about the income-generating possibilities of both retail and wholesale sales of future products in the Market House line. When Richard Burkholder wanted to know if she’d placed a second order for the pepper sauce yet, “Probably next week,” Sjolander said.

“Thank you for keeping our head above water,” Clendenin said.



Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at mspicer@meadvilletribune.com.

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