The Need to Feed
The sights, sounds and smells at 617 W. King St. are very
different this week.
The sandwich board with the day’s specials is no longer standing out front, and the windows where people could peer in and see a who’s who of townfolk enjoying a country-cooked meal are now plastered with brown paper.
The aroma of hotdogs and grilled cheese sandwiches on the grill has been replaced by sawdust. Instead of the conversations about Boone’s latest happenings, only the clang of hammers and buzzing of bandsaws can be heard.
After more than 90 years in business, the fountain at Boone Drug Downtown closed up shop on Jan. 1. Boone Drug is maintaining its retail operation at the location, but will soon share the space with a new tenant. FARM Café, a non-profit restaurant with a mission to “Feed All Regardless of Means,” is taking up residence on the fountain side of the building.
Planted nearly two years ago by a group of citizens concerned about meeting the hunger needs in the High Country, the seeds for FARM Café are finally beginning to sprout. The first harvest of is expected in early April, when the restaurant plans to officially open to the public. The locally grown, in-season food will be served buffet-style. Patrons can give a suggested donation or add a little extra to “pay it forward” to other customers. Customers can also volunteer in lieu of paying for their meal.
The transition from idea to storefront is already under way, according to Linda Coutant, spokeswoman for FARM Café. The business is signing a lease with Boone Drug this week, renovations on Boone Drug’s side of the building have begun, and FARM Café intends to start construction on a downstairs wheelchair-accessible bathroom in the next few days.
“The place is kind of looking a bit messy right now, but it’s going to lead to some really great things,” she said.
Over the next several weeks, FARM Café volunteers will clean the fountain and make the necessary adjustments for the new restaurant. Every effort is going to be made to retain the Boone Drug lunch counter and dining area, Coutant said.
“I don’t think any of us want to change it dramatically,” she said. “We like how it’s set up, and we’d like to keep a lot of those features.”
FARM Café is planning to be moved in by the end of February. The remainder of the time prior to the grand opening will be spent training volunteers and hiring a restaurant manager and executive chef. Coutant said the two paid positions will be advertised soon.
Fundraising is also at the top of the to-do list. The $54,000 that FARM Café has in the bank is enough to move forward, Coutant said, but they would like to reach a $75,000 goal before the doors open.
“We still have a little ways to go, but we’re hoping that this spring we can raise the additional funds that are needed, and we’re also looking at some other cost saving opportunities within our business plan,” she said. “We still welcome and need public support.”
FARM Café hopes to meet the benchmark through continued donations and events, Countant said. A “Hungry Hearts” fundraiser, where 8-inch wooden hearts painted by local artisans will be auctioned off, has been planned for Feb. 11 at a yet-to-be-determined location.
Countant said the FARM Café board of directors is confident the restaurant will be able to open on time and with sufficient funds.
“We feel pretty confident at this point,” she said. “We know what steps need be taken next. We’re on target, and we’re excited.”
The closure of the Boone Drug soda fountain has been bittersweet for many Boone residents who have frequented the location for decades, or even a lifetime, for a slice of small town community.
While the decision by Boone Drug ownership to cease the restaurant operation was met with sadness, the response to an impending relationship with FARM Café has been positive.
“In many ways, people are able to separate in large degree the closing of Boone Drug and the coming of FARM Café,” Coutant said. “One’s not happening because of the other. Boone Drug didn’t close because we’re coming in. Yes, they’re sad because Boone Drug is closing, but there is also a lot of optimism about what is coming.”
Arthur Grimes, a frequent visitor over the last 40 years, called Boone Drug his “landmark.” He is disappointed they are vacating the counter, but he is receptive to the change.
“I will definitely go to the FARM Café,” he said. “I think it’s going to be pretty cool. I volunteered at Boone Drug, and I’ll volunteer at the new place, too.”
When spring arrives, Boone Drug will still be on the window, but FARM Café will have its place, as well. The food, the way it is served and paid for, and overall look of the place will be altered, but 617 W. King St. is likely to return to its “town meeting place” status. In a few months, the sandwich board will be back out front, and the smell of delicious food will return to the air, as will the latest news and town gossip. Grimes and others will find their way back to their spots at the lunch counter and will continue their conversations with a new crop of people interested in their own meal and that of others.
For more information about FARM Café, visit http://www.farmcafe.org or email email@example.com.