The Roanoke Times | File photo.
Today (Friday, June 14) will be the last day Norah’s Cafe at the Taubman Museum of Art in downtown Roanoke will operate under its current management company, Quest Management LLC. According to Kathryn Garvin, the museum’s chief operating officer, Norah’s will be closed for a couple of weeks for cleaning and will hopefully reopen in early July.
When it reopens, it will be under new management. The new company has not been publicly identified by the Taubman because the two entities are still in contract negotiations, Garvin said, but the change came about after a request for proposals was issued about the end of March.
Garvin said several local companies, including the current management company, sent in proposals for the future operations of Norah’s Cafe. They were all very different, she said. While Quest’s proposal focused largely on doing more with the cafe, such as expanding its hours of operations, the chosen company suggested a model that more closely resembled those of other successful museum cafes. That includes operating the cafe mainly during museum hours and focusing on attracting customers for catered events at the Taubman.
This is not the first time Norah’s Cafe has undergone a management transition since the museum opened in 2008. In December 2010, the original management company, Pennsylvania-based SMG Food and Beverage LLC, pulled out of its contract with the museum, launching a brief legal battle. The museum sued SMG in order to prevent them from leaving, but the two parties were able to reach a settlement. Under the terms of the settlement, SMG absolved the museum of the remainder of a $125,000 loan debt and allowed the museum to keep the restaurant equipment.
The current chef, Jerome Bonds Jr., has managed the restaurant since February 2011 under his own LLC, Quest Management. Bonds said he was notified about 15 or 20 days ago that his proposal was not accepted, which means he will now be unemployed and searching for a new job.
“They just said they wanted to take the food service in a different direction,” he said.
While the cafe is closed, the ventilation system will be cleaned and any necessary minor repairs will be done, Garvin said. She suspects that since the new management likes to source local ingredients, the cafe menu will probably change on a more regular basis. Otherwise, she said, they plan to keep simple, inexpensive offerings including sandwiches, soups, salads and the like. The new management company will also be in charge of catering Taubman events and will cater events outside the museum, as well.
The museum’s summer concert series, Thursday Night Live, will go on as planned while the cafe management is in transition. I’ll let you know as soon as I learn the identity of the new management company.