By Lindsay Castleberry
While foodies in Lexington may have been upset by the news that Healthy Foods Co-op was closing at the end of the month, it appears that they won’t have to wait too long for a replacement.
Amenie Hopkins, formerly the general manager of the market and head chef of the Counter Culture Café located in the back of the store, said she hopes to reopen in as little as three weeks.
She plans to open with a new name, The Blue Phoenix Café.
While Healthy Foods was more focused on being a market, Hopkins said that The Blue Phoenix Café will be almost entirely a restaurant.
Hopkins — who will be the chef and café manager — said she is still seeking a building permit, but the future looks bright for the 1,000-square foot space on West Washington Street. She hopes to be able to start construction as early as next week.
“At this point it’s a matter of the paperwork,” Hopkins said. “Hopefully, even if we open up smaller than we eventually want to be, my goal is just to get the doors open again and the food cooking.”
For now, she plans to keep the Counter Culture Café menu. Around late May, Hopkins said she will begin rolling out new items, reintroduce breakfast, and add a separate dinner menu.
In addition to expanding the café, she also hopes to section off a flexible community space in the store for people to rent by the hour for yoga classes or meetings. To maintain the local business feel, Hopkins said she will reserve the two biggest walls for local art and will regularly feature local acoustic music.
“I really want it to be a community space,” Hopkins said. “It’s not just a restaurant, it’s not just a market. I really want this to be a place where people connect with each other.”
In addition to the cafe, meat and vegetarian pre-prepped options are also in the plans. She is aiming to offer a two-person kit from $20-$25.
What happened to Healthy Foods
Hopkins became general manager of Healthy Foods last April. It started out as just an interim co-manager and then that co-manager partnership broke up.
“I had never wanted the job,” Hopkins said. “I volunteered because they didn’t have anybody else and I was worried about the unknown.”
Mitch Wapner, a member of the co-op’s board said he could see the writing on the wall for Healthy Foods.
“It was time,” he said.
Wapner said in 2004, when the store owed nearly $90,000, he suggested forming a new board in order to pay back who had lent the co-op money.
“At this point we’ve done that,” Wapner said. “I’m feeling accomplished, a sense of satisfaction that we didn’t have in 2004. We’re not sticking this to anyone, we’re doing this honorably.”
Hopkins attributes the demise of Healthy Foods to lack of board oversight, her own lack of experience as a manager, and a rapid shift in the markets that was too much for such a small store.
“Basically it was the trifecta perfect storm,” Hopkins said.
Hopkins said Kroger’s new organic section and affordable house brands—Simple Truth and Simple Truth Organic–had a huge impact as well.
Now, Hopkins says she hopes to position The Blue Phoenix to rival the competitive natural foods industry that has emerged. But one thing that remains in the forefront of everyone’s minds is how things will be managed differently this time.
Hopkins said the new LLC, comprised of just four members, is more manageable than a nine-member board.
Financing the Blue Phoenix
Last month, Hopkins launched a crowd-funding campaign on Indiegogo for The Blue Phoenix with the goal of raising $65,000—which she said would have funded the entire operation for a year including the initial renovations. She needed to raise $13,000 just to keep the doors open.
But after fees, Hopkins said the restaurant pulled in just $4,000, forcing it to seek alternative funding, part of which they found through micro loans. She hopes to launch another campaign to install a second bathroom.
Part of not raising as much through the crowd funding meant that Hopkins couldn’t afford to hire back all the staff. The Blue Phoenix will open with just four employees.