Snap! Number of Durhamites receiving food stamps falls; new rule plays a part

The average amount totals only about $30 per week, but for some people, this food stamp benefit is the difference between being fed and going hungry.

Over the past five months, 1,172 fewer people in Durham received food stamps — also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — falling from 44,072 in January to 42,900 in May.

According to N.C. Division of Social Services data, the number of active cases and applications also fell from the first of the year.


Food stamps

(Click chart to enlarge it)

Part of the reason for the decrease is new federal rules governing SNAP recipients, known as able-bodied adults without dependents. These are people ages 18-49 who meet certain criteria: they aren’t disabled, they aren’t chronically homeless and they aren’t substance abusers whose condition prevents them from working. However, for whatever reason — a criminal background, for example — they cannot find a job.

These people would receive food stamps for only three months within three years, unless they volunteer or attend some type of training program an average of 20 hours a week.

This year, 2,700 food stamp recipients in Durham were at risk of losing their benefits, according to Durham County Department of Social Services data.

Durham is one of 23 North Carolina counties that have had to comply with the rules since January. The rules go into effect in the  remaining 77 counties on July 1.

As BCR reported in January when the rules went into effect, the unintended consequences of this policy are far-reaching. For example, if a 40-year-old woman is not working, volunteering or going to school 20 hours a week, but has a 17-year-old child who is on food stamps, then she would still be eligible for them as well. But when the child turns 18, both of them could lose their benefits.

Nationwide, about 1 million people are expected to lose SNAP benefits this year because of the rule, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports.

Here is a grocery list of what $30 could buy at major grocery chains such as Food Lion and Kroger. The prices come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and weekly store flyers:

1 dozen eggs ($1.68)

1 gallon of milk ($3.15)

1 pound Red Delicious apples ($1.42)

2 pounds bananas ($1.14)

1 pound coffee ($4.44)

3 cans beans ($5.10)

3 eight-ounce packages of cheese ($5)

5 yogurt cups ($4)

4 12-ounce bags of frozen vegetables ($1 each/on sale)

Workers didn't know they were to lose governance rights, and other revelations from the Durham co-op meeting

This story was updated at 10:45 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 9, to include comments from Marilyn Scholl, who is with the consultant group CDS.

Disclosure: Until mid-August, I was a co-op member  as part of the INDY's company share. After I left the INDY, I was no longer a member. Since only members could attend last night's meeting, I asked people who were going to take notes. So these accounts are second-hand; if you attended the meeting please chime in with more info and insight.

Durham co-op workers were blindsided by the news that they would lose their shares and seats on the board if a referendum passed stripping them of those rights. In fact, some of them didn't know until last Friday that such a vote was pending. The referendum was canceled after public outcry over the lack of transparency on the measure.

These and other bombshells were dropped at Sunday's annual Durham co-op meeting.  Davis Hodge, grocery manager and three employees told the crowd of more than 100 that, “The entire staff definitely felt blindsided by this referendum.” Employees came to work at DCM with promise of ownership. “We felt like that was something that was owed us, and something that was going to be taken from us unjustly. This feels so ridiculous to me.”

Cris Rivera, finance manager, also spoke to the membership: “We just felt really disrespected. There’s something very different about a worker’s owning the means of production.”

Board chairman Frank Stasio admitted that the board hadn't talked to members or to employees about any of this. “It’s a huge error and I made it,” he said. He added that worker-ownership is a "core value" of the co-op.

How worker-shares came to be written into the articles of incorporation was also a point of contention. Stasio told the membership (and me on Friday) that the bylaws were essentially cut and pasted from those of Weaver Street Market and Chatham Marketplace. Both those co-ops include worker shares and up to two seats on the board of directors.

However, former board member Michael Bacon piped up from the back of the room, disputing that account. He said founders of Durham Co-op looked at both Weaver Street and Chatham Marketplace and made deliberate decision to include worker-owned shares. “This was a very intentional act," he said. "It wasn’t a simple photocopy.”

“Sadly, this is the first time I’m hearing about it," Stasio replied.

CDS, a coop consulting group based in Vermont, advises against worker shares and board seats because it can create a conflict of interest, Stasio said. (Marilyn Scholl of CDS commented on the original story about this issue.)

But worker shares as a separate class also allows employees to participate in profit-sharing, should the co-op turn one. That could help buoy their hourly wages, which start at $9.04. Some workers are up to $9.17. “That’s what most people are making” a worker, Anna, told the membership. She would get health benefits if she worked full-time at the co-op, but can’t afford to because she makes more money as a barista.

Which brings the discussion to finances. Co-ops, like most fledgling businesses, initially lose money. In the first six months, the store lost $87,000, below projections. Actual sales, $2.2 million, are well above projections, $1.3 million. 

But the co-op is still in the red, and paying low wages. General Manager Leila Wolfrum said average hourly wage for full-time employees, including health benefits, is $11.72, "above what I thought I'd get it at this point."

That makes it nearly impossible to reign in turnover, even though Wolfrum said, “We want people to look at this store as a career. We want them to come and stay.” 

“We caused pain," Stasio said at the meeting, "and I beg your forgiveness.”

Continue reading "Workers didn't know they were to lose governance rights, and other revelations from the Durham co-op meeting" »

Under scrutiny, Durham Co-op withdrawing referendum on worker shares, governance

Faced with a public backlash over a change to the Durham Co-op Market articles of incorporation, the stores'  board of directors won't hold a vote on worker governance as planned. The vote, which is open to all co-op members, has been going on for nearly two weeks; it was scheduled to end tomorrow.
As we reported yesterday, members were being asked to vote on whether to strip co-op employees of their governance rights. This includes the ability to buy a separate class of shares, and to elect two people to the 10-member board. However, many members did not fully understand the ramifications of their vote; the board's explanation of the proposed change—that it reflected "best practices" was both vague and potentially misleading.
According to documents we obtained, 11 employees have requested to buy worker shares, which could allow them to receive a share of co-op profits. However, as board president Frank Stasio told us yesterday, the board can elect not to issue shares.
Profit-sharing, though, is important because most of the co-op's rank-and-file workers earn less than a living wage, starting at around $9 an hour. 
This is the email the board sent to members:
"As you probably know, the board of directors of the Durham Coop Market asked you to vote on a proposed amendment to market’s articles of incorporation (AOI). In talking with many of you over the past couple of weeks, we’ve realized that we erred in offering such and important choice with so little time for consideration and discussion. Therefore the board has decided to withdraw the referendum. 

Moving forward we will create opportunities for our owners to hear from experts on all sides of this issue and engage in dialog. This full and robust conversation should make a sound foundation to decide whether you would like to re-consider the issue and put forth another referendum.

Please know that the board acted in good faith. We have very worked hard for many years to make the dream of this market a reality. You have always shown great faith in us. With your help and confidence, we opened the store that is on the path to success.  

We want to boost that success going forward by continuing to work closely with all of you to maintain the strong sense of collaboration and unity that has brought us this far.

Please join us at our Annual Meeting tomorrow (Sunday) at 6 pm at the store. 

The Durham Co-op Market Board of Directors


Res ipsa locavore

Update: Gray Brooks announced on Oct. 9 that the restaurant won't be named "Hattie Mae Williams Called Me Captain" -- see the comments for more detail.

If it's Wednesday, it's DCVB-press-release-on-a-Pizzeria-Toro-project Day around here.

Partners Cara Stacy, Gray Brooks, and Jay Owens, the team behind downtown Durham’s Pizzeria Toro, have announced plans to open a small, dinner-only restaurant at 110 East Parrish St., formerly home to Monuts Donuts. The opening is projected for winter 2016.

“We’ve been a fan of this space since Monuts was operating out of it,” Brooks said. “We’ve always loved the sort of super small neighborhood restaurants that, somewhat ironically, you only ever really seem to find in really large cities. There a sort of intimacy, a grown-up informality, that it’s hard to get in a large space.”

The team is excited about the small scope of the space. “We’re envisioning maybe 30 to 35 seats, mostly reservation, but with a small bar and food counter that we’ll hold for walk ins. Sort of a cross between a neighborhood restaurant and a date restaurant. We’re not even sure if we’ll have a phone; we may just take reservations by email.

The team plans on naming the restaurant “Hattie Mae Williams Called Me Captain”. Brooks explained, “The name comes from an amazing woman who took care of my sisters and me growing up while my mom was at work; basically working for next to nothing during times when my mom couldn’t afford to pay for her. She used to call me Mr. President, until Robert Kennedy was shot. I was two at the time, and she decided that that wasn’t really a safe aspiration to have for me any longer. So she started calling me ‘Captain’ instead.

“She’s the person who taught me how to hit a baseball; she taught me how to collect things. Mostly I think she just taught me how to make a full and rich life out of next to nothing, lessons that I’ve carried with me, and have definitely put into cooking.”

Brooks said they will begin sharing information about the restaurant over the coming months. “Cara says I’m crazy to try to take this on with the Jack Tar taking shape. She’s probably right.”

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 7.31.37 AM

"Bargain Furniture" building to get a Pit below, Underground above?

309-e-chapel-hill In one of the opening scenes of the dreadful, horrendous, abysmal, and also badly-acted film "Main Street" -- there's a reason, friends, you haven't seen this straight-to-DVD movie in theaters anywhere -- Amber Tamblyn's character drives her late-80s beater car up in front of the Bargain Furniture building downtown, checking her voicemail.

(If I were Tamblyn, I'd be waiting to hear a message from my agent, apologizing for booking me in a piece-of-crap film.)

The shuttered furniture store makes a perfect backdrop for Main Street's message of Southern discomfort, of old money gone broke and new money gone toxic; it's a symbol of desertion and loss and emptiness.

But no longer, it seems. There's activity downstairs and possibly up for the building, long controlled by Raleigh entrepreneur Greg Hatem and Durham architect and developer John Warasila.

In an ironic turnabout, the American Underground -- the incubator space that's nicely humanized a pit of a basement in the Strickland and Crowe buildings at Am'bacco -- may be expanding to the upper floors of 309 E. Chapel Hill St., while an a Durham location of the Raleigh barbecue restaurant called The Pit may be opening up on the ground floor.

Continue reading ""Bargain Furniture" building to get a Pit below, Underground above?" »

Daisy Cakes signs lease on permanent home at 401A Foster St.

Durham's Daisy Cakes -- the popular food truck (well, food Airstream) eatery -- has found a home downtown for a brick-and-mortar expansion of its mobile cupcakes biz.

It's not the first Durham food truck to go wheel-free; that honor belongs to Only Burger. It's not the first downtown bakery to bloom from an irregular-hours Durham Central Park niche; that'd be Phoebe Lawless' awesome Scratch Bakery. And it's not the first "cupcake bar" announced for downtown Durham -- that'd be The Cupcake Bar from Durhamite and former Greenfire staffer Anna Branly and her sister, pegged for Scott Harmon's Five Points revamping.

Daisycakes But that doesn't make it any sweeter to learn that Daisy Cakes has formally signed a lease for space in 401A Foster Street, the industrial building rehabbed by Scientific Properties that's also home to Piedmont, Urban Durham Realty and the Bull City Arts Collaborative.

BCR's learned that the Foster St. space will be the home for Daisy Cakes, which put out a Kickstarter project last year looking to raise $20,000 in pledges towards a brick and mortar location. (The news, received from a source on Saturday, was confirmed in a tweet by the DaisyCakes folks that day.)

And the choice of locales shouldn't be a surprise, given that a Central Park-area location has been the goal for the small business' owners since they launched a fundraising campaign towards a permanent locale.

Continue reading "Daisy Cakes signs lease on permanent home at 401A Foster St." »

Bigger and better? Expanded CenterFest to feature broader spectrum of attractions, powered by wide-ranging gamut of ambitions

The state’s oldest arts festival will take a hiatus this year in order to reinvent itself. 

The 38th annual CenterFest Arts Festival will be held not in September (as the event Website still erroneously states) but in 2012, officials with the Durham Arts Council and partner organizations announced this morning. 

“We want to reshape it and grow it into something even more exciting that reflects the tremendous creativity going on in Durham today,” Sherry DeVries, the executive director of the council, said at the announcement. 

So what does that mean in practical terms? The expanded event will feature an enlarged name — tentatively, CenterFest: Festival of Arts, Music, Food and Creativity. That reflects what should be a broader palette of attractions. 

“Edible arts” will be among the added features, showcasing the city’s foodie culture as well as local brews and beer gardens and in-state wineries. Organizers also want to add hands-on features such as arts and fine craft demonstrations; more entertainment stages and venues; a Saturday-night “music party”; and “showcases for design, gaming and technology arts.” 

“There’s so many cool, creative things happening in Durham right now,” DeVries said. “We want to incorporate as many of those things as we possibly can in this process.” 

Continue reading "Bigger and better? Expanded CenterFest to feature broader spectrum of attractions, powered by wide-ranging gamut of ambitions" »

Eat, drink and be bullish: Downtown food scene expansion continues

Downtown Durham is continuing to add its menu of culinary offerings. The expansion is bringing full-fledged restaurants as well as other types of establishments. 

The latest addition to the downtown food scene arrived earlier this month at 405 E. Chapel Hill St. That’s the home of Reliable Cheese, a new fromagerie aimed at lovers of pressed milk curds. 

As owner Patrick Coleff, 34, was getting the store in order before its debut, he talked for a few minutes about his background. The Cleveland native originally had a day job in legal publishing and a night job as a line cook. “I loved what I was doing in the evening, hated with was doing in the day,” he said. 

Coleff decided to become a cheesemonger, which work he pursued for four years in New York City. He and his wife moved to Durham in 2009. 

The shop will stock a relatively small number of products — some 50 varieties of small-producer American and European cheeses, 20 different meats, 20 different wines (selected with assistance from the Wine Authorities) and 20 different beers, including at least one line of locally brewed beverages. 

Coleff, who will be hiring a part-time staffer, is making sandwiches at his shop. “I love deli sandwiches,” he said. “No one around here’s doing them.” 

And customers will be able to take advantage of his dairy expertise. Coleff is excited about exposing Durhamites to a number of new and exotic tastes. “I know a lot about cheese so they don’t have to,” he quipped. 

The shop will provide samples, sells cheese plates and will cut cheese to order. It has opened to at least one positive early notice from the Carpe Durham blog.  

Continue reading "Eat, drink and be bullish: Downtown food scene expansion continues" »

Burt’s Bees work today to further Bull City urban farms

A local personal hygiene product maker is donating a day of service in an effort that could boost Durham’s urban farming movement. 

Nearly 400 locally based Burt’s Bees employees are scheduled to work today at three sites controlled by the local nonprofit NEEM. The group’s founder and director, Jeff Ensminger, called the donation of labor “one of the coolest things I’ve seen a company do.” 

The activity will be taking place at NEEM’s headquarters, Rolls Garden, at 2001 Chapel Hill Road; on a 0.9-acre parcel at 1000 Hazel St.; and on an 8.3-acre parcel at 1500 Wabash St. Workers will build a greenhouse, paint a building, put in raised beds and do other work at the different sites. 

All three sites will be used to grow food. The location Ensminger calls Organoponico Hazel, using a Cuban term for urban farm, will be developed to sell produce. NEEM’s head hopes proceeds from that endeavor will enable him to hire local residents to cultivate the plots.

The other new NEEM location, Organoponico Wabash, will be developed as an agricultural research station in conjunction with North Carolina Central University, which the property is near. 

Beth Ritter is Burt’s Bees’ senior vice president of human resources. 

“We like what it’s about, that it’s about bringing to more folks in Durham,” she said. “And maybe into some neighborhoods that might not normally have access to this.” 

Continue reading "Burt’s Bees work today to further Bull City urban farms" »

Getting ready for the Roxy: Proprietor aims to bring Chicago glam to Brightleaf

Author’s note: This article was updated about five hours after it was first posted to provide the correct last name for Bobbi Kirkpatrick, the Satisfaction assistant general manager who is to be the Roxy’s general manager. Please see this comment for further details. 


The owner of Satisfaction is working to convert a nearby bar known for its blue-collar vibe into a club for young professionals. 

Staton Ellis, who bought Satisfaction seven years ago, recently signed a lease for the old Down Under Pub space at 802 W. Main St. He plans to open his new venture next month as soon as redecorating is complete and his alcohol sales permit is secured. 

The establishment will be a nonsmoking private club known as the Roxy. Ellis envisions a quiet lounge for young professionals to enjoy conversation, craft beers and a unique selection of fine wines. 

Because the building’s kitchen area is so small and Ellis wants to wipe away most traces of the Down Under, the only food he intends to offer at the Roxy will be prepared across the street in Satisfaction’s kitchen. Staff will deliver orders to Roxy patrons. 

“I’m real excited about it,” Ellis said. “I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. I think we’re going to offer a good product to people. This is a totally new type of venture for me — no food; I’m a restaurant guy first and foremost. These are uncharted waters for me, but I think we’ll figure it out as we go along.” 

The decor should call to mind a plush 1920s hangout for Chicago gangsters, Ellis said. He plans to institute at least a minimal dress code -- intended, it sounds, to create a professionals-only environment that would be significantly more 'exclusive' than the Roxy's predecessor. 

Continue reading "Getting ready for the Roxy: Proprietor aims to bring Chicago glam to Brightleaf" »