Chris Kaplan, proprietor of Mawker Coffee, has been in Shed No. 2 at Dallas Farmers Market for 11 years -- in other words, long before that $3-million redo. He was there when it was unbearably cold and insufferably hot -- when it was known as "The Freeze and Fry Building," as Kaplan puts it. And he remained open during the renovations a few years back, when, amidst the furniture peddlers and jewelry dealers, he was among the few vendors in Shed No. 2 to actually sell something you could consume.
But on Sunday his relationship with the Dallas Farmers Market came to an end: On July 23, Dallas Farmers Market administrator Janel Leatherman sent Kaplan a note telling him that because there's been "a lack of progress toward the build-out" of his space in Shed No. 2, he "must vacate" the premises by August 1. Which is when Kaplan packed up and left.
In recent months, Shed No. 2 has begun filling up with vendors and restaurants, many of whom have spent small fortunes on build-outs, among them Natsumi, La Popular Tamale House, the Old World Sausage deli, Pecan Lodge and other non-food-related vendors. But Kaplan refused -- in part, he says, because he could find no banks willing to lend him money without a firm lease agreement from the city. And, as we've noted before, Dallas Farmers Market doesn't offer lease agreements but, instead, a dealer permit that says the city can move vendors "for cause" with very little advance warning.
Leatherman sent Unfair Park a brief statement saying Kaplan "surrendered" his space after Kaplan "made a choice not to comply with the requirements of the Dealer Permit." But during an interview she insisted, as she did in April 2009, that the city would only move vendors "if there were some tragedy in the building" or "for other issues," like nonpayment of rent. She points to all the newcomers and says, "They had no problem doing build-outs." She also says Kaplan didn't pay an electrical bill for July.
But Kaplan says "going to the banks to get financing for a build-out, especially when they take a look at that dealer permit, they say it's not a viable option for them because you can be kicked out with a 48-hour notice. You've giving up control of the business operations to the city of Dallas."
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As far as Kaplan's concerned, the new build-outs popping up around him are the products of "risk" and "a leap of faith." And he wishes them well: "If they did not manage themselves well for risk," he says, "they stand to lose a great deal."
Leatherman says she's disappointed to see Mawker go: "He had a fabulous product. I bought his product. It's not an easy situation, but in fairness to the other vendors who did their build-out and have made progress, we have a responsibility."
Kaplan, for now, will sell his coffee at Central Market and look for other takers for his fresh-roasted beans. It'll be hard, he says, not to be at the Dallas Farmers Market every day -- it's been his home-away-from for more than a decade, after all. And he suffered through the worst of times there, only to depart right as businesses begin to take root and the city begins looking for someone to privately operate the place, should Mary Suhm's proposal come to fruition in coming months.
"We're gonna miss the clients," he says. "Period. We really loved the people we were servicing and have built relationships with while we were there. We will stay in contact with them through the e-mails and Web site. But in the same breath, it's easier for us not to be there, because there's physically less work to do to prepare for next day. So we're looking as always. We're sending out samples and talking to representatives and agents. It's a long process -- it's complicated and by no means is it easy."