By Olivia Young | Athens News
Posted: Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Former School Cafeteria Transformed into Popular Café
Capstone Property Management of Athens bought the former Alexander Elementary School building from the village of Albany for $206,000 last year and quickly sought a restaurant to occupy its commercial kitchen and cafeteria. Foster, who studied culinary arts at Hocking College and Columbus State Community College, submitted one of more than 100 proposals.
Her plan to transform the school cafeteria into a country café with a fresh, made-from-scratch menu set her idea above the rest. After three months of renovations, the Alexander Elementary cafeteria opened last Monday. Within just three hours of the Schoolhouse Café’s grand opening Friday, more than 300 people passed through for Foster’s home-style, comfort food.
“I’ve never run out of food in my life,” Foster said. “There were 30 people lined up at the door, and I had to tell them that I didn’t have any more food. But they clapped for me. … They’ve been waiting for this.” With one grab-and-go, Deputy’s Pizza Parlor, on the main drag, Albany hasn’t had a sit-down restaurant scene in recent years.
“People really wanted a nice place to sit down, eat and talk to their neighbors,” said Tim Kirkendall, mayor of Albany. Foster said after just one week in business, she already has regulars coming in sometimes twice a day.
“It’s definitely different than the fine dining I’m used to, where you’ll find lots of boxes and bags (of food) being opened,” she said. But no prepackaged food is needed for Foster’s menu. She plans to grow a garden in the back of the former school and plans to use it to employ nearby Alexander High School students.
After serving as Hocking College’s sales and catering director and working in restaurants from Westerville to Springfield, Foster dropped her top-scale culinary career and now commutes an hour to and from the café everyday. “We dropped our 401ks and that’s a crazy thing to do right now,” she said, speaking for the company’s seven employees.
The café also offers catering services and has already booked three events.
A number of other businesses, such as Sound Health clinic and Stages Early Learning Center, are sharing Center Albany by setting up shop in former classrooms. Bob Prebe, manager of Capstone Properties, said he hopes the center will be a hub for home-based businesses that have been hiding in the rural village.
“(Albany) has a nice little downtown area. There are people doing business at home that you might never know about,” Prebe said. “There is a ton of business going on, it’s just not very centralized.” But with the growing rate of foot traffic through Center Albany, those small town companies might soon be calling the former school building home.
“Most of these old schools have windows busted out and eventually, they just fall down,” Kirkendall said. “But now, the possibilities (for Center Albany) are endless.”