The Cambrian

Centrally Grown sees staff turnover as it continues to evolve

A handwritten sign on the door of Centrally Grown told customers the market was temporarily closed Saturday.
A handwritten sign on the door of Centrally Grown told customers the market was temporarily closed Saturday. ktanner@thetribunenews.com

Centrally Grown’s recent saga of change and some upheaval has continued, with what appears to have coalesced into a substantial, top-down turnover of employees in a fairly short period of time.

There may also be a change in emphasis coming for the sprawling, multimillion-dollar facility at Exotic Gardens Drive, with its drop-dead gorgeous view overlooking the Pacific.

Recent developments have left some in town wondering what the future holds for the business that opened nearly a year ago where The Hamlet at Moonstone Gardens restaurant had been for three decades.

A few local business owners have also said publicly that they’ve stopped recommending Centrally Grown to their customers, at least until the situation out there stabilizes somewhat.

Owner Dave Robertson maintains that such an employee turnover isn’t unusual in restaurants and related hospitality businesses. National Restaurant Association stats at http://bit.ly/1lNLn2q show that average employee turnover in the restaurants-and-accommodations sector in 2013 was 62.3 percent per year.

Robertson said some Centrally Grown employees were let go in a shift of priorities for the restaurant/bar/bakery/market and other retail departments. Other employees were downsized or fired, reducing the staff from a peak of more than 70, although many of those had not been working there full time.

Other employees apparently quit or walked off the job, as happened Saturday, Dec. 12.

Robertson said three days later that he didn’t know exactly how many employees have left their Centrally Grown jobs on their own in what Cambria’s rumor mill is referring to as “the walkout.”

If, for instance, a part-time employee normally worked only on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and hadn’t officially resigned since then, Robertson said, he wouldn’t know for sure if that person had left the job permanently until that employee’s next regularly scheduled shift.

However, enough Centrally Grown employees either left or didn’t show up Saturday that the facility’s downstairs market was closed, with a hand-written sign on the automatic doors. The sign read, “Sorry for the inconvenience, but the market is temporarily closed. We can help you with all your needs upstairs in the bar/restaurant area. Thank you for your patience.”

Robertson said the market area reopened the next day, but as of about 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 15, operations still were not back to what had been normal levels before the management-and-employee shift. For instance, the case that had held bakery items was essentially empty, the row of deli cases held only a few salads in one area, and the blackboard menus behind the cases were blank.

Statement

Josh Gross, Centrally Grown’s director of business development and marketing, sent The Cambrian a statement about the business but didn’t answer directly questions about the number of employees affected in the recent shift.

Robertson said Tuesday, “I know we hired 30 to 40 people in the past several months,” but he didn’t say how many of those were still employed there.

He is not an employee or manager, he said. “I’m there basically as the landlord (and interested shareholder), trying to babysit the operation.”

Gross said more than 100 different people had worked for Centrally Grown in its nearly one year in business, a time in which “we have had multiple phases transition and open on our three-acre property,” including a café, deli, gift shop, bar and restaurant.

“Through the changes we have made in this year, we have not lost sight of the vision … to always be a concept/fluid space” that offered different areas and services to the guests. Gross said Centrally Grown looks forward to having “more guests from around the world, more beautiful weddings, corporate events/dinners, private parties, vacation rentals and much more.”

He said, “We continue to learn and study our consumer traffic, all while making operational adjustments … to increase our efficiency.” Also, “we have executed multiple unique attractions and will continue to be fluid and welcome change until we find a great fit for our guests.”

Future

In the long run, those changes could provide the significant impact to the community from the recent upheaval at Centrally Grown.

Employee Stephanie Rhynning maintains the facility’s grounds and gardens and takes care of the Off the Grid ranch farm on Red Mountain Road. She very recently also began serving at the restaurant.

She said Tuesday that the Centrally Grown/Off the Grid message “always has been helping the community, education, teaching kids how to garden and cook,” but the facility had evolved more into a “restaurant bar” that required a lot of inventory and a lot of employees in comparison to the volume of business.

Rhynning said she believes Centrally Grown’s future includes vendors who will rent space downstairs in which to sell their own products, much as happens at San Francisco’s Ferry Building and Seattle’s Pike Place Market.

Other possibilities include “keeping upstairs intact for parties and culinary classes, like a rented space” and “having it connected with Dave’s ranch, for nature tours and camping experiences, which has been in discussion/development for years.” However, “it would take a while,” because it would require “heavy earth moving and building.”

But Centrally Grown “is a facility with tons of opportunities,” she said. And people in town seem to care a lot about what that future includes.

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