While the initial restaurant operation at Northland Central got off to a rocky start, it looks as if there is finally a new operator in place that is ready and prepared to run with a culinary concept at the site. Earlier today, Mayor Byron W. Brown announced that The Buffalo Urban Development Corporation (BUDC) Board of Directors has officially named the Manna Culinary Group as the new restaurant operator at 683 Northland Avenue (part of the $44 million Northland Workforce Training Center). This time around, the team of Tina Grant-Holt, Dale Holt, and Reginald Ingram, has a combined 80 years of local experience in food service, catering, and culinary education.
“Our goal was to select a restaurant operator for Northland with demonstrated culinary, managerial, financial, and customer service skills, along with an understanding and commitment to the Northland neighborhood and Buffalo’s East Side, which will be successful on Day One, and for the long-run. After an extensive vetting process, we found what we were looking for in the Manna Culinary Group,” Mayor Brown said.
Initially, Gigi’s Northland Restaurant came out of the gate, not running, but crawling. It was immediately determined that the concept had been chosen due to the Gigi’s celebrated restaurant name, not its fortitude, ability, and moxy. Thus, the soul food culinary concept was not able to pull through, leaving Northland Central without a restaurant. Obviously, the Gigi’s model was not vetted fully, which is why this second time around it’s important to get it right. Actually, the first time around it was important to get it right, but that’s neither here nor there at this point.
This new culinary group in place consists of:
- Tina Grant-Holt is a veteran educator at Buffalo Public Schools Emerson School of Hospitality, a culinary arts program which draws a majority of its students from Buffalo’s East Side. Grant-Holt will serve as Manna @ Northland’s President and CEO.
- Her husband, Dale Holt, a chef with more than 30 years of food industry experience, including 25 years operating the successful catering firm, Holt’s Cooking Co. and a flair for Creole cuisine, will be in charge of daily operations.
- Reginald Ingram, a chef who catered his a wedding reception for 150 guests at age 17, has operated the highly-regarded Ingram Brothers Catering for the past 30-plus years, will oversee kitchen operations and catering.
The Manna trio was voted upon unanimously by the BUDC Board. Not wanting to see any slip-ups, a large group of people participated in vetting the new operators, by participating in taste testing meals, on-site food prep drills, and other preparatory means. Those participating in this rigid assessment endeavor, including a multi-step interview and evaluation process, included BUDC board members and staff, staff from Empire State Development Corporation, the Beverly Gray Business Center, Erie County Industrial Development Agency, City of Buffalo, and Northland Stakeholders Group.
As for the food, Manna’s fast and affordable meals will borrow names from The Bible. The “Breaking The Fast” menu includes the “Jacob’s Ladder” pancake stack, and the “Noah’s Ark” is a pair of eggs with one meat item. The lunch menu features the “Adam and Eve Special”, which pairs items such as soups and salads.
The restaurant’s ‘Last Supper for Today’ menu will offer ‘Two Fishes and Five Loaves’, which includes two kinds of fish and five toast points. ‘Heavenly Sides’ range from house-cut fries and corn bread, to mac ‘n cheese and biscuits.
“We are thrilled to welcome Manna @ Northland to Northland Central. We believe that the Manna team’s culinary experience, focus on customer service, and creative menu items will make this restaurant a staple within the Northland Beltline Corridor and City-wide,” said BUDC President Peter Cammarata.
The Manna group was whittled down from ten applicants that responded to the Request for Proposals (RFPs). The candidates were based on their experience, proposal and menu, financial capacity and staffing plans. Ultimately, two finalists were judged (via on-site operational stress and taste tests) by an 11-member panel, before further and final vetting occurred. By the time the final Manna group was chosen, it was determined that they would be well prepared to handle the 70-seat restaurant (with additional patio seating in warmer months) that has sweeping customer sightlines into the open kitchen.
When Manna hits the ground running on November 4, 2019, it will employ 12 staffers. The restaurant concept will feature eat-in and grab-and-go breakfast and lunch service – available from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Fridays. Down the road, the plan is to offer dinner service on Thursday and Friday evenings, and a Sunday brunch. At some point, there is also a plan to offer Saturday community cooking classes that will teach families that are on budgets how to prepare healthy family meals.
Lead image photo Joe Cascio