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Around the Corner Cafe essay contest ends with no winner

Post by Sue Kidd / The News Tribune on Dec. 23, 2008 at 3:29 pm | No Comments »
December 23, 2008 3:29 pm

Earlier this year, Kim Farnes and Carl Scanson, the husband and wife owners of Orting’s Around the Corner Café, hatched an essay contest to give away their café. They intended to hand over their business to someone else in order to spend more time with their daughter Kirsty, who will leave home soon and join the Air Force.

The idea was pretty novel: Those interested in winning the restaurant would send a $100 entry fee and write an essay about why they wanted to assume the café that Farnes and Scanson have operated for four years. The couple hoped to get more than 4,000 entries. They intended to use the money to pay off the loan on the building that houses their café, and also would offer the new restaurant operator six months free rent and a bargain on a lease to continue operating the business after that. (click the Read More button to see the story we ran in June about the contest.)

But, it just didn’t work out.

"We didn’t even get close. We got seven entries," said Farnes. "Had we done this last year, it would have been totally different," Farnes said. "People are too sketchy right now about taking on a business."

They closed the contest Dec. 1 and returned the $700 the contest entrants had sent. But Farnes didn’t want that to be the last of it.

"People put their hearts into it," she said. "You feel like you get to know them. They stopped by the café to say hi and to see how it’s going. We didn’t want to say here’s your money back and goodbye."

So she offered the seven contestants a chance to be chef for a day at the cafe. Of the seven contestants, one so far has agreed to come and chef – David Pettit. He’ll prepare Southwest Stew and ribs and other family dishes at the restaurant from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 31.

David Pettit, with wife Renee, formerly ran Kopelli’s Kitchen in Spanaway.

Farnes said she was touched by Pettit’s essay. "David said in his essay that he always knew he was supposed to work around and with food, as he was the child that ran in from playing to watch the Galloping Gourmet and Julia Child.” He works in construction now and with declining business, he thought that running a café again would be a good move to see him through retirement.

Farnes and Scanson will donate 5 percent of the day’s gross sales to the charity of Pettit’s choice. He chose the Orting Food Bank and the boy scout troop to which the Pettit’s son belongs.

With the contest officially over and no new owner in sight, are Farnes and Scanson still planning on leaving their business? Or selling it?

"We thought about it. Right now we’re not sure what we’re going to do," she said. At least through the holidays, they’re not going to make any decisions.

Chef for a day: David Pettit

When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 31

Where: Around The Corner Café

Address: 301 Harman Way S., Orting; 360-893-1934;

Here’s the story we ran in June about the contest:

By Ed Murrieta

The News Tribune

Kim and Carl Scanson, the owners of Orting’s Around the Corner Café, faced reality: Their 17-year-old daughter, Kirsty, will enter the Air Force next year, and time is precious.

So Kim cooked up a plan to devote more time to family: a contest that will award the winner the keys to their restaurant, bargain rent, a built-in community of customers and a starring shot on a reality-television pilot.

“We want somebody that’s as passionate as we are but who might not normally have another opportunity to outright buy their own restaurant,” said Kim, 37, who bought the restaurant with her husband 3 1/2 years ago.

“We want to make sure that we don’t just sell it to anybody and have it go bad,” said Carl, 44. “We want to make sure that whoever comes in is successful and able to do a lot for the community.”

From now until Oct. 3, Around the Corner Café is accepting essays from people who want to take over the 75-seat restaurant and its place in the tightknit city of 5,000 residents. Essays may be submitted online, in written form or as a video, along with a $100 entry fee.

The Scansons hope 4,828 people want to vie for their restaurant. They said they need that many entries in order to raise $480,280 – an amount of money that will enable the Scansons to pay off the loan on their 100-year-old building and offer the incoming restaurant operator six months free rent followed by a five-year lease below market rate. The entry fee money will be held in trust.

“Want to pay off everything so the winner is able to take over without making payments,” Carl said.

If they don’t receive 4,828 entries, the Scansons said, they reserve the right to cancel the contest. If they get the required entries, or even if they come real close, they said, a team of judges – including Orting’s mayor, the Chamber of Commerce president and other community leaders – will pick five finalists. Finalists will be invited for weeklong tryouts – three days of training with the Scansons and four days of running the cafe themselves, from ordering to cooking to paying bills and processing payroll.

Around the Corner’s customers will help pick a winner.

A Portland production company will tape a television pilot that it hopes to sell to the likes of Food Network. Commercials promoting the contest are set to run on Comcast cable in Washington. The Scansons said they hope the commercials will run in Oregon, Idaho and Northern California.

Kim said successful applicants will answer these questions correctly:

&bull What skills do you have to be a successful restaurant owner?

&bull How are you going to ensure that the restaurant is a good place to eat and work?

&bull How are you going to give back to the community?

&bull Why do you want this opportunity?

“It’s really hard work,” said Kim, who works full-time as a social worker for Orting’s Communities and Schools, an after-school program for kids, while her husband works at the cafe “from open to close.” “It’s a good hard, but it’s hard.”

The new owners have will have some shoes to fill. Around the Corner Café won the Better Business Bureau’s 2007 Small Business of the Year award in Western Washington. Its customers are loyal in ways that transcend homemade pies and rib-sticking Hobo Hash.

“Small towns need good community places to meet,” said Dave Harman, the Chamber of Commerce president whose family has lived in Orting for 130 years. Around the Corner, he said, “is the good old hometown cafe where everybody knows your name.”

Even so, Kim, said outsiders are welcome to enter the contest. “Our hope is that if somebody from the outside does really well, then they’ll get to decide if they want to step inside this community,” she said.

She said she got the contest idea while watching Oprah Winfrey’s “Big Give” program, in which the TV host gives away $1 million. “We’re small-business owners,” she said. “Oprah has tons of money. Obviously, we don’t. But we have this, which is a huge gift.”

Whoever wins Around the Corner Café will receive their gift on Thanksgiving Day.

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