Aiming to taste success Market: More than 30 vendors are expected to occupy the remodeled Avenue Market in West Baltimore when it opens this fall.

August 15, 1996|By Kaana Smith | Kaana Smith,SUN STAFF

Natalie Duncan's buffet of spicy Caribbean food might have sealed the deal with developers for a stall in the refurbished Lafayette Market in West Baltimore.

Yesterday, Duncan provided nearly 12 dishes, including meat pies and shark in tomato sauce, for sampling by executives and staff of Metroventures/USA Inc. in Columbia, the developer.

While the shark dish gave company officials pause, they rapidly consumed most of the offerings.

"This is really good," said Suzanne Graham, senior project manager for Metroventures, after tasting a piece of jerk chicken.

Duncan, a native of Trinidad, is to be among the 35 vendors in the market, which is to reopen in late fall as the Avenue Market.

The remodeled public market at 1700 Pennsylvania Ave. is to become an Afro-centric bazaar, featuring produce, sit-down restaurants, carryouts and a performance area.

"We're looking at the experience of the operator, uniqueness of the product, financial status and, more importantly, the desire to be in the market because it is a new project," said Zed Smith, senior property manager for Metro-ventures.

The 70-year-old Lafayette Market closed last September in preparation for the redevelopment. Its new board of directors includes residents from surrounding communities, including Upton, Druid Heights, Penn-North and Harlem Park.

The Avenue Market also is to have improved security, lighting and a more aggressive marketing and promotional plan for its vendors once it opens Nov. 21. Finding vendors who would appeal to the ethnic makeup of the neighborhood is crucial, Metroventures officials said. About 18 vendors already are under contract with the developer.

Graham said Duncan's proposal has been approved, but no pact has been signed.

The search since March for qualified ethnic food vendors has had company representatives combing the streets of Baltimore. They came upon Duncan a few weeks ago.

A bookkeeper for the past 12 years, Duncan drew on savings and obtained loans to help finance her future business, Sunny Island Kitchen.

When the 20,000-square-foot Avenue Market reopens, it will have a mix of returning tenants and new ones, officials said.

The market will offer a balance of fresh and prepared foods and a variety of service shops such as shoe repair, beauty salons and a minibank or automated teller machines.

The 15-month project that began last August will cost an estimated $4 million. With the November deadline approaching, organizers say the project is within budget and progressing on time.

Pub Date: 8/15/96

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