Bryan Voltaggio battled for culinary glory on the Bravo network’s highly rated show Top Chef. He weathered bizarre food challenges, Padma’s wicked stares, Tom Colicchio’s eye rolling. He cooked for some of the best culinary geniuses in our country to ultimately come out second (he lost to his equally talented brother).
But Bryan’s quiet confidence and visionary talent won the chef a certain degree of fame, respect and thousands of new customers who have flocked to his Frederick, Maryland restaurant Volt. Capitalizing on this new found fame, Voltaggio announced plans to expand and developed a plan for a combination restaurant and market slated to open this year in downtown Frederick.
But the ambitions market/restaurant project is now on hold because the city has socked Voltaggio with a knee buckling $200K bill for sewage and water fees. It's a fee that Voltaggio and his parners simply won't pay and it's derailed the whole project.
So, let’s just get this right: Voltaggio is helping the city of Frederick. He’s bringing in jobs, updating an old building, opening a much talked about culinary mecca to which foodies won’t bat an eye to travel great distance. The North Market Kitchen won’t just help the city’s tax base, provide jobs and improvements, it will help other businesses within Frederick, as these new foodie visitors rent a room for the night, try other local restaurants, and shop.
In short, Frederick should be rejoicing, handing Volaggio a key to the city. At the very least, they should be making it easy for him to finish the project. Yet, Frederick’s idea of a thank you note is to send Voltaggio and his business partners a bill for almost a quarter-million dollars (the city charged them $90K when they opened Volt) in water and sewage fees. The Washington Post reported on the situation and interviewed Voltaggio’s partner and Volt co-owner Hilda Staples who said they might just throw in the towel. Who can blame them?
“I’d rather cut my losses now than get into a project where I’m paying $200,000 to the city for nothing,” says Staples. “That money that we gave to the city when opened Volt just hurt us so badly, that I was like, ‘It’s never happening to me again.’ It was painful.”
There may be a chance for the city to salvage the North Market project in downtown Frederick, but Staples says Mayor Randy McClement and the Board of Aldermen would need to move quickly to solve the issues. In a letter that the Frederick director of economic development sent to Staples — and she forwarded to All We Can Eat — the city noted “the Mayor’s office and Department of Economic Development are considering legislation to allow for impact fees to be paid over time through a payment plan and an incentive for infill and revitalization projects like this one.” The city is also looking to rewrite its code for sewer and water impact fees.
But those moves could be three to six months into the future, a timeframe that doesn’t work for the North Market team. The problem, Staples says, is that investors have already forked over $1 million, which has just been sitting idly in the bank.
“They’re like, ‘Hey Hilda, you’ve had our money for no interest for a year,’” she says. “‘What are you doing? Either build the restaurant or give us our money back.’”
“I can’t sit on people’s money,” she adds, “and I already have. It’s already been like almost a year.”
One simply has to marvel at the absurdity of these city officials who are so wedded to their regulations, fees, and meaningless rules that they literally drive business out of the city. Cities all over the country are broke and people are desperate for jobs. Bryan Voltaggio is considered one of the Washington area’s best chefs but more importantly he’s a job creator. Let’s hope he can pull off a win against this regulatory challenge he’s been handed by dolts in Frederick.