The Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce awarded a three year contract to operate a restaurant at the Farmer's Market on the downtown fairgrounds in 2014 to Baha, LLC. The Farmer's Table restaurant is operated by the daughter of Jackson Ward 7 Councilwoman Margaret Barrett-Simon. The Farmer's Table is in Ms. Barrett-Simon's ward.
The Clarion-Ledger tried to determine whether MDAC earns a profit from the Mississippi State Fair. It quickly became very clear that MDAC had no way to determine how much money it gained or lost from events or facilities. JJ obtained from MDAC a copy of the current lease of the Farmer's Table at the fairgrounds, a schedule of payments, and the request for proposals (RFP) through a public records request that was submitted a year ago. The records were forgotten until the newspaper published the story earlier this week (Hey, it happens.). The records became relevant again given the nature of the Clarion-Ledger story.
Gary Clark operated the restaurant until 2014 and paid rent of $1,000 per month. The department issued a RFP in 2014 to provide food service at the building. However, the RFP did not state a monthly rent but instead required interested parties to state what share of the gross sales would be remitted to the department. The monthly payment would thus change a fixed amount of rent to a payment that would rise and fall each month with the sales.
MDAC awarded the contract to Baha, LLC. The company does business as Uncorked Catering and The Farmer's Table. It is owned by Danielle Beard and Kathryn Barrett. Ms. Barrett is the daughter of Councilwoman Margaret Barrett-Simon. The contract expires in August 2017 but it can be extended twice for one year terms.
The contract states that Baja will pay 25% of food sales at the restaurant (less sales taxes) and 14% of catering revenue to the department. Baja must operate the restaurant six days per week from 7:00 AM to 2:00 PM although the department can approve a request to change the operating hours. Baha has to provide audited financial statements to MDAC within 210 days after the beginning of a new year. The department can reject the audit and perform its own audit as well.
JJ obtained through a public records request the payments from Baha from the beginning of the contract in June 2014 to October 2015 (when the public records request was filed.). Baha paid monthly payments that were less than the $1,000 per month received under the old contract but paid more than $1,000 per month seven times as well. Baha actually doubled the old rental payment at least twice. Baha paid $16,550 in gross sales commissions to MDAC in 15 months for an average monthly payment of $1,103.
Check out the Farmer's Table daily menu.