ON THE AVENUES: Necessity was the mother of NARBA, a food and drink invention in need of re-animation.


ON THE AVENUES: Necessity was the mother of NARBA, a food and drink invention in need of re-animation.
A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

I’m a big fan of teachable moments.

A teachable moment is an unplanned opportunity that arises in the classroom where a teacher has an ideal chance to offer insight to his or her students. 

Three years ago, when the downtown New Albany food and dining scene seemed poised for something approximating critical mass (which we may or may not have reached since), a few restaurant owners and operators got together to form the rudiments of an organization. We decided to call it the New Albany Restaurant & Bar Association, or NARBA.

A core group has been working toward getting this idea up and running, and we’ve made enough progress on legalities to begin convening the wider food service and drinks community to discuss the way forward.

The working definition for membership is as follows (from the by-laws):

Article III
§1 NARBA membership shall be limited to businesses operating within the city limits of New Albany, Indiana, as defined by these bylaws.

§2 A business is eligible for NARBA membership if all of the following conditions are met: (a) The business is licensed and in possession of all permits required by local, state and Federal government; (b) The business meets the standard of definition of “independent” as defined by the American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA): (I) Private, worker, community or cooperative ownership. (II) At least 50% locally-owned. (III) Decision-making authority is vested in the local owners and not subject to conditions dictated remotely. (IV) The business has a limited number of outlets, which are limited to a 150 mile radius.

§3 The Board of Directors may authorize formation of ancillary groups of individuals or businesses that support NARBA’s ideals. Participants in such programs may enjoy benefits as the Board deems appropriate, but shall not vote.

§4 A qualified business may seek membership at any time.

The preceding may have been tweaked a bit during the months to follow, but you get the basic idea — and for reasons I’m about to explain, we never got around to formalizing the non-profit, anyway.

The accompanying press release had more to say about our reasoning at the time.

The idea for the New Albany Restaurant & Bar Association (NARBA) has been discussed for a few years by local restaurateurs in downtown New Albany. The food and beverage business has been a vital part of the growth of downtown New Albany’s revitalization, and the need for this organization and for a common voice among its members has become more important.

In 2014, local businesses participating in beverage catering for the Boomtown Ball concert agreed to devote a portion of the proceeds to fund the non-profit’s startup, thus The New Albany Restaurant & Bar Association was formed as a corporation with the State of Indiana in early 2015. We now are pursuing federal government approval as a 501(c)6, business/professional league.

The New Albany Restaurant & Bar Association (NARBA) is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit trade organization serving the independent restaurant, bar and on-premise food and drink industry in New Albany, Indiana. NARBA serves as the unified voice of its members on government and public relations issues. It also provides programs that offer educational and operational benefits for members. NARBA represents New Albany’s best known and most vibrant local independent business segment, and is dedicated to the advancement and preservation of New Albany as an urban community.

NARBA will also organize and hosts annual fundraising events in order to give back to the community that has so generously supported its members.

Ultimately, the goal of the association is to educate, brand and organize its members to best inform residents and visitors about the local food and dining scene in New Albany.

There will be an informational meeting on Thursday, March 19, 2015 at Bank Street Brewhouse. Interested businesses are invited to attend a brief meeting to learn more about the association and how the membership is awarded.

This announcement was followed by the introduction of a social media feed, which continues to share news items on a semi-regular basis (read: whenever I remember to do it).

The New Albany Restaurant & Bar Association (NARBA) now has a public page at Facebook.

New Albany Restaurant & Bar Association … https://www.facebook.com/DineNewAlbany

The Facebook page is public, and for anyone and everyone to see what we’re doing. Please “like” it, and share with friends.

Shortly thereafter, in May of 2015, there arose a situation that inadvertently made an eloquent case for the existence of just this sort of professional trade group. Instead of engaging local food and drink businesses to vend at the second “annual” Boomtown Ball festival (in 2018, apparently moribund), the city chose instead to allow outside “partners” to control concessions and profits.

On Sunday, the second Boomtown Ball takes place in downtown New Albany. Last year for the inaugural, and at the city’s behest, a small group of local food and drink purveyors put together the vending plan for alcoholic beverages. The intent was to devote a portion of the take to setting up the New Albany Restaurant & Bar Association … and we’ve followed through with it.

NARBA is on Facebook, and still working through various legal details. If all goes as planned, there may be an event coming later in the year. It’s fiendishly difficult getting insanely busy food and drink peeps together, but gradually, we’re making progress.

Unfortunately, for reasons that never have been clearly explained to NARBA, the libations segment of this year’s Boomtown was chartered without the association’s participation. 

It must be noted that as a non-profit, then or now, NARBA would not be involved with questions of Democrats versus Republicans. Rather, the association would advocate for the collective interests of its members, irrespective.

Two Biers on Parade events were staged in 2015 and 2016 under the NARBA banner, held concurrently with the annual Harvest Homecoming Parade. These admittedly were a mixed bag, but in my view, they remain quite useful in pointing the way toward possible parameters of cooperation between entities like NARBA and Harvest Homecoming.

I’m the first to concede that by late 2016, the trail began getting cold and the NARBA effort stalled. It comes down to the fact that when entrepreneurs are thinking expansively in a dynamic and emerging market, they have little time for consolidation in a collective sense. With stability and maturity come changing focus, as well as slivers of time suitable for organizing.

Speaking personally, I surely had the time; my involvement with NABC had come to an end, and at various points I mulled a full bore organizational campaign, as designed to institute procedures, recruit member businesses and push NARBA forward.

This didn’t happen, primarily because while I’m perfectly capable of functioning discretely as a team player in a pinch, the outspokenness of my daily political profile is such that it didn’t seem proper for me to take the lead.

Long-term indie business ownership allowed me to embrace the “you’re only hurting yourself” mantra, although my former business partners might disagree — but circumstances seemed to dictate circumspection when others are involved, and they still do. So it goes.

Obviously, I wouldn’t be writing about this topic today if I didn’t think NARBA still mattered. In fact, in my view it matters now more than ever before.

I’ve made this argument numerous times, so it you already know it by heart, you’re excused to visit the beer fridge.

Whether Boomtown Ball or Taco Walk, it is my core belief that in a remotely ideal world (one we have not yet attained), events and activities predicated on the involvement of restaurants and bars should be either the domain of a functioning restaurant association, or at the very least, pursued with explicit NARBA involvement in the planning process.

On-premise establishments are approached constantly with similar ideas. Many are good, and others not so much. Invariably, these events are one-offs, constructed to maximize the future of the event itself and the share taken by the sponsor. I learned this the hard, gradual way over seven years as a director on the board of the Brewers of Indiana Guild.

Inevitably, the events are billed as “special,” which sometimes can result in too much time spent piecemeal on preparation for outcomes that don’t reinforce the eatery’s day-to-day regimen — as with the notion of a pizzeria making tacos only one day a year.

Matters become even murkier when entities like Develop New Albany are involved, because owners and managers generally are hesitant to refuse participation for fear that it will offend the city, which is perceived to be the force behind the idea, seeing as the city controls DNA, and DNA the event.

Far better that these fests and events originate conceptually within a restaurant association as a consortium of those who know best what’s right for their businesses; this doesn’t rule out cooperation, but merely sets boundaries.

This same notion also applies to independent local retail and service businesses in general, apart from food and drink. Just now, this collective-driven approach is difficult because the framework barely exists.

It should, and someday I hope it will.

My personal opinion is unchanged: the food and drink scene downtown is too fragile for internal or external divisions. Individuals must market their own joints; the collective simply must unify to market downtown as a whole, as a destination for both residents and outsiders.

Personally, I’ve allowed the idea of NARBA-like combined action to dangle on the vine these past couple of years because I was self-exiled from the day-to-day, and because of my aforementioned reticence.

Now that I’m getting back into it with a non-ownership “beer statesman” role at Pints & Union, I’d dearly like to help jump-start the idea of a professional trade group for restaurants and bars, whether or not it involves me on a recurring basis. It’s bigger than any single one of us.

If there is a central truth embracing our collective interest in food and drink businesses as a whole, it is to do whatever is necessary to bring people to New Albany. A close second is for indies to understand the threat posed by the monopolistic tendencies of chain-think. There are numerous others.

Let’s get this discussion started again, shall we?

Recent columns:

March 1: ON THE AVENUES: Scoreboard daze of old.

February 22: ON THE AVENUES REWOUND: Money is the ultimate bully (2015).

February 15: ON THE AVENUES REWOUND: No more fear, Jeff (2015).

February 8: ON THE AVENUES: Golden oldie classic comfort beers at an old school pub? Sounds like Pints & Union to me.