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Foxgrape Closes its Doors

by Nina Lalli

The Foxgrape Cafe, located in the heart of downtown Oberlin, closed on Jan. 27. Alana Kelley, the Foxgrape owner, announced the closing to her staff one week previous to the closing date. Kelley opened the business over eight years ago with Noreen Romana, the baker and cook.

Many of the staff members, including Romana, had worked there for several years and hope to be employed by the future owner, Brent Smith. Smith has owned and managed the popular liquor store/barbecue joint on route 58, The House of Sauce for the past five and a half years. Smith regards the former Foxgrape members as "talent, not just labor" and has already spoken with three or four of them about jobs. He plans to take advantage of the fact that they "know a lot of the things that worked there, as well as some that didn't." He also plans on hiring some Oberlin students.

Though reluctant to confirm any details about his intentions until negotiations are finalized, Smith made it clear that the Foxgrape space will not be occupied by another House of Sauce. "It will be a different operation altogether," he said.

Smith did give some clues about the newest Oberlin business. He has obtained a wine and beer license, though he is not opening a bar. There will be food served, but the menu has not been planned.

Smith's goal is to "strike a chord with different kinds of customers". While he appreciates the size of the potential Oberlin College clientele, he points out that that is not the sole market. "The students are only here eight months out of the year if that," and to ignore that fact would be "foolish. A successful place has to have a wide appeal," he said. The plans for the new business, including the menu, should be figured out this weekend.

To mark the last day of business, Foxgrape employees and Barney Kitchen, pastor at First Church, gathered for a closing ceremony on Jan. 27. "We talked about good memories and shared how we were feeling, we cried, Barney prayed with us, and that was the end," Kelley said.

Kelley cited no future plans for business, in Oberlin or elsewhere. She is leaving to "answer a call of ministry," and has already begun studying at the Methodist Theological School, where she will earn her masters in Divinity. Kelley studied Art Education and received a masters from Massachusetts College of Art. She also attended Goodstone College and The Restaurant School in Philadelphia.

Kelley is the wife of Oberlin College East Asian Studies Professor, David Kelley. She said that her husband is relieved that the Foxgrape is being sold. "He's a professor. He doesn't exactly want to work in a cafe!"

The decision is bittersweet for the entire family, however. Kelley said she will miss having her children come by for snacks after school. The couple has two sons, 13 year-old Zach and 18 year-old Matt, who worked at the cafe.

Kelley said she will miss "being in the center of town and part of the lives of so many College and high school students," a natural extension of her job, partly because of the cafe's location on College street. Kelley and her staff organized various special events for Oberlin high school and middle school students, such as an art show and baking classes.

Noreen Romana's daughter, Cara Romana, painted the mural on the back wall of the Foxgrape, which features a portrait of Alana Kelley with her partner and friend, Noreen Romana. Later, Cara painted a mural for the neighboring Carlyle shop.

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Copyright © 2001, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 129, Number 13, February, 2001

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