“We’re here in a building that was once looked at as a liability,” explained Northside UP’s Dominic Robinson, “A crumbling, tax delinquent building on the Northside that now is going to be an engine for economic opportunity and a cultural tool.”
Earlier this month, a crowd of elected officials and community partners packed into With Love Restaurant’s light blue space, sipping on Pink Chai and examining the colorful maps that hung on the walls, eager to celebrate a project long in the making. They were there to commemorate the opening of With Love, a teaching restaurant and entrepreneur incubator at 435 North Salina Street, and to hear remarks from some of the players who helped make this project possible.
The story begins when Dominic and Kathy Ruscitto, President of St. Joseph’s Health, had a meeting with Casey Crabill, the new President of Onondaga Community College (OCC). “We started sharing an idea we had for a restaurant incubator and training space . . . and so, we decided to work together to make this happen,” Dominic explains.
OCC began to develop programming and the idea quickly took shape. The College agreed to operate the restaurant, using it as a teaching venue for their food service training program. Every six months, a new entrepreneur will cycle through the program to test out their recipes and gain valuable experience in running their own restaurant. Up Start, a collaborative business development program housed in CenterState CEO and originally piloted on the Northside, will lend support to each entrepreneur along the way. Dominic explains, “The idea is we give entrepreneurs a chance to test their ideas, build an identity, build confidence, build a following, and then translate all of that into hopefully opening up a restaurant of their own.”
But, the idea still needed a physical space to operate in. Katelyn Wright at the Land Bank helped secure the former La Cuisine space on North Salina, along with help from the county and state governments, including the Onondaga County of Industrial Development Association (OCIDA).
During the initial stages, Mike Metzgar, Associate Vice President of Workforce Development at OCC, needed someone who could not only manage the program running out of With Love, but could also “carry it across the finish line.” Dominic recommended Adam Sudmann for the job: “I happen to have a friend who is also working with us in the Up Start program . . . He has a business called My Lucky Tummy and this is what he does.”
Fast forward to late fall. Adam and his team of OCC students and chefs have been tweaking menus, learning the ins-and-outs of the kitchen, and how to function seamlessly as a team. “Whenever I tell people what I get to do, they’re like—I can see it in their face—they’re instantly jealous,” Adam jokes. “They should be jealous. This is awesome.” He explains that when he first arrived in Syracuse from Brooklyn he was driving through the Northside and saw all the different people walking along the street. He said to himself, “Wow. That is a crazy resource. We can make something here . . . and eat a lot.”
The very first entrepreneur in residence at With Love is Sarah Robin, a woman from Lahore, Pakistan who dreamt of opening her own food business. “Thank you so much for introducing me in this city,” Sarah said during the With Love opening. “There is no Pakistani restaurant and this is a huge opportunity for me to represent my food, my culture.” Her menu includes a Butternut Dal with star anise, cumin, and clove and a Halal chicken with “too many spices to list.”
The opening event ended with a flurry of press interviews and photo taking. The front door to the restaurant remained propped open to welcome any one who wandered in. “When I was in college,” Adam mentioned during his speech, “we studied this term, ‘xenia.’ Even when you’re in conflict with neighbors or even at war, ‘xenia’ is this notion that when someone comes across your threshold into your space, they are your guest. The people that come through this door they’re not our customer, they are our guest. Even in this strange cultural moment . . . it’s such a gift to be able to teach the notion of how do we treat strangers coming through our door. That’s what we’re going to work on here: how to treat strangers and what gifts strangers are bringing to us.”
To read more about With Love’s opening celebration, check out these articles from local and national news organizations:
Grand opening of OCC teaching restaurant in Syracuse from CNY Central
Teaching restaurant brings world cuisines to Syracuse from WRVO Public Media
With Love, Pakistan: Entrepreneurial Incubator Launches in Syracuse from Welcome Economies Global Network