Concession stand gets good reviews

NILES – Six months following the bidding process for the Mayor Ralph A. Infante Wellness Center concession stand, the city is seeing positive returns in revenue.

Pat Rickard won the bid in November and her business, Riccardo’s, is beginning to catch on among visitors to the Wellness Center and has even started a carryout service.

”It was tough at first, but things seem to be getting better and the word is getting out there,” Rickard said.

The concession stand sparked controversy last year when then operator Louis Hillier brought in slightly more than $800 in a year, a figure City Council called unacceptable. Hillier was awarded a no-bid contract after talks with McDonald’s failed to materialize.

Mayor Ralph Infante explained, prior to Hillier getting the contract, the city was attempting to run the food stand by having Wellness Center employees occasionally operate the stand, as well as having to buy the food products.

”It was a big headache,” Infante said. ”We didn’t make the kind of profit we could.”

Hillier, who also serves as Niles City Cemetery superintendent, took over the stand – then called Nona’s – in 2012. His lease required a payment to the city of $230 a month during soccer sessions and $125 for special events. However, the soccer sessions only accounted for four months during the year, according to the city auditor’s office.

Councilman Steve Papalas saw an opportunity lost for more revenue.

”It was open sporadically,” Papalas said. ”He was open when they had an event on the weekends, usually.”

Papalas pushed to put the concession stand operation out to bid even though law exempts professional services like this from bid requirements.

”Any time you put something out for proposal or bids, whatever it is, you can’t go wrong,” Papalas said. ”Even if it goes flat on you, at least you put it out for bid. That’s always important.”

When the closed bidding process was completed, the only two bids received by the city were those by Rickard and Hillier. Niles chose Rickard’s bid of $450 per month over Hillier’s offer of $240 per month.

In figures provided to the Tribune Chronicle from city auditor Charles Nader, Rickard paid $2,250 to Niles from November, when she took control, through March.

”Things are a lot better,” Nader said. ”Payments are made on time and people are happy.”

One of the biggest issues that has been remedied, according to officials, are the hours of operation. Rickard has the stand open from 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week, with a two-hour break around noon.

Rickard has also expanded food selection.

While Rickard has seen improvements in sales and things appear to be headed in the right direction, she notes making a profit remains difficult.

”At first, making anything was really hard. This last month, things got a little better. I’m not making a lot yet, but I think I have it built up to a point where it can start making money now,” Rickard said. ”I brought in a lot of food products. I think next year, we’ll start to see some profits coming in.

Meanwhile, Infante indicated the city is benefiting from Rickard’s work.

”It is pure profit for us now. There are definitely a lot less headaches,” Infante said. ”Pat has done a good job of catering to the people.”