WEST FARGO — When you visit Michele LaHaise-Bates’ business,
, the spirit of France is everywhere — from the mini Eiffel tower in her bright pink office to the madeleines, macarons and creme brulee scones on the menu.
But after spending thousands to establish and renovate a commercial kitchen and office here two years ago, LaHaise-Bates finds she will soon have to bid adieu to this space at 2111 Main Ave. E.
On Jan. 31, the long-time baker and former restaurateur received notice that she would need to vacate her space by March 31. She is one of a handful of commercial tenants who now must find office space elsewhere because property owner, Five Star Storage, intends to demolish the business complex here to make room for more storage units.
Although her lease agreement states that the company is only required to give her 60-day notice to vacate, LaHaise-Bates says it will be difficult to find another affordable commercial space in that frame of time. She’s especially concerned because she has several weddings scheduled — including her own daughter’s in April — for which she’s committed to creating dessert buffets.
“My first reaction was my customers,” says LaHaise-Bates, an energetic woman who describes herself as “Type Double A.” “What am I going to do? I’ve got dessert buffets on the books.”
The former restaurateur has built a devoted following at pop-ups, community events, cooking classes and the Red River Market with her homemade menu, which includes 75 types of scones, macarons, savory cream cheese-based dips and sea salt-garnished Euro Chocolate Wafer Cookies.
“This business is like a fifth child,” she says. “My heart aches just thinking of it.”
But LaHaise-Bates is not without options. After posting about her predicament on Facebook, she received some promising leads on a couple of possible locations.
“I’m even willing to partner with someone,” she says.
And she hopes she can temporarily rent space at
Square One Commercial Kitchens
in Fargo to fulfill her wedding catering jobs. However, she believes her operation is too large to work out of Square One long-term.
She will be especially sad to leave her current location, with its “tres chic” pink, black and white office, large kitchen and reasonable rent ($585 a month, plus utilities).
“It’s kind of like a death,” she says. “I put so much money into this. I was very proud of it and it fit my needs. And I feel real estate is very overpriced right now — very, very inflated — and with my age, I don’t want to spend a lot of money.”
LaHaise-Bates says she “doesn’t begrudge” the storage company for tearing down the aging complex to replace it with storage units.
But she maintains that two months isn’t sufficient to move a business like a commercial kitchen. She also didn’t like that tenants were all informed according to when their individual leases were up, which resulted in people finding out from other tenants as opposed to the landlord.
“I’m an understanding person,” she says. “It was just the way it was done and the short notice.”
Ben Hendricks, CEO of the family-owned storage business, responded in an email to The Forum that the company is “certainly not in the business of trying to cause hardship for individuals or businesses. We’re sorry to hear of the issues this has caused Michele’s Table.”
He wrote that Five Star decided to demolish the existing structures because they are over 30 years old and “have really begun to approach the end of their lifespan. With self-storage being our primary business, it made the most sense for us to head that direction with the property rather than put a large amount of capital into getting the commercial spaces up to 2023 standards.”
Construction on the new storage facilities is slated for this spring and will include temperature-controlled storage as well as a building for oversized units to accommodate vehicles like RVs.
In the meantime, Hendricks says the owners have tried to work closely with tenants to help them as much as possible. “Tenants being displaced is a very tough part of all urban redevelopment projects,” he wrote. He added that all tenants, including LaHaise-Bates, were called individually prior to receiving written notices, “which were much greater” than the minimum notification period listed on their leases.
In the case of Michele’s Table, Hendricks adds that the lease was month-to-month and only required a 30-day notice to vacate, though Five Star opted to provide LaHaise-Bates with a 60-day notice “to give additional time.”
The company was able to work with a few tenants to help them relocate to other commercial spaces in Fargo, Hendricks wrote, and “for those we couldn’t relocate internally, we offered to connect them with a very reputable commercial broker to assist them in finding new space.”
He added that Five Star was willing to consider “reasonable extensions if needed on a case-by-case basis to those who need it.”
“We want to help minimize the interruption as much as possible,” he concluded. “We certainly hope that Michelle will be able to find a solution and are more than willing to continue helping in any way we can.”
Another Five Star tenant, Jamie Rieber of
Hairy D/Tails pet grooming salon,
said she wasn’t completely surprised upon receiving official notice in late December that Five Star would not be renewing her lease, as she had heard in November that the storage company might be razing the property. “The minute I heard that we might need to move, I started looking,” she says.
Rieber, who has been in the Five Star complex for 15 years, said she found a new place without too much trouble. The new shop location shouldn’t affect her clients significantly, as it is “right up the street” at 1613 Main Avenue East, she said.
But for LaHaise-Bates, the need to relocate is coming at an especially inconvenient time in a career path which she says has been dedicated to the love of good food.
LaHaise-Bates grew up in Drayton, N.D., but her family craved foods and experiences from far beyond their small town’s borders.
Her grandparents hailed from Quebec and shared a French preoccupation with good food.
At just age 10 or 11, LaHaise-Bates remembers having tea with her grandmother, who served delicately crispy madeleine cookies, little sponge cakes and loose-leaf Lapsang Soochong tea served in china cups.
“When you’re exposed to that, it really resonates in your whole life,” she says. “It made me basically who I am.”
As an adult, she recalls being the first person in North Dakota to get a personalized license plate that said “FOODIE” on it. The word was so novel at the time that the state Department of Transportation called her up and asked her what it meant. They were worried it was derogatory, she recalls, laughing.
While LaHaise-Bates started out in banking, it didn’t satisfy her creative side. She started
at the new Scheel’s Home and Hardware, expanding it from a coffee bar to a full-fledged bistro, and operated it for 11 years.
LaHaise-Bates launched Michele’s Table in 2016. ”I started taking this business of mine from my home into a commercial spot,” she says.
When she first saw the site which now houses her business, she says it needed work. It was technically a commercial kitchen, but was in such disrepair that she had to start from scratch. “I took a chance coming here because I knew these were older buildings, but I thought you know what? I bet I have five years here.”
In the meantime, she wanted the space “to represent my product and myself,” she says. “This is something that, you can come up here and I can feel proud of. Anyone who sees the pictures of the place, they’re like, ‘Ohmigosh, this is so cute!'”
She installed a commercial refrigerator and freezer, two convection ovens, stainless steel tables, commercial cooling racks and all the other items required to set up a kitchen devoted to licensed baking.
The business owner says she paid out of pocket to renovate the space, because she is a mid-career professional who didn’t want to take out a major business loan. Likewise, she doesn’t want to take out loans at this point to renovate a new space.
Although the relocation will add what she calls “a hiccup” in her daily operation, LaHaise-Bates is determined to find a solution. “I love what I do,” she says. “I love food and I’m very passionate about it. I’m not willing to give it up.”
So she remains optimistic that all will work out. “Like I said in my Facebook post, when life gives you lemons, you make lemon macarons and lemon basil aioli,” she says with a laugh.
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