Nojaim Brothers Supermarket owner hopes to bring food service jobs into Syracuse

The owner of the supermarket wants to work with the Syracuse City School District to bring jobs back to the Near West Side by using Nojaim Brothers Supermarket's building to house the district's soon-to-be-outsourced food services.

Following the closing of Nojaim Brothers Supermarket in October, which resulted in the loss of approximately 50 jobs, owner Paul Nojaim plans to put the building that housed the store to good use. He said that he put his building in a pool to be considered as a location for the central kitchen that will hold Syracuse City School District’s outsourced food services.

"It’s very difficult to own a commercial building in this economy and this community and to find uses for it."
Paul Nojaim, owner of Nojaim Brothers Supermarket

“I suggested that this neighborhood was the poorest and that it could have the greatest effect for the thirty schools in the district and for employing people in poverty here," said Nojaim. “It would make sense to replace the store building with that.”

Nojaim said that he does not feel that the school district is interested in his building anymore, though. The committee investigating the site, which is made up of consultants, realtors, architects and school district employees, said that his building was too small despite recent renovations costing over $2.65 million. Nojaim said he received little information other than that.

The school district declined to comment on the matter. Amit Sharma, director of the Food Decisions Research Laboratory at Pennsylvania State University in State College, PA, said that if the school district is in negotiations currently, there would be nothing to share.

“Before jumping to conclusions, it’s best to wait for the facts,” Sharma said.

Nojaim said he is hopeful that the district will come back to him and his building.

“It’s very difficult to own a commercial building in this economy and this community and to find uses for it,” he said. “I thought this would be perfect.”

He said his plans for the building as a kitchen and food services training facility included partnering with organizations to hire refugees. In addition, he said the project would create good community atmosphere. 

“It seemed to pass the test of what they were looking for with the information they put out in terms of square footage and what have you so I just don’t know,” Nojaim said. “I was shocked they eliminated it so quickly.”

Juanita Perez Williams, Syracuse’s Democratic mayoral candidate, said she supports Nojaim. The building could serve as a training center and kitchen and would provide skills education, create jobs and feed people as well, she said. She also said that Nojaim’s is one of two facilities that the school district is looking into as a location to house their food services as early as next year.

“I hope they step back and hear Paul Nojaim’s voice,” she said of the selection committee.

Perez Williams also called the effort to bring jobs back into the Near West Side after the supermarket’s closing “a neighborhood wide effort.”

“We’re dealing with a real issue of losing 50 jobs in our neighborhood and the elderly people don’t have a place to shop,” said Reverend James Matthews of Saint Lucy’s Church on the Near West Side. “We’ve been trying to strategize how we might take care of this future job loss and take care of the seniors.”

Sharma, drawing from his research on outsourcing food services in school districts, said that jobs may not be lost if the district does sign an outsourcing contract.

“Everything is on the table when these negotiations take place,” he said. “Not everything gets negotiated but it’s definitely a question that can be asked of the contracted company.”

Sister Pat Bergen, Pastoral Associate at Saint Lucy’s Church, said she believes any initiative to bring jobs into the neighborhood is a good one.

“I just hope and pray it happens,” she said.

Sharma said that whatever the school district chooses to do, it needs to be extremely transparent and systematic of its communication to the public.

“Outsourcing in school food service is a very emotional issue,” he said. “Misunderstandings and misconceptions can very easily take shape. So if the emotions are flaring up, I think it is even more important that the information is presented accurately and thoroughly because that can address some of the perception gap.”

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