Wed April 1 2009 2:44:00 ET
Tears of joy briefly speckled the pavement of downtown Napa, California, yesterday as Garry “Not Jerry” McGuire, the former CEO of Copia, announced that the recently gutted and shuttered food, wine and arts center had accepted an offer to merge with the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. Weeks after laying off dozens of staff, filing for Chapter 11 protection and liquidating assets including art, furniture, data and giftshop goodies, the dream of Julia Child and Robert Mondavi is rising, soufflé-like, from apparent extinction.
While McGuire did not offer a timeline for the merger, he did make a point of grabbing a stalk of rosemary in the center’s famous but now unkempt herb garden and shaking it emphatically while declaring, “How sweet it is! Er, make that savory.” He quickly retreated to the cavernous structure to leave a note in the old payroll office asking whether he was eligible for back pay for the two months the center was in bankruptcy proceedings.
Meanwhile, Napa denizens familiar with the deal are audibly scratching their heads. On one hand there is the thriving, distinguished West Coast outpost of the most revered culinary school in America, whose career track is filled to capacity and whose wine program is now arguably tops in the U.S. On the other, there is Copia, a seemingly cursed concrete structure in the middle of nowhere (okay, middle of Napa city), whose mix of culinary and vinicultural education and contemporary art exhibits—not to mention a destination restaurant honoring Julia—never quite lived up to its promise of being the crown jewel of a revitalized urban area.
CIA Greystone managing director Charles Henning, lunching on a power bar at his desk, shrugged off the Copia-CIA merger as a logical step in the institution’s evolution. In terms of what Copia brings to the budding partnership, he admitted that Copia’s tangible assets consist primarily of leftovers in the Julia’s Kitchen refrigerators (“there was quite a bit of olive loaf,” he noted) as well as, well, copious debt (“seventy-eight million dollars, give or take”). Defending the move, he pointed out that having two facilities at both ends of the Napa Valley will be good karma, and that Copia’s parking lot being located next to the popular new Oxbow Market should be a veritable tourist magnet.
Hesitant to offer more thoughts on why this staggering deal was a good idea, he suggested we instead ask Karen MacNeil, whose title—Chair of CIA Greystone’s Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies—is nearly as long as her book, The Wine Bible. Surprisingly, MacNeil at first expressed surprise at word of the merger. However, she then off-handedly mused, “Hmm, that would make me most powerful woman in all of wine education, wouldn’t it?” while stifling an evil laugh and covertly covering a scribbled-on cocktail napkin on her desk.
Dregs Report managed to obtain said cocktail napkin through a switcheroo, distracting the loquacious, fiery redhead while substituting her napkin with a gently used one that had been in our fearless reporter’s pocket for several weeks. Based on the colorful doodlings on the pinched napkin, Karen MacNeil had spent more time pondering the joint venture than she was letting on.
The napkin also raised the question of just what the new entity will be called. C(OP)IA? CopIA? And will it be pronounced see-oh-pee-eye-ay? Or perhaps it will be called the Culinary-Institute-of-America-Not-at-Greystone-or-Hyde-Park (CIANGOHP). Besides Karen MacNeil and the hoping-to-be-rehired Copia staff, it remains to be seen whether anyone actually cares.
©2009 Dregs Report