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Will East End Market become Orlando’s new food hub?

The community market on Corrine Drive faces competition from all sides, but says “a rising tide lifts all boats”

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Heather Grove, John Rife and Gabby Lothrop

Photo: N/A, License: N/A

A light May drizzle is falling in the dusty parking lot outside the construction site. Everyone who’s attending this walk-through can see the dark clouds on the horizon and knows a heavier rain is about to fall; it’s only a matter of time. So all of us hope we can get through the guided hard-hat tour (we should probably be wearing hard hats, right?) and on to the awaiting buffet of vendors down Corrine Drive at Palmer’s Garden & Goods.

This is a press preview of what will be East End Market, the vision of local developer John Rife. The site is the former Living Faith Christian Church at 3201 Corrine Drive, on the eastern side of the Audubon Park Garden District. The plan is to house roughly a dozen merchants, a restaurant, and a variety of spaces to encourage new entrepreneurship. It will be a community learning center, a food hub for the quality-conscious, and an event spot for gatherings and special occasions. It will transcend what we think of as a market and bring together a new scene – or rather, the existing scene yearning for a home – where food and innovation form the heart of a neighborhood.

That’s the idea, anyway. And it was supposed to happen last year. Permitting and construction delays, which are admittedly normal to opening anything of such a magnitude, have pushed the schedule back several times. It’s just the kind of thing that gives those of us who’ve followed this project for over a year a little hesitancy. Right now it’s just a hollowed-out two-story building and a lot of hope and imagination. It’s a little like the clouds. We know it’s coming. Are we ready for it?

The passion

John Rife grew up on Kraft Singles. Despite having been born into what can generally be agreed upon as a life of privilege, fancy cheese was not something that he was exposed to. “Until I had great cheese, I didn’t realize how awesome cheese was,” he says. “I [wondered], why the heck do people have cheese for dessert?”

Rife’s father, John Rife Jr., has been a developer in this area for more than 30 years with Rife-Miller Inc. He’s had a part in designing and leasing projects around the city, county and state. While Rife did eventually work with his father, that wasn’t the field he started in. Rife received his undergrad degree in biology with a focus on environmental systems, though he specifies that this education was “not green.” He followed that up with seminary school, which he left to move to Australia and perform missionary work in Asia and the Pacific. In these endeavors, he says he realized he could be more useful by returning home and working to raise capital for worthy causes.

Rife teamed up with his father at this point. He worked on developing new projects, most notably shepherding many of the “outparcels” at Millenia – outlying buildings like the AT&T store, DSW Designer Shoe Warehouse and the Shoppes at Millenia.

“After Millenia, I was sort of wondering what I was going to do next,” he says. Add to that post-project letdown the rumblings of the world we all felt: “When the economy slowed down, it gave me some time to look at things I was interested in,” he says. “My wife and I took a trip around the country and did a website called FindingAmerica.tv.” The vlog, created over the bulk of 2007, consists of more than 80 posts and follows the couple from Florida to Southern California, up the left coast and back across to New York. But the education it provided was more than sightseeing. “We were reading Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma [at that time, the new manifesto for the “eating local” campaign]; we were listening to stories on NPR; we were, for the first time, seeing huge tracts of soybean and corn fields and going, ‘Huh, there’s something intellectually wrong with the way we do food.’”

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