A plan to generate income for Apalachicola with gourmet eats turned out to be pie in the sky last year.
At the Feb. 2 city commission meeting, Apalachicola Mayor Van Johnson put details to a rough outline he first brought up in the State of the City speech last fall, to create a joint venture with an Italian import-export company, for regional foodstuffs.
The mayor made available a five-page summary that covered the components of The Este Project, which would be an extension of Este Farms in Tuscany, Italy, an olive oil exporting firm founded by two American brothers, Michael and Lucas Battaglia in 2000.
The city had been courting Michael Battaglia since at least January when he acted as a judge at the city’s annual Oyster Cook-off to raise money for the volunteer department.
In Dec. 2015, Michael Battaglia, CEO of Este Farms, had registered the Apalachicola Fish & Seafood LLC, an entity which sought to strike a deal with the city to obtain a lease on the city-owned Harbormaster House at the Millpond Marina, with the first three years rent-free.
The plan was to create caviar from locally harvested mullet roe and to harvest wild pigs to be processed into prosciutto, both to be sold in Europe.
Este forecast gross revenues of $2.3 million, based on one million pounds of mullet processed in year one. He predicted the enterprise would create 40 new jobs in Franklin County. The proposed agreement with the city called for a half-million dollars in capital expenditure by the Battaglias, presumably to create a processing facility in the Apalachicola area.
Johnson supported the use of the Harbormaster House, with a free lease for three years tied to job creation, as a key piece of a larger plan to boost economic development in the area.
In the end, discussion of the Este Project faded away like a puff of smoke.
Battaglia did not visit the city commission meeting when the matter came under discussion, and after questions were raised about the feasibility of the project, it appeared to be abandoned. Whether he plans to revive the idea in 2017 remains unclear.
Meanwhile, the Harbormaster House remains vacant