Q&A with the North Market’s Rick Harrison Wolfe

  • Photos by Meghan Ralston
By Columbus Alive
From the November 7, 2013 edition

The North Market’s new executive director Rick Harrison Wolfe is all about taking things to the next level. Six months ago Wolfe started his gig at the storied Arena District food hub, but according to him it feels like a week. Perhaps the past six months have flown by because Wolfe has been implementing his vision for the North Market at light-speed since day one.

Organizing creative collaborations, revamping existing North Market festivals and installing a new HVAC system in the building are just the beginning. With a passion for the Columbus community, personal small business experience and a determination to make all things North Market best-in-class, Wolfe shows no sign of slowing.

It never stops at the North Market. There are a lot of moving parts. From the vendors to the farmers to the visitors, I am trying to balance everybody’s goals while keeping in mind that at the end of the day, it’s all about providing the best experience for our visitors. You can’t make everyone happy all the time, but generally the vendors and board have all been open arms to me and my ideas.

I move quickly, and that has made the [North Market Development Authority Board] a little nervous. There is just so much I want to do. By the end of this year we will have finished the HVAC renovation. I also want to repurpose the dispatch kitchen and organize events to bring people upstairs. I am looking into collaborating with other non-profits to set up educational classes that aren’t just centered on cooking.

As the former owner and creator of The Cheesy Truck, I understand what it takes to make a small business work. I think even more than being the [Vice President of Brand Development] at Sketchers, running The Cheesy Truck has really prepared me for this position. Running a small business is really personal. At Sketchers I had people working for me, but I never directly signed their paychecks. I know what it’s like to pour your blood, sweat and tears into a small business, so I can really relate to our vendors who are trying to pay their employees, make money and put out the best product possible. I am not here to micromanage anybody’s business, but if the vendors need help merchandising, or setting up a social networking presence, they know my door is always open.

I had no idea about the political aspect of this job at first. The city is our landlord (and a kind one, at that); it’s my job to make them happy. I am trying to get to know as many civic leaders as possible.

I’ve never had a job with so much purpose, or as much weight on my shoulders. I feel like many people in Columbus have a soft spot for the North Market. It’s become an anchor in the city. We get more than a million visitors every year; the only attraction that gets more visitors is the Columbus Zoo. I want to make sure every visitor has a positive experience. This place should be the best-of-class in every category. It’s not just about the inside of the building either. I want to revamp our festivals and make The North Market’s farmers market the mecca of farmers markets again. Right now we are the third largest, but with our location there are a lot of things we can do and expand on that other farmers markets can’t.

When I interviewed for the job, the board made it clear they wanted the new person to be like the North Market’s Jack Hanna. I’ll go out and scream and yell. I want the North Market to be more visible. I want people to rediscover it like I did. That is why it needs to be an ever-evolving thing. It’s all about curating.

I’ve seen a lot of places, but the vibe in Columbus is why I came back. Columbus has changed so much from when I was last here. The community is so open-arms. People here really want to step outside the box. I think everyone wants to make Columbus as cool as it can be. The coffee industry and the craft beer industry have really blown up here in recent years. I think people want to see the city evolve, and I want the North Market to evolve at the same pace as our city. If you aren’t moving forward, you’re being left behind.