Expanding outdoor dining into on-street parking spaces in front of the Whaling Station Steakhouse on Wave Street in Monterey can’t come fast enough for restaurant owner Kevin Phillips. He and his staff successfully erected a tent they call “Prime Pavillion” in the private parking lot behind the restaurant, where they serve customers while indoor dining is prohibited due to Covid-19.
Phillips is just waiting for the city to finalize rules for “parklet” dining.
“My point was, time is of the essence,” Phillips says he told city officials during a Zoom meeting with business owners on July 30. “If we’re going to do parklets, we need to do them now.”
Restaurants have a limited time to make money serving customers outside before winter comes. Pacific Grove and Carmel launched headlong into outdoor dining early on, but not without controversy. Pacific Grove tried shutting down two blocks of Lighthouse Avenue to vehicles – then got big pushback from the business community and residents over lack of parking, and switched to parklets instead, which numerous restaurants swiftly built out. Carmel went through some fits and starts fine tuning its parklets policies.
Monterey City Manager Hans Uslar has taken a more measured approach, building on existing policy in place for about nine years – the first parklet built under a pilot program was in front of Caffe Trieste on Alvarado Street, now home to Sur Burger, which remains closed. Issuing free encroachment permits for sidewalk dining was the primary focus when outdoor, sit-down dining became allowed during the pandemic. So far, around 40 businesses – the temporary sidewalk permits are available to both restaurants and retail stores – have applied. The city began allowing businesses to push out into parking spaces in private lots in late July.
The city is now focused on parklets with safety measures in place. Uslar told Monterey City Council on Aug. 4 that he wants to see crash-safe K-rails, the kind used as barriers on highways, to protect diners and staff. He’s called on business associations to create eye-catching, colorful designs for each district, along with uniform signage indicating each restaurant. Decks would also be required for ADA access from the sidewalk into the parklet dining area, among other requirements. The council approved the parklets in a 5-0 vote; it could take a few weeks before the city begins issuing permits.
Early on, the city considered shutting down Alvarado Street to vehicle traffic entirely, but rejected the idea after no consensus was reached with business owners. Some restaurants and retailers say keeping it open has been helpful for takeout and curbside pickups.
Increasing the amount of seating is no small issue. The pandemic has cut the number of diners restaurants are able to serve, and even with increased takeout business, many are barely hanging on. Phillips says the Whaling Station is able to continue with the 1,400-square-foot tent that houses 15 tables. Another six to eight tables out front on the street would get the restaurant to roughly half its normal capacity, “and we can tread water for a little while,” Phillips says.
Gianni Ottone is operations manager for the Ottone Restaurant Group, which owns PALOOZA (formerly Lallapalooza )on Alvarado Street, Lalla Grill at Del Monte Center and Lalla Oceanside Grill on Cannery Row. They are in a precarious spot, having begun a concept change for Lallapalooza pre-pandemic, from what was once primarily a bar to a restaurant.
Lallapalooza shut down on March 13 and the owners spent time renovating, hiring a chef and fine-tuning the move to a new menu. They were set to open over a month ago, but when the state shut down indoor dining, they delayed to Aug. 7, with sidewalk seating for 10-12 tables. Pushing into two on-street parking spots would give them 15-18 tables. But there are still overheard costs: “It is worrisome,” Ottone says.
He hopes Monterey catches up to P.G. and Carmel – downtown areas he says have a European feel. Alvarado Street, he believes, has the potential to achieve something similar.
The European feel is exactly what Uslar has in mind, and he sees that extending post-pandemic. “This is a great opportunity to revitalize our business district with visually pleasing opportunities for people to congregate post-Covid-19 as well,” he says.