Al Fresco Eateries as Oases of Economic Hope

Photo by Zane Hill / Glendale News-Press
The city has begun implementing outdoor dining spaces, known popularly as al fresco, as a measure to help restaurants and eateries serve more customers as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

Those concrete barriers popping up around downtown Glendale and Montrose? For the foreseeable future, they are part of the new normal for restaurants that are now reopening dine-in service to their patrons.
The city this week has been busy setting up K-rail barriers throughout public spaces, later adding tables with umbrellas, chairs and potted plants to make the setting a bit more picturesque. Along Honolulu Avenue in Montrose, the half-dozen al fresco parklets utilize sections of street parking to allow the eateries to spill outdoors to accommodate more customers and make those customers more comfortable as the COVID-19 pandemic persists.
“We’re trying to create some sort of ambience to bring life back to Montrose,” explained Andre Ordubegian, president of the Montrose Shopping Park Association. “Hopefully, once people are there they can dine, and once they see the stores they can shop a bit.”
Glendale has committed $150,000 of its Measure S sales tax revenue to installing these al fresco areas, which were planned and are administered through the Department of Community Development. Jennifer Hiramoto, the deputy community development director who works in economic development, recently explained to the City Council that most al fresco requests have been from establishments along Brand Boulevard in the downtown region and in Montrose; there were also requests in Kenneth Village and at locations outside of Montrose and along San Fernando Boulevard, she added.
“You will see a transformation in the next two weeks with these parklets,” Hiramoto said last week. “If we could just turn a switch, we would, but it’s just taking a little bit of time.”
Ordubegian represented the MSPA on the city’s economic recovery task force, which helped city officials identify ways to assist the city’s commercial community alongside residents who are suffering from the economic fallout of the pandemic. For months, the crisis forced retailers and service providers to largely close and limited restaurants to takeout or delivery.
The series of parklets was a bit of a compromise for the Montrose Shopping Park, according to Ordubegian, who has owned and operated Copy Network there for more than three decades. Initially, the task force pondered closing off Honolulu Avenue altogether to make it a walking boulevard, but that would have impeded parking customers and shops getting product deliveries, Ordubegian said.
“Unlike Glendale, we don’t have any parking structures,” he explained. “If you close [Honolulu], what’s going to happen is that traffic is going to go down in the neighborhoods and it’ll be chaos.
“You’ve got to do whatever you can. Most of our merchants are having a hard time right now,” Ordubegian added. “By putting those parklets in, the city of Glendale has been very helpful.”
Lifelong La Crescenta residents Greg and Lori Sarti certainly agreed this week. The couple on Thursday enjoyed a late lunch at Joselito’s Mexican Food in Montrose with their children, Gavin and Kaia, in celebration of Lori’s first day back to work for the reopening.
“We had to jump on the opportunity to get out here,” Greg Sarti said. “We have to be the first ones to do it.”
The outing represented the Sartis’ first family meal at a restaurant since their March vacation in Arizona, almost immediately before the pandemic caused sweeping shutdowns throughout the nation. So they relished the opportunity to sit at a table placed where a car should be, behind the safety of concrete barriers, and have a waiter help ring in their summer with a round of margaritas for the adults.
“It’s the little things that you forget about,” Greg Sarti said, “bringing you water, refills, the chips and salsa, all of that.”
Echoed Lori Sarti: “I wish they would keep it permanently. This is awesome. We’ve already had some friends drive by and wave at us. It’s just kind of nice.”
The city’s permits for outdoor dining run through Dec. 31, but Hiramoto said the city may begin to remove them by September or October in observance of shopping season. Policy decisions are, of course, fluid thanks to the unpredictable nature of the pandemic.
Councilman Dan Brotman was enthusiastic about al fresco last week, in part because he admitted an interest in testing the entitlement of vehicles over pedestrians in certain areas. At any rate, he committed to be responsive to how the community reacts to the setups.
“To me, I think this is a fantastic experiment,” he said last week. “Let’s see how the community responds and then we’ll decide. If it’s causing problems and the merchants are complaining, then we’ll pull it out. If everybody loves it, maybe we’ll keep it [for longer].”
For now, restaurateurs and merchants alike are simply hoping to keep afloat as the economic uncertainty continues.
“Hopefully, it has an immediate impact on their bottom line,” Ordubegian said. “This is a tough time. Every day I speak with a few merchants and they say they can’t do anything. We’re hoping that this is going to attract people who will see all the other activities around.”
Eateries must obtain a temporary certificate of occupancy to place tables in private lots, and must obtain a sidewalk dining permit application and addendum to enable spillover onto sidewalks or pre-designated parklets on streets.
Fees for these applications will be waived until restaurant capacity can return to 100% or Aug. 31, whichever arrives first. For additional information, contact the Economic Development Division’s business concierge at (818) 548-2005 or email ChooseGlendale@Glendaleca.gov.

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