Commissioners 'Disappointed' Bistro Applicants Not Looking Beyond Downtown
Despite frustrations with the proposed locations, the Birmingham City Commission moved along plans for two new restaurants to the Planning Board.
Several city commissioners weren't happy about it, but the 2012 bistro license season has officially started with two of five applicants moved along in the approval process.
After hearing plans from four applicants during Monday's meeting, commissioners voted to send preliminary plans for Social Kitchen and Market to the city's Planning Board — the first step in the city's new bistro approval process.
Under the city's 2007 bistro ordinance, only two bistro licenses are approved each year. Bistros are defined as having seasonal sidewalk seating, a full-service kitchen and no more than 65 seats.
Monday's prescreening was part of a new bistro approval process the city is testing for 2012 licenses, created this summer and fall after complaints that the former process relied too much on a first-come, first-served process.
The new process involves a prescreening by the City Commission, which then recommends up to two applicants for a full site plan review by the Planning Board, which then passes it back to City Commission for final approval.
Commissioners 'disappointed' in proposed locations
While commissioners liked the Social Kitchen and Market proposals, all noted they were disappointed none of the five applicants on the agenda — Birmingham Sushi Cafe did not show up to the hearing — proposed to move into the Rail or Triangle districts, the business districts east of Woodward Avenue that the city wants to reinvent with new businesses.
"As a commission, don't we have a responsibility to encourage bistros in other parts of the city?" Commissioner Rackeline Hoff said during Monday's meeting.
Planning Director Jana Ecker noted that inherent in the bistro ordinance is a clause noting that proposals in the less developed sectors of the city — such as the Rail District — are preferred.
According to Ecker, many applicants were deterred from planning a bistro in the Triangle District because of a lack of parking space while Joe Bongiovianni, half of the couple behind the proposed Market, said there are very few sites in the Rail District that are ready for a restaurant.
Commissioner Stuart Sherman suggested sending only one applicant to the Planning Board and if no better applicants — preferably applicants proposing to open a bistro in a preferred district — came forward before the beginning of next year, they could then pass along the second applicant.
That idea, however, was quickly shot down by Commissioner Tom McDaniel, who said he didn't believe it was the time to be changing the review process. "I don't think it's fair to the candidates we have," McDaniel said.
Take a look at applicants
So what are the restaurants seeking a bistro license and a spot on Birmingham's culinary scene?
- Description: According to founder Zack Sklar, "Social encompasses everything the city of Birmingham envisioned when establishing the idea behind the bistro license." The bistro is intended to be a casual and trendy environment, with a contemporary look in an "old-world fashion." The outdoor dining space would be located in the alleyway off Maple Road and on the building's roof.
- The location: The bistro would be located on Maple Road where Tokyo Sushi is now at 225 E. Maple Rd., plus the space adjacent to it.
- The food: The planned menu consists mainly small plates similar to tapas and all food would be homemade. The bistro would be open for brunch, lunch and dinner seven days a week and feature items such as lobster tacos with banana guacamole, a brisket melt and cornflake crusted French toast. Drinks would include a variety of cocktails, including ginger-basil mojitos.
- The chef/owner: Zack Sklar founded Cutting Edge Cuisine in New York after graduating from the Culinary Institute of America there. He then moved back to Birmingham where he continues his work with Cutting Edge Cuisine, which has offices in West Bloomfield and Bloomfield Hills.
- Description: Market is intended to be a neighborhood bistro with a wood-fired ambiance featuring cuisine in the Mediterranean style. The restaurant would have a rustic interior using reclaimed barn wood, leathers as well as concrete and stone elements. Communal tables are planned to encourage gathering while the main feature of the dining room is a wood-fired oven.
- The location: 474 N. Old Woodward Ave., at the corner of Old Woodward and Ravine across from Booth Park.
- The food: The menu would feature wood-fired pizza, roasted meats and fish, handmade pastas and seasonal vegetable dishes. Pizzas would be available for take out.
- The chef/owner: The bistro would be owned by Kristin and Joe Bongiovianni, who manage Luxe Bar & Grill, which opened in 2010.
The other bistros not recommended by the City Commission on Monday night are the already opened Zumba Mexican Grille and Birmingham Sushi Cafe, as well as what crêpe?, slated to open Nov. 14.
- Zumba Mexican Grille: A quick-serve Mexican restaurant that opened on June 13 at 163 W. Maple Rd. The restaurant, owned by Chef Tim Castaneda, has been open in Royal Oak for nearly 11 years. Zumba was looking for a bistro license in order to serve frozen margaritas, select wines and Mexican beers.
- what crêpe?: A European-inspired specialty crepe restaurant scheduled to open Nov. 14 at 172 N. Old Woodward Ave. The owner and operator, Paul Jenkins, also owns another what crêpe? restaurant in Royal Oak since 2009.
- Birmingham Sushi Cafe: This restaurant at 377 Hamilton Row offers a fusion of Japanese and Korean cuisine and wants a bistro license in order to serve alcohol.