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A Wine Bar, Sushi Spot and What Crepe? Vying for 2013 Bistro Licenses

The two existing Birmingham restaurants and plans for a third will come before the Birmingham Planning Board Wednesday.

The 2013 bistro license process moves forward Wednesday night, when three applicants for two licenses come before the Birmingham Planning Board with detailed plans in hand.

Two existing Birmingham eateries — Birmingham Sushi and What Crepe? — as well as plans for a new restaurant, Crush Bistro, are looking to receive the two bistro licenses Birmingham offers each year.

Under Birmingham's 2007 bistro ordinance, only two bistro licenses are approved by the city commission each year. Bistros are defined as having seasonal sidewalk seating, a full-service kitchen and no more than 65 seats inside and 10 seats at the bar.

Plans for all three restaurants came before the Birmingham City Commission in mid-October for an initial screening, during which commissioners narrowed the field from six initial proposals to three.

During the Wednesday night meeting, planning board members will consider whether to approve a Special Land Use Permit (necessary for bistros) and a final site plan for all three applicants. Both are necessary to move on to the Birmingham City Commission for final approval.

Depending on the plans, the planning board could pass on none of the plans or all three. Since both Birmingham Sushi and What Crepe? has been in business for less than five years, they must apply for a bistro license as new restaurants.

Wednesday night's meeting starts at 7 p.m. at City Hall.

Selecting the recipients of the 2013 bistro licenses requires city commissioners to consider:

  • Applicants' demonstrated ability to finance the project.
  • Applicants' track record with the city, including responding to city and citizens' concerns.
  • Whether the applicant has an adequate site plan to handle the bistro's liquor license activities.
  • Whether the applicant has adequate health and sanitary facilities.
  • The establishment's location.
  • Whether the cuisine offered by the applicant is already represented in the city.
  • Whether the applicant has outstanding obligations to the city.

So, who is looking to receive Birmingham's bistro licenses this year?

Birmingham Sushi Cafe

This Birmingham eatery has been at 377 Hamilton Row since 2009 and serves sushi, Japanese and Asian fusion cuisine. It is, according to plans, the only restaurant in the city to serve Korean food.

Project architect Keith Logsdon told city commissioners in October that serving alcohol will help Birmingham Sushi enhance its "zen-like atmosphere."

"It could immediately start to draw even more people to Birmingham," Logsdon said.

However, while the Planning Department's report notes Birmingham Sushi has no outstanding violations or delinquent taxes, a health inspection report from the Oakland County Health Department cites several critical and priority violations.

What Crepe?

In Birmingham since February, What Crepe? is looking to pick up a bistro license to match the service level of their Royal Oak location. Owner Paul Jenkins told the commissioners in October that 20 percent of his business in Royal Oak comes from drinks alone.

Serving crepes for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert, this is the second year that What Crepe? has applied for a bistro license.

What Crepe? proposes to have a bar with four seats with 16 seats outside — eight on the sidewalk and eight more on an outdoor dining platform on North Old Woodward.

According to a report from the Planning Department, while What Crepe? has shown they can finance the proposed renovations and there are no overdue taxes, the restaurant's proposed outdoor dining doesn't provide for safe and efficient pedestrian flow.

Crush Bistro

New to the Birmingham scene is Crush Bistro, which is looking to move into the building at 555 S. Old Woodward Ave. In October, Crush was selected to proceed by the city commission primarily because of its location. City Commissioner Mark Nickita noted the eatery would "activate the south end."

Crush, which would be operated by the owners of Sinbads Restaurant in Detroit — including owner Marc Blancke and executive chef John Fleming — would serve everything from a chicken ciabatta sandwich, to New York strip steak to fresh Atlantic salmon. Dozens of wines, served by the glass and bottle, are also on the menu.

According to plans, Crush would be to Birmingham's south end what Luxe Bar & Grill is to the city's north side — a "neighborhood haunt."

"(Crush would be) a very energetic venue inspired by the true definition of bistro. Small, friendly, a place to nosh, dine, meet old friends and make new ones."

Clinton Baller December 12, 2012 at 02:21 PM
Birmingham should loosen up on its arbitrary limit on the number of new bistros each year. There are good and different arguments for granting all three of these licenses. The sushi place deserves a license just so it can be a full-fledged sushi joint. What Crepe has great food, but the place might not survive without a license. And Crush would add needed vitality to the 555 area. The market for bistros is strong, and there's no good reason for arbitrarily limiting supply in the face of strong demand. Dining is clearly a big part of Birmingham's present and future, and from my vantage, it appears retail is benefiting -- if not directly then indirectly from the vitality the bistros are creating. The limit was set because we didn't know how the bistro scene would play out, and we didn't want to open the floodgates on an unproven concept. Now that the concept is proven, what is the rationale for setting a limit on the number of new licenses? For sure, proper review should continue. But if two of the three applicants are existing businesses that deserve licenses, we are setting ourselves up for an unnecessarily difficult decision, and unnecessary disappointment, by limiting the number of new licenses to two.

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