Thursday afternoon Planning Commissioners voted to legalize an off-site kitchen for Castro eatery Cafe Flore that the owner argues is vital for keeping his restaurant open.
The commission voted 6-1 after hearing from supporters of the business at 2298 Market Street and its owner, J. D. Petras, who told the oversight panel that the second kitchen space is “extremely important” for “the survival of Café Flore.”
He said that the kitchen on-site is too small with “no shelving or storage.” The kitchen across the street, he added, is used to make soup stocks and cut vegetables.
Several nearby merchants and residents spoke out in opposition to what they consider an unfair “spot zoning” benefit for a single business.
“Fundamentally, this is unfair to other businesses in the district,” said Ryan Patterson, who sits on the Duboce Triangle Neighborhood Association’s land use committee and is a land use attorney. “No other restaurant in the district would be allowed this use.”
The matter had the support of gay District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener, who brought forward the zoning change. Under the legislation adopted today (Thursday, February 21) Petras will have one year to seek the required city permits for the off-site kitchen space.
“This will provide Cafe Flore with a path to legalize its off-site kitchen that has been at one location or another for decades,” said Wiener. “This is critical for the success of this iconic neighborhood business.”
Petras bought the eatery in 2002 and is no stranger to fighting with his Duboce Triangle neighbors over the business. In 2007 he faced opposition to his plans to go to 24-hour operation and seek changes to his alcohol license. He also faced push back when he added sidewalk seating along Noe Street.
The latest skirmish centers around an ancillary food preparation space his kitchen staff uses across the street behind a nail salon located at 260½ Noe Street. Once he acquires the necessary permits, the kitchen will go from being illegal to a “legal, non-conforming” use.
According to a letter Wiener sent to the leaders of DTNA and the Castro/Eureka Valley Neighborhood Association, which both opposed granting Cafe Flore use of the secondary kitchen, the former owners of the restaurant lived in the building across the street and had been using their personal kitchen to help with the commercial operation.
Petras purchased the 260½ unit in order to continue that arrangement, wrote Wiener in the letter. He added the the Department of Public Health has worked with him to upgrade the facility and bring it into compliance with food safety standards.
Despite the objections from the two neighborhood groups, planning commissioners saw no problem with granting specific zoning rules for Cafe Flore. It is something they routinely do, with one citing a recent vote to make a gay sober space, called the Castro Country Club, a legal use in a residential building on 18th Street.
Others said they wanted to support a moderate-priced restaurant, especially when others in the city have closed their doors due to rising business costs.
“It is only going to get worst,” said Commissioner Michael J. Antonini. “Whatever we can do to … keep a moderately priced business in business, where you can go to with a family when you don’t want to spend a lot of money and get good quality food, I am certainly in favor of.”
The lone dissenter, Commission Vice President Cindy Wu, voiced support for Cafe Flore’s desire to make the off-site kitchen a legal use but opposed the method planning staff used to achieve that goal.