Steve Vernetti (owner of Vernetti Restaurant) and Nora Houndalas (owner of Le Petit Greek) told us they would have liked to have been invited to participate in the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council’s Land Use Committee’s discussion Tuesday night that resulted in the committee recommending that Larchmont be designated a “sensitive use” area under the city’s new Restaurant Beverage Program (RBP). That would mean that any new liquor license issued under the program (whether for beer and wine or a full line of alcoholic beverages) would be given for only a one-year provisional period before being reviewed for more permanent status. Both restaurant owners, who live in the neighborhood, told the Buzz they are planning to apply or are already in the process of applying for a full alcohol license under the RBP.
“We were not contacted by anyone to give our perspective,” Vernetti told the Buzz about Tuesday’s LUC meeting.
“Officially we are thrilled to have Larchmont Blvd. provided a path to have a full alcohol program, and we look forward to navigating this process with the oversight and guidance of the local neighborhood authority and the city’s program providers,” said Vernetti. “We hope that a thoroughly transparent process will assuage those who have doubts that local eateries can provide the public with full alcohol programs in a reasonable and responsible manner.”
“We live here, our family works in the restaurant, we are an open book, so we’d ask why is this necessary,” said Vernetti.
Houndalas told us that she was aware of opposition to full line liquor licenses on Larchmont, which has never had them, but said, “this is part of civic discourse; we would have liked to have been there for the discussion and we would have like to have seen the neighborhood notified as well.”
Houndalas, a resident of Windsor Square, reminded us that her restaurant was recently awarded the Windsor Square Association’s “Squeaky Wheel” award for surviving the pandemic.
“Not only do we have a business here, we live here too,” said Houndalas. “We would have liked to have known it was being discussed.”
“I understand their concern, we don’t want to see bars open until 2:00 a.m. either.”” said Houndalas. “We don’t want bad behavior and we don’t want late hours but you could have bad behavior with beer and wine as well.”
Despite the additional administrative burden a provisional license would place on her small business, Houndalas said she would do whatever she has to do because the full line license will really help her business and they want neighbors to be comfortable with what’s going on.
“This will make a big difference to our bottom line,” said Houndalas. “We are still understaffed and not filling our lunch schedule. Restaurants are still suffering. This would give us a change to add a happy hour and allow us to serve other things.”
The topic of introducing mixed drinks along Larchmont Blvd. between First Street and Beverly Blvd. came up in the three Larchmont 2021 conversations held last summer because alcohol sales provide critical support for restaurants. (Currently, only beer and wine licenses are in place on Larchmont, but the new RBP would make it easier for restaurants to obtain full line liquor permits as well.) When asked, two thirds of the more than 1,000 respondents to the Larchmont 2021 Survey supported serving of alcoholic mixed drinks at food-serving establishments. Just under one-third felt the existing accommodation of beer and wine only was appropriate.
The Restaurant Beverage program has been in development since 2017 as a means to make it easier for neighborhood-serving restaurants to obtain an alcohol license. The City Council decided to move the program forward more quickly after watching many local restaurants struggle to stay open during the pandemic.
In response to a Buzz inquiry today, the Department of City Planning said, “The intent of the sensitive use area is to designate portions of the City that Council finds need additional community protections in the form of additional standards as compared to the general version of the Restaurant Beverage Program. As such, the NC can discuss this with their Council District representative, as only Council is able to designate which areas in the City apply to which program.”
And Dan Halden, Communications Director for CD 13 Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, told the Buzz that the Councilmember is “open to the request from the neighborhood council and open to having a discussion on this topic.”
The next opportunity to have such a conversation will be when the Land Use Committee’s recommendation moves to the full GWNC board for a vote at its next meeting on Wednesday, May 11, at 6:30 p.m., via Zoom. (For the meeting agenda and Zoom link, see http://www.greaterwilshire.org closer to the actual meeting date.)
About Patricia Lombard
Patricia Lombard is the co-editor and publisher of the Larchmont Buzz. Patty lives with her family in Fremont Place. She has been active in neighborhood issues since moving here in 1989. Her pictorial history, "Larchmont" for Arcadia Press is available at Chevalier's Books.
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The property owners would have also liked to be involved in this conversation.