It seems the long saga of the Larchmont Bungalow restaurant now includes its closure. On Tuesday, a simple sign in the windows, now covered over with paper, bid farewell and thank you to those who had supported the restaurant during its conflicted eight-year tenure on Larchmont Blvd.
The timing of the closure may have been prompted by the city’s ongoing lawsuit against the business. “We are in court tomorrow,” said City Attorney Serena Christion. “They have finally done what they have agreed to do all along. How long it lasts, we shall see.”
In February, 2016, Larchmont Bungalow owner Albert Mizrahi pleaded no contest to three criminal counts filed against him by the City of Los Angeles in 2010. In exchange for probation and suspending his sentencing for 18 months, Mizrahi agreed to bring the illegal restaurant into compliance with City zoning codes.
Last August, Mizrahi passed away, leaving management of the corporation that owns the Bungalow to his wife Renee, who also operates Larchmont Hardwear clothing store. The case against the corporation has continued, and attorneys for Mrs. Mizrahi agreed to secure a certificate of occupancy or close by the next next court date on August 3, 2017. Christion speculated the closure resulted from the Bungalow’s inability to get a certificate of occupancy from the City because it was operating illegally in violation of Larchmont’s unique street zoning code, known as the “Q” Conditions, put in place in the early 1990s. The conditions limit the number of restaurants, banks, and real estate offices, to help preserve local-serving retail uses on the street.
The Bungalow has also had other legal issues, and Christion also won a conviction against the business for fire code violations, to which the Bungalow pled no contest and received a three-year term of probation.
The legal battles orchestrated by Mizrahi and his lawyers stalled for time on the legal charges, so they could keep the restaurant open and continue with re-opening of a civil lawsuit Mr. Mizrahi filed against the city in 2010. Despite two rulings in favor of the City in that case, it will continue before a new judge in a hearing scheduled for August 17.
Much change has come to Larchmont in the eight years since the Bungalow opened…and some say those changes began when Mizrahi’s acquired four buildings on Larchmont (107, 123, 150 and 227) at the height of the market, one year before the great recession of 2008. Mizrahi dramatically raised the rents at those properties, to cover his carrying costs, and the increases resulted in the closure of several long-time tenants, including the hardware store, a dry cleaner and a florist. (Sam’s Bagels held on by refusing to move when no other tenants wanted the space.) As a result, rents all along the street have increased dramatically over the last few years, as much as four-fold, resulting a lot of turnover on the street.
The retail landscape is different too. Trina Turk, Blue Mercury and MAC are recent additions to the street, as more retailers want to get out of shopping malls and offer the “main street” experience for shoppers. There are also many more food options on the street now, with high-end boutique outlets like Mr. Holmes Bakehouse, Salt & Straw Ice Cream and Jeni’s Ice Cream…none of which are are small businesses.
Although it has had a controversial tenure, the Bungalow did have a good run by industry standards. According to therestaurantbrokers.com, “the average restaurant’s life span is five years, with up to 90 percent of independently owned restaurants closing in year one.” Tomorrow’s court date for the city’s criminal case against Mizrahi should provide more information about the Bungalow’s closure, and the next steps in the lawsuits.
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[Buzz co-publisher Elizabeth Fuller also contributed to this story.]