BY KATE CAGLE
An Italian restaurant with rooftop views on the Santa Monica Pier is asking the city for permission for a make over.
The owners of Ristorante Al Mare want to nix their white tablecloths and current selection of pizza and pasta to rebrand the restaurant as “fast-casual” with salads, sandwiches and burgers. The proposed new name is “Earl’s Seaside Tavern.”
The proposed new façade will feature floor-to-ceiling windows on the first floor and preserve the rooftop dining terrace. If approved, the new menu will feature traditional bar food such as artichoke dip and Buffalo wings, as well as salads, hot sandwiches and burgers. The restaurant is located inside the Billiars Building at 250 Santa Monica Pier.
The City Council will vote on the new changes at their meeting Tuesday, Dec. 6.
The proposal comes as the city aims to curb the growth of “fast-casual” restaurants on the nearby Promenade, even going so far as to institute a temporary ban on converting full-service restaurants to “fast-casual” in May.
The City Council instated the ban to give staff members more time to consider whether the more casual dining options should be allowed to proliferate on the Promenade, where fast food has been banned since 1988.
As opposed to casual dining establishments that provide table service, at “fast-casual” restaurants, customers order at a counter and often bus their own tables. The more relaxed dining options have been popping up all over downtown: Tender Greens, Flower Child, 800 Degrees and Chipotle are several examples.
“You’re clearly seeing an erosion of the full-service restaurant in favor of the fast-casual,” said Councilmember Sue Himmelrich at the May 24 meeting that discussed the temporary ban.
Restaurants on the Pier are subject to a separate set of leasing guidelines set up in 1988 to preserve the unique character of the historic landmark. According to the guidelines, “each lease is vital to maintain a vibrant mix of uses and a sustainable Pier business environment.” The owner of any restaurant, in this case Romana Pier LLC, must get approval from the city council for any major alterations from the original concept outlined in their lease.
In 2010, Ristorante al Mar introduced upscale dining on the Pier, complete with a website promising customers sunset views and a “meal to remember.” The spot had been vacant since 2002 when the Arcadia nightclub closed down. Renovations took nearly four years to complete.
In February, Planet Hollywood Restaurant Group became an investor of Romana Pier LLC, purchasing 50 percent membership interest. In addition to their name-sake, Planet Hollywood owns the Buca di Beppo and Earl of Sandwich chains.
Under the new proposal, “Earl’s Seaside Tavern” will offer counter service on the ground floor, with a larger menu and sit-down service on upper floors. The restaurant claims two-thirds of their menu items would be new foods served on the Pier.
City Council meets at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall, 1685 Main St., on Dec. 6.