DOWNTOWN — Yankee Doodle’s is officially not coming back to town.
Restaurant owner Herb Astrow dropped an appeal, allowing the owner of the Third Street Promenade property, Bill Tucker, to continue with plans to convert the space for retail.
In May, the Planning Commission granted Tucker permission to follow through with his plans to convert nearly all of the roughly 15,000 square feet of restaurant space to retail. Two months later, a flash fire broke out behind the broiler, said Astrow, and water pumped in by the Santa Monica Fire Department to knock down the flames ruined the place.
A natural gas leak was the cause of the fire, said Assistant Fire Marshal Eric Binder. Surveillance tape from inside the restaurant caught the start of the fire, he said, and there was nothing suspicious about it.
Astrow appealed the commission’s permit, asking to save the restaurant space, which is to be downsized to 1,700 square feet. He dropped the appeal earlier this month.
“Our insurance company is dragging their feet in terms of resolving the claim and because we don’t know when that will take place, I can’t ask the owner to let the property stay empty,” he said. “Our hands our tied. I had to step away.”
Property damage amounts to about $1 million, he claims.
“After 23 years I guess you could say you become pretty attached to the place,” he said. “We had great plans to do a real renovation and gastro pub concept. Is it disappointing? Sure it is. But you got to make the best of the situation.”
For Astrow that means hopefully taking over the remaining restaurant space for a gourmet sandwich shop or a burger joint. Despite the appeal, he and Tucker have a great relationship, he said. The restaurant area retains a liquor license and a small patio space, which Astrow is excited about.
In May, when the commission discussed Tucker’s retail proposal, they talked about the mix of restaurants Downtown. Dining establishments are typically less profitable than women’s retail spaces. But restaurants add activity and interest to a retail-heavy area, said Rob York, a consultant for Downtown Santa Monica Inc., the public-private nonprofit that manages and promotes Downtown on behalf of City Hall.
The fact that the patio space was preserved is important, he said, because of the area’s particularly wide right-of-way. Additionally, the restaurant mix Downtown is in good shape these days.
“Restaurants, which suffered mightily in the recession, have come back with a vengeance,” York said.
Yankee Doodle’s was in a tough spot for a big restaurant, he said. Many of the new restaurants, some of which are national chains, are popping up off the promenade, he said, and that helps spread out the restaurant mix.
“We want to keep some restaurants on the promenade but it’s very good to have dining throughout the Downtown area,” he said. “We don’t want to be a street, we a want a to be a Downtown.”
Balance and economic diversity is the most important thing, he said, and for now the balance is good.
“It keeps you relevant,” he said. “And a little less susceptible to these economic swings.”