WILSHIRE BLVD — Renee’s Courtyard Cafe meant a lot to some Santa Monicans. It was a place where one could take their family for a nice meal; a place where budding musicians could have a chance to showcase their talents; a place where lasting relationships could form.
Mark Evans, long-time patron, even called it “the West Coast version of Cheers,” self-proclaiming himself as the Norm Peterson of the restaurant.
But now it’s gone, never to be seen again. After a run of 33 years, Renee’s closed its doors Super Bowl Sunday.
“A part of the city has been lost forever,” Evans said.
Jim Fishman, son of restaurant owner Renee Forest and manager of day-to-day operations at Renee’s for the last five years, attributes the closure to a combination of decreased revenue from the recession and high rent prices. Forest, however, thinks it’s simpler than that.
“It’s the case of a very greedy landlord,” Forest said. “He wanted more money. There’s no magic to it.”
Rand Alhadeff, the landlord, said he would not comment publicly about specific terms of the lease or any other details regarding the working relationship between himself and the restaurant owners.
“My whole attitude at this point is what’s past is past,” Alhadeff said. “I’m looking forward to the new tenant and what they’re going to bring to the building.”
The new tenant will be Tinga, a Mexican restaurant with one other location on La Brea Avenue. Tinga will operate under Renee’s name for the first month, an employee at the restaurant said.
Renee’s isn’t the only small business that has faced the struggle to stay open due to high rents. Euphoria Loves Rawvolution, a raw food staple on Main Street for the last seven years, has enlisted the help of its loyal customers on their indiegogo.com fundraising page. According to the page, Rawvolution is in danger of being replaced by a “corporate coffee bar.”
“Without your help, Rawvolution will not be here to continue to help people, change lives, inspire others and truly feed people. Please take a stand for real food and real community,” the restaurant owner said on its indiegogo.com page.
As of Thursday afternoon, they have raised $2,814 of their $38,000 goal. The owners did not return phone calls for comment.
While Renee’s closure after more than three decades may be considered a blow to the Santa Monica community, Rob York, president of York Consulting, said it was unique among others because the restaurant business generally has a high turnover rate.
“It’s extremely rare for a restaurant to last that long,” York said. “It’s sad to see a place like Renee’s go.”
Mom-and-pop merchants have been complaining for years that it is hard to eke out a living with exorbitant rents and prohibitive City Hall policies, such as those against certain types of advertising and signage. Popular shopping districts like Main Street and Montana Avenue saw an exodus of boutiques in the wake of the economic downturn.
It seems that while economic conditions improve, it is still a tough row to hoe for local merchants.