Santa Monica City Council voted Tuesday night to prohibit fast-casual restaurants and cafe chains with more than 100 locations nationwide from opening on the Promenade.
The emergency zoning ordinance, which will not impact existing restaurants, is meant to help transform the Promenade into a community gathering place as the growth of online retailers drives down foot traffic. The City hopes that filling Third Street’s increasing number of vacant storefronts with restaurants more distinctive than Yogurtland or Chipotle will attract visitors.
“People come to the Promenade because it has a level of authenticity other shopping districts don’t have, and having some independent businesses really adds to that authenticity,” said Mayor Pro Tempore Gleam Davis.
Misti Kerns, president of Santa Monica Travel & Tourism, said consumer focus groups the organization has conducted in the past few months indicate that tourists are looking for unique dining options, although such restaurants can be hard to sustain in Santa Monica.
“Local businesses frame the fabric of this community and … we look forward to continuing to work together with partners and the City of Santa Monica to explore areas of support to nurture and assist our local businesses,” Kerns said. “Conducting business in our city can be difficult for small restaurants, as can be seen by the number of closings around our city.”
The ordinance originally proposed an upper limit of 150 locations, but Davis and Councilmember Sue Himmelrich and amended the limit to 100 because they believe it would have prevented desirable restaurant chains from coming to the Promenade.
The ordinance will only apply to chains considered limited-service and take-out restaurants, a classification that also includes cafes, ice cream parlors and delicatessens. It will not apply to full-service restaurants with more than 100 locations, such as BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse. Out of the 28 eateries on the Promenade, only nine are full-service restaurants.
In addition, some Promenade properties, such as Chipotle’s building, are grandfathered in as fast-food restaurants, said Jing Yeo, City Planning Division Manager. While this doesn’t mean new tenants in those spaces would have to be fast-food restaurants, large chains looking to open on the Promenade could seek out those spaces.
Kathleen Rawson, the CEO of Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. (DTSM), has said she thinks businesses like The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf or Pinkberry, which are classified as incidental food, should be exempted from the ordinance.
Scott Schonfeld, who owns The Gallery Food Hall on the Promenade, said at the Council meeting he believes the ordinance is a step in the right direction to address the decline in foot traffic and high business turnover on Third Street. But he also asked the Council to consider lifting the moratorium on converting restaurant spaces on the Promenade to retail spaces.
“There’s almost too much supply (of fast-casual restaurants),” Schonfeld said. “It’s hard for new operators to open and succeed with the amount of burger and salad places we have.”