An old Church’s Chicken building on Louisiana Avenue has become a battleground for a neighborhood association and a young entrepreneur who is converting it into a full-service restaurant selling liquor.
The Delachaise Neighborhood Association appealed to the Board of Zoning Adjustments to stop work on the building two blocks from St. Charles Avenue. It is claimed that the proposed Daiquiri World will be a bar disguised as a restaurant and that the layout will resemble a fast food establishment.
The BZA staff recommended that the objection be rejected because the plans show a standard restaurant. But the BZA board said those plans were incomplete and not stamped by a licensed architect. They voted on August 1 to defer the appeal to next month’s session.
Daiquiri World is a project by New Orleans-born Morgan Walker, a black entrepreneur and activist who founded Bike n Vote. “Today my dream and vision of opening a restaurant in the neighborhood where I grew up is being jeopardized,” Walker testified before the board.
She said she wants to reopen the vacant Louisiana and Baronne building, the former home of Sal’s Seafood and recently a MetroPCS store. The city granted planning permission for the project on May 12.
“Safety & Permits’ position is that they have complied with all requirements, and while they may have, the operative word is ‘may,'” said DNA President Donna Robertson, who filed the appeal. “Safety & Permits does not have a process to review these types of applications.”
She also noted that when asked about the security and permit application, Walker did not specify that the restaurant is within 300 feet of Cohen College Prep High School. “With the company planning to sell alcohol, DNA finds it very concerning that Safety & Permits does not consider this information to be important to the application,‘ said Robertson.
Robertson then went on to describe situations in which a company could circumvent building code regulations by secretly applying to open a restaurant and then converting the place into a bar. And she said the project represents a change of use and a major improvement, and will require additional permits that the city has not granted.
In her rebuttal, restaurateur Walker rallied to defend her business plan. She reiterated that she will be opening a restaurant with a permanent hostess stand, table service and a full menu. She also described the full kitchen fit out she is currently trying to complete.
She added that the floor plan would feature a crescent-shaped grill where customers would watch the chefs prepare food in the same manner as Camellia Grill.
“My building is on the corner of Louisiana Avenue, not on the neighborhood commercial street with neighboring beauty shops, liquor stores, other restaurants, and funeral homes.‘ Walker said. “This building has been littered with rubbish and graffiti everywhere for years. It’s just a sore thumb really, and my investment will only increase the real estate value of those around it.”
Not in my neighborhood?
At the hearing, the Neighborhood Association raised a myriad of grievances, including some that do not fall under the Urban Planning Ordinance.
Speaking for the Delachaise Neighborhood Association, Robertson and Helene Barnett gave numerous reasons why the restaurant should not open on the trade corridor.
These included parking problems, increased crime, distracting nearby high school students from their studies, problems with Daiquiri Place Café in the Lower Garden District and the Jazz Daiquiri Lounge in South Claiborneand the fact that the store is named after an alcoholic beverage.
“You have the opportunity and ability to ensure that Cohen High School students don’t collide with Daiquiri World customers and cheap high-octane alcohol on a daily basis,‘ Barnett told the board.
Walker defended the name during the hearing, although the BZA does not have jurisdiction over company names. “Our company name uses a New Orleans staple, “Daiquiri,” not to advertise a bar, but for marketing purposes to attract tourists from outside of St. Charles to the restaurant.” She said. “We believe that “Daiquiri” will draw people in and the food will make them want to come back.”
The neighborhood has its say
Neighbors’ reactions have been mixed, including among members of neighborhood associations.
The BZA received more than 90 emails supporting the objection and opposing the proposed deal. One of those emails came from Jay H. Banks, who lives near where Daiquiri World is located. He asked board members to consider whether they would like the facility to be close to their own homes.
“I ask you not to condone the destruction of our neighborhood,‘ Banks wrote. “Daiquiri shops have a proven history of drawing large crowds.“Business owners can’t always control these crowds, he said.
Banks echoed a concern he regularly expressed while representing District B on the city council, writing: “Even if the owners are genuinely committed to trying, land use issues are not owner-related, they are property-related. If this is approved and they decide to sell, the next owner may not be as committed to not destroying our quality of life.”
In an interview after the Aug. 1 hearing, Walker said she collected over 100 signatures in support of her restaurant from neighbors near the proposed location.
On July 23rdasked the Delachaise Neighborhood Association on Facebook for support for the restaurant’s freeze.
“The Delachaise Neighborhood Association (DNA) is objecting to the Safety and Permits Department’s approval of the renovation permit for a “standard restaurant” at 1738 Louisiana Street,” the association’s Facebook page said.
Three comments are logged and all support the company.
“I’d rather see community investment than look at a run-down, ramshackle former Metro PCS building,” wrote Even Troxell. “This place will have great cooked seafood, po’boys and drinks. Why the opposition? The city needs tax revenue, not empty storefronts.”
Another member of the DNA Facebook page posted, “I’m for stop this NIMBYism.”
There was a lively discussion about the restaurant concept on Nextdoor, with a few posts citing racism as an alleged element in the game.
Meeting of the Delachaise Neighborhood Association
Prior to the hearing, Walker and her contractor Gerald Baptiste were invited to a Delachaise Neighborhood Association meeting at Martin’s Wine Cellar to answer any questions from members.
Many neighbors who expressed dissenting opinions seemed most concerned about the facility’s name, while Robertson had other issues.
“[The issue] is really the intent behind the deal, how it’s going to work,” Robertson said. “Who will it attract? How will it affect the neighborhood?”
Other neighbors have expressed concern that children were with their parents when ordering food from the restaurant. A A bar located in a restaurant in New Orleans was also identified as of concern.
Robertson announced at the end of the meeting that despite all assurances, she would appeal to have the project halted.
At the meeting, Walker described the restaurant’s bar area as a place for diners to watch the chefs cook. She said the company will meet the requirements for standard restaurants, including allowing alcohol sales to account for less than half of average monthly sales.
Walker said the menu will feature traditional New Orleans dishes and appetizers. She emphasized that the intended company name does not negate the restaurant status.
She expressed that she felt embarrassed and was given only two hours notice to attend the meeting and defend her business plan in front of the neighbors’ large room at Martin’s Wine Cellar.
Recent interior designs showcase a mid-century modern aesthetic with tables set for dinner. Parts of the interior layout are still in flux as Walker and her wife and business partner, attorney Yasha Clark, brainstorm design ideas.
After the Aug. 1 BZA meeting, Walker said She is happy with the verdict and will continue to rally support.
The next meeting of the BZA will take place on September 12 at 10 a.m. in the town hall.