Patrons of the café at the French Hotel are miffed that the tables and chairs that used to be regular fare on the sidewalk in front of the establishment are absent most of the time now.
“Yesterday I was back there (at the café), and there were no tables and chairs out there,” said a patron who loves the coffee but desires a return to the sidewalk ambience.
The café habitue, who asked that her name not be used, said patrons bring chairs out from inside the café, and they are willing to return them, but it’s not the same. She still buys a cup of coffee there, but not all the time.
On a recent sunny morning coffee drinkers were waiting in a long line to buy the brew, even though they couldn’t sit outside.
“I think it’s lousy,” said Larry Melnick, who brought along his own mug to be filled. “The guy didn’t pay for a permit or something.”
Melnick noted that the lack of tables and chairs seemed to have little effect on business at the café.
“I would ask management to bring back the tables,” said one customer, noting her interest in sitting at a table if one should be available.
A concerned restaurant employee said, “You need a permit to have tables and chairs outside. It’s up to our owner to get a permit.”
The café is operated by the Espresso Roma Corporation, owned by Sandy Boyd, who has two other coffee houses located on College Avenue and Hopkins Street.
Boyd said Friday said he doesn’t go to the Shattuck Avenue café every day but employees told him a police officer came to the café and informed employees the tables had to come inside.
Boyd maintains it was selective enforcement because another local café has no permit but has sidewalk tables, he said.
“If there are tables out there, I don’t know anything about it,” said Boyd.
Matt LeGrant, senior planner, said there is no record of Boyd having ever filed for a permit since the zoning ordinance was amended in 1995. It makes specific provisions for tables and chairs.
The law sets certain standards including review and approval by the Public Works Department to insure adequate clearance for pedestrian movement, said LeGrant. Other establishments may have tables and chairs outside on the sidewalk without a permit, too, said LeGrant.
He said planners are working with the police department and the Commission on Disabilities because they’re all interested in enforcement.
However, he said Zoning Code Compliance Officer Maurice Norrisse “never received any complaint nor has he visited the French Hotel (for enforcement).”
The cost of the administrative use permit application fee is $350, said LeGrant, but if the activity already is occurring, it could be subject to a double fee of $700.
Boyd said sidewalk tables and chairs have been outside the café since 1984. “I guess I thought I was grandfathered in.”
He said he has a permit application, but that he has not had a chance to review it for the site plan requirements.
“Maybe I’ll have to hire an architect to delineate footage, and hire a surveyor to tell me exactly where my property line is located. If I have to do all those things it may take some time,” Boyd said.
He said it could take as much as two months to complete the preparatory work for the application.
“I’m aware of the problem. I’ve had a few calls from customers. From my perspective I certainly would like to have tables out there,” he said. “There are some customers loyal to the French Hotel, and we’ve had some very good workers for a long time. I think they come there for that. I don’t know that two or three tables would mean very much to the people in line.”