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La Jolla restaurants take it outside as al fresco dining fires up around town

One block of Avenida de la Playa is closed to vehicle traffic to make room for outdoor dining.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Outdoor dining on Avenida de la Playa in La Jolla Shores has begun after months of planning and negotiating hurdles that nearly took the program off the table.

Starting July 22 and continuing daily through Sept. 27, Avenida de la Playa is closed to vehicle traffic between El Paseo Grande and Calle de la Plata for several restaurants and food shops to place seats and tables on the street. A 20-foot-wide pedestrian walkway runs down the middle of Avenida de la Playa, and metal barricades and signs mark both ends of the closure.

For the record:

5:39 PM, Jul. 30, 2020Megan Heine of Beaumont’s corrected her comment in the original version of this article that the restaurant has about 85 percent of its former seating capacity. The actual number is 40 percent, she said.

Restaurants can serve from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., depending on their individual operating hours.

The start of the program is a welcome sight for La Jolla Shores Association board member Phil Wise, who organized the project to help the restaurants recoup as much revenue as possible following coronavirus-related mandates forbidding indoor dining.

“We’re moving ahead with everything,” La Jolla Shores Association President Janie Emerson said of the group’s two-month effort to begin an outdoor dining program in The Shores.

It’s “very rewarding to have done something like this,” Wise said. “It’s for the community. It’s for everybody, people who can’t eat inside. [For] people who have pre-existing conditions, this is safer. And it’s for the employees, the workers; get them back working. It’s for waste management, laundry servers, the meat cutters; it all trickles down.”

The permit from the San Diego Special Events & Filming Department came through July 21, a week after the City Council voted to approve waiving permit application fees. That followed an executive order by Mayor Kevin Faulconer to allow restaurants to serve on adjacent sidewalks and parking areas.

The moves came in the wake of state and county orders stopping indoor dining service amid a surge in coronavirus cases.

Wise noted that The Shores’ outdoor dining program is an entire street closure 24 hours a day, a rarity in the city. He said no cars were parked on the portion of Avenida de la Playa slated for closure early on July 22, though LJSA still had to pay for a police officer and a tow truck to come to the area just in case.

A previous issue that nearly kept the program from going forward was a city requirement that LJSA pay an estimated $17,000 for daily parking enforcement, since under a previous version of the plan, the block would be closed only temporarily three days a week and restaurants would have to remove dining items nightly in order for the street to reopen. Ticketing and towing of illegally parked cars would be required in order to re-close the street.

But because the block is now closed all day every day through Sept. 27, the police presence was necessary only the first day.

Within minutes of the street closure, signs were posted and restaurant employees began setting up outdoor eating areas, placing artificial grass over asphalt and shade structures over tables.

By the afternoon, lights were strung, planters and flowers were placed along the street and music played through speakers.

Admiring the work, La Jolla resident Byron Campbell said, “[The Shores] has a nice little village feel to it because of the size. This makes it more of a village feel.”

Restaurants in The Shores have decorated their outdoor seating areas along Avenida de la Playa.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Passerby Jim Menkel said: “More businesses should do this. It doesn’t affect the traffic overall, and there’s such a big benefit for doing something like this. It’s going to attract a lot more people. You also get the benefit of social distance. It’s a win-win for everybody.”

Debbie Higgins, whose office is in The Shores, said she looked forward to the program starting. “I just think it’s going to be an excellent way to get people down here,” she said. “I think it’s going to be like one big party, and I’m glad to see it for the businesses. They can’t afford to shut down again.”

Councilwoman Barbara Bry, whose District 1 includes La Jolla and whose office supported LJSA’s efforts to close the street, said: “It’s exciting to see outdoor dining on the street finally a reality on Avenida de la Playa. The atmosphere is really festive. I’m excited this will allow our struggling restaurants to have a chance at staying in business.”

Outdoor dining elsewhere in La Jolla

Beaumont's in Bird Rock set up outdoor seating on La Jolla Boulevard.
Beaumont’s in Bird Rock set up outdoor seating on La Jolla Boulevard.
(Courtesy)

Several other restaurants throughout La Jolla also are taking their dining service outside. Beaumont’s on La Jolla Boulevard in Bird Rock built a “parklet,” a structure over its adjacent parking spaces separated from passing traffic by concrete blockades.

“It’s been very well-received by our guests,” said Megan Heine, who co-owns Beaumont’s with her husband, David. “It was a bit of a challenge to get it all together, [but] people are happy about it. It feels very European.”

Being able to serve outdoors is “huge” for Heine, who said Beaumont’s has “reinvented ourselves several times over the last few months. Going back to takeout only, we would not have survived.”

Heine said Beaumont’s has about 40 percent of its former seating capacity with the outdoor tables and has been able to bring in almost its entire staff.

“It’s been very helpful. We’re so fortunate in San Diego to have the kind of weather where people can enjoy outdoor seating,” Heine said. “I’m glad we have a few more months of nice weather and daylight. Hopefully by the time the winter season comes along, there will be more alternatives to this COVID situation.”

In The Village, Sugar & Scribe on Fay Avenue has converted its parking spaces into a dining patio. Puesto on Wall Street has built a parklet over its adjacent parking spaces and those along Wall to Herschel Avenue.

Bistro du Marché in The Village has expanded its sidewalk seating.
Bistro du Marché in The Village has expanded its sidewalk seating.
(Courtesy)

At Bistro du Marché on Girard Avenue, owner Sylvie Diot expanded her handful of sidewalk tables, offering seating in front of several neighboring businesses, including the patio of a cosmetic studio a few doors down.

“We do not feel that expanding onto the street would work,” Diot said. She said she wants to keep adjacent parking free for customers and that current city roadwork along the same block of Girard also may occupy parking.

“We’re very satisfied with what we have,” she said.

Diot said Bistro du Marché is waiting for the indoor bar to be allowed to reopen so she can bring back her “bartender and a couple of other people. We are almost in full force.” ◆