La Strada Kitchen & Bar expansion approved
By Grace Lovins
La Strada Italian Kitchen & Bar, located on 243 E. Merrill in Birmingham, was granted a special land use permit at the city commission meeting on Monday, June 13, allowing the restaurant to expand into the neighboring space previously occupied by Adore Nails and Spa and add an outdoor dining platform on the southwest side of the building in the Merrill Street right-of-way.
The new dining platform will be able to seat 20 people, with four chairs at five different tables, in addition to their existing platform, equalling 36 total seats for their outdoor dining areas. The interior expansion will bump the bistro’s total indoor seating but will remain below the 65-seat maximum in place.
La Strada opened in 2015 as La Strada Dolci e Caffee, and quickly become a popular European-style bistro known for VIP service, ambiance and thoughtfully created rustic Italian offerings. Owner Zharko Palushaj, former operating partner with Tre Monti Ristorante in Troy, re-branded the bistro in late 2019 as La Strada Italian Kitchen & Bar.
At a planning board meeting in May, Birmingham attorney John Henke spoke on behalf of La Strada. “La Strada was given the opportunity to expand and give it a little more breathing room. This will give a little more elbow room for servers and diners, and provide a retail opportunity in an indoor space. It’s a little bigger expansion than they wanted … we are likely to return with a kitchen redo, and hopefully grab-and-go lunch.”
The expansion request includes a reconfiguration of the dining room to provide additional window seating in the former spa space, as well as an additional 16 outdoor dining seats. The ordinance, which was designed to activate the city’s business districts and sidewalks, makes available additional liquor licenses in the city outside of limited Class C liquor licenses and costly economic development liquor licenses.
Commissioner Andrew Haig expressed concerns over the outdoor dining plans due to the lack of an outdoor dining policy in place for the city. He noted that the city does not currently have a clear policy that determines how parking utilization will be structured around outdoor dining platforms, which has the potential to create issues in the future.
Although a policy has not officially been set by the city, multiple commissioners noted that La Strada had been compliant to the outdoor dining regulations put in place at the height of the pandemic as well as all regulations pertaining to liquor licensing and maintaining public walkways establishing further confidence in the plans for the bistro’s platform.
Commissioner Elaine McLain responded to Haig’s concerns stating that the outdoor platform will slow traffic since the platform will occupy two parking spots, but with the parking garage located around the corner, the occupied spots will not create an issue. She commended the bistro’s adherence to city regulations and goals to develop the corner after the pandemic created new opportunities for expansions into outdoor dining areas.
The commission unanimously voted to approve the special land use permit for the bistro under the condition that city-standard tree grates must be installed in the two tree boxes adjacent to the storefront and outdoor dining area.
The city commission and planning board will be hosting a joint meeting on Monday, June 20, to discuss the outdoor dining ordinance draft along with other topics including food trucks and social districts.