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La Strada seeks expansion, outdoor dining

By Kevin Elliott


Plans to expand La Strada Italian Kitchen & Bar, 243 Merrill Street in Birmingham, into a neighboring space inside the Merrillwood Building and add additional outdoor dining were recommended to be forwarded to the Birmingham City Commission by the city planning board on Wednesday, April 27.


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, and announced a “no-tip” policy, moving all employees to annual salaries.


Plans to expand the restaurant into the vacant Adore Nails and Spa, 241 Merrill Street, were reviewed by the Birmingham Planning Board on April 27, which unanimously recommended to the city commission to approve the site plan and special land use permit.


“La Strada was given the opportunity to expand and give it a little more breathing room,” Birmingham attorney John Henke said on behalf of La Strada. “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 restaurant has already reached the maximum of 65 interior seats as allowed under Birmingham’s bistro ordinance. 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.


Because bistros are considered a special use, they also must obtain a special land use permit from the city, which allows the city to place specific requirements on permit holders. Permit amendments and site plans are reviewed by the city’s planning board, which can recommend the city commission either approve or deny the application.


Planning board member Janelle Boyce said she hopes the expansion and additional outdoor dining platform would make it easier for patrons to get a table – one, if not the only complaint, raised by patrons.


Under the permit request, La Strada plans to add an outdoor dining deck along Merrill, doubling the total number of outdoor seats. The platform would eliminate the use of two metered public parking spaces.


The concern about the loss of on-street parking along Merrill, between S. Old Woodward and Pierce Street, raised at the April 25 city commission meeting by commissioner Clinton Baller, was discussed by the planning board on April 27. An April 20 memo from the city noted a total of 19 on street spaces along Merrill.


Birmingham Planning Director Nicholas Dupuis said 220 Merrill is expected to request three parking spaces in front of its building for a parking deck. He said 220 Merrill said it won’t seek additional parking spaces to host a valet stand.


Planning board vice chair, J. Bryan Williams, said the traffic calming benefit of the La Strada dining deck and another at 220 Merrill is a fair trade off for the parking spots


“I don’t think it’s unreasonable to take five spots to slow the traffic down there,” he said.

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