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Planning panel moves two new bistros forward

By Kevin Elliott


Two new proposed restaurants seeking bistro licenses were recommended for approval on Wednesday, May 26, by the Birmingham Planning Board for consideration by the city commission.


Birmingham’s bistro liquor ordinance was created in 2007 with the goal of invigorating city streets, creating greater walkability, and offering new and unique dining destinations while strengthening the retail community. Largely a success, the ordinance has helped to revitalize the city’s downtown retail area, making it's dining area a destination for the metro area.


The city permits two new bistro applications to be approved annually, in addition to two establishments that have operated in the city for more than five years. Additionally, the restaurants must have no more than 65 seats, including 10 at the bar; meet outdoor dining requirements and storefront glazing; outdoor dining on sidewalk or street platforms; and other requirements. As such, the application process is highly competitive and bistro licenses are a coveted asset in the city.


Two new proposed businesses went before the city’s planning board for consideration of new bistro licenses. The applicants are two of five forwarded to contend for one of the two new bistro licenses.


Bloom Bistro, 239 N. Old Woodward, is hoping to use the former Pita Cafe space to open a new plant-based (vegan) experience driven by a trendsetting atmosphere, complemented by hand-crafted cocktails and a chef-intensive, seasonally changing menu.


Celebrity chef Matthew Kenney is the man behind Bloom, with an extensive background in plant-based cuisine. Kennney has authored a dozen cookbooks and founded many vegan restaurants. Birmingham architects Ron Rea and Roman Bonislawski are designing the interior and exterior of the historic Huston Building.


The proposal calls for 65 interior seats and 36 exterior, 24 or which would be located in the rear of the establishment along the Willits Alley. The plan would formally activate the alley with outdoor dining, a longstanding goal of the planning board.


“This is what we’ve been looking for for the past 14 years,” said board member Robin Boyle. “We have been waiting for something to come and activate the alley like this.”


The alley serves a mix of retail and commercial businesses, along with service access for trash and rear entrances to some businesses. In recent years, Dick O’ Dow’s installed new bay doors that open to the alleyway. Outdoor use was extended during the Maple Road construction and again during pandemic restrictions.


Bonislawski said the activity in the alley helped prompt the new bistro concept.


“We saw the activity happening at Dick O’ Dow’s, and thought this added to the activity happening there,” he said. “There are other things that extend into that space, and we think it’s an important component of the restaurant.”


While the alley is used by service vehicles and staff from surrounding establishments, planning board chair Scott Clein said he wasn’t concerned about limited traffic in the alley.


Planning board members unanimously approved sending both the special land use permit and final site plan and design review to the city commission with its recommendation for approval.


The second bistro application forwarded was by Sushi Japan, 176 S. Old Woodward, in the former 2941 Mediterranean Streetfood space.


Sushi Japan, which specializes in primarily Chinese food and ramen dishes and sushi, would be operated by Ximing “Charlie” Yu, who said he plans on operating whether or not he receives a bistro permit. Yu said ramen is a particular specialty of his, with a mix of Japanese and Chinese dishes.


The restaurant is proposing 54 seats inside, as well as 18 outdoor dining seats, of which a dozen are proposed to be next to the building and six east of the sidewalk along the curb, along the on-street parking.


Boyle said he likes the plans and concept for the restaurant, but questioned the name of the establishment, Sushi “Japan,” as it specializes in Chinese food.


Kelly Allen, who represents Yu, said city commissioner Clinton Baller recommended changing the name to “Charlie’s Chinese,” but that Yu plans on keeping the name and not changing it.


Board members unanimously approved recommending approval by the city commission for the special land use permit and final site plan and design review.


Both the bistro applicants will go before the city commission for final consideration. A third proposed bistro, Vinewood bistro, has already been forwarded to the city commission for consideration, after being denied a recommendation from the planning board. That application was postponed on Monday, May 24,at the request of the applicant.

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