The planned Superica restaurant on Magazine Street will be more than twice as large as the current Smashburger space currently in the location, a revelation is drawing frustration and opposition from more than a dozen Garden District and Irish Channel neighbors.
The Superica planned for 3300 Magazine Street would be the third location of the Tex-Mex restaurant after two in the Atlanta area, and the 13th restaurant operated by chef Ford Fry, who is also testing other concepts in Houston, Charlotte and Nashville, land-use consultant Avery Foret told neighbors on Wednesday. While the back-end operations would remain in the Atlanta area, four full-time managers in the kitchen and dining area would be stationed at the Magazine Street location.
The current Smashburger occupies roughly 3,000 square feet, but Superica would expand to about 7,000 square feet by incorporating a second building at the rear of the property that is currently used for storage, Foret said. The total number of seats planned in the restaurant is 209 at tables and another 29 at the bar, and the expansion also allows Superica to store all its trash and grease traps inside the building.
No live music is planned at the location, and Foret said she does not expect flat-screen TVs showing Saints games, either.
“I don’t think that fits their concept at all,” Foret said when a neighbor asked about TVs. “This is a sit-down traditional restaurant with hostess stand, tables and booths.”
Neighbors said they appreciated that the trash and grease that has been an issue with Smashburger will be handled differently by Superica, but the proposed size drew almost unanimous complaint at the meeting.
“This is a huge place,” said Shelley Landrieu of the Garden District Association. “Magazine Street is supposed to be for ‘little.’ It doesn’t fit the ambiance of small mom and pops.”
Smashburger currently has no off-street parking, and the new restaurant will only require four spaces, based on current zoning laws, Foret said. But because the buildings involved all extend to the lot lines, the developers plan to ask for a waiver of those four spaces as part of their conditional use to open a restaurant larger than 5,000 square feet, Foret said.
Residents of the back streets around the proposed restaurant said those hundreds of patrons will likely be parking in their neighborhoods.
“I have three kids. I need to be able to park within a block of my house,” said Constance Street restaurant Tim Mehok. “I’m afraid that based on what you’re proposing here it’s going to become exponentially more difficult.”
Another nearby neighbor, Lauren Anderson, urged the Foret to approach Breaux Mart about the possibility of at least allowing employees to park in their lot so they don’t end up leaving their cars in the neighborhood for hours at a time.
“Our block is as crowded as Magazine Street, but worse because we don’t have meters,” Anderson said.
The development sparked discussion of whether Magazine Street is simply becoming oversatured with restaurants. They asked whether some sort of moratorium could be put in place, but Landrieu replied that it would have to take the form of a permanent ban, which would be unlikely.
Even so, the Garden District has recently counted more than 30 restaurants serving alcohol in the 12 blocks between Louisiana and Jackson avenues. More restaurants are on the way, such as the conversion of the Radio Shack into a Chipotle, the Charcoal into a Deanie’s Seafood, and the former New Orleans Music Exchange is becoming a seafood restaurant by the owners of Namese.
“Even though we’re overwhelmed, we’re getting three more restaurants and possibly a fourth,” said resident Bee Fitzpatrick. “For someone who likes to go out, we already have a plethora of restaurants to choose from, and parking has become a real problem in our neighborhoods.”
Also at the meeting was Arana co-owner Richard Papier, who questioned why Superica chose to pursue such a large, similar restaurant only two doors down from his — and only a block from another Latin restaurant, Rum House. By contrast, Arana seats only 50 or 60 people, Papier said, so Superica will be four times as large.
“It doesn’t make us very happy,” said Papier, noting that he has lived and worked in New Orleans his whole life. “It’s hard to fill a restaurant that big. This is not the Atlanta belt like they’re used to.”
Superica will bring its conditional use request to the City Planning Commission in January of next year, and will appear before the City Council for a final decision in the months afterward, Foret said. Superica’s proposed lease for the building starts in September, and they plan to begin construction soon afterward for a January 2019 opening date.
Several residents urged her to ask the owners to reconsider the size of the building or to find another location — perhaps the vacant Irish House building on St. Charles Avenue that already has parking — and some said they would oppose a conditional use to make the Magazine Street location larger than 5,000 feet. Foret promised to take their feedback to Superica’s owners for consideration.
“It sounds like a wonderful deal,” said Sally Omeallie. “I’m just questioning whether you got the best spot for it.”