For the past six months or so, Molly’s Rise and Shine on Magazine Street in the Irish Channel has been charming patrons with its inventive take on morning cuisine. Now, alongside the dash of irony and generous serving of millennial nostalgia, the popular spot is on its way to serving booze to wash down the Whirled Peas on Toast or Grand Slam McMuffin.
The restaurant’s tandem request for a zoning change and conditional use — changes engineered to allow alcoholic beverage sales — appeared to be sailing to approval when introduced at Tuesday’s City Planning Commission meeting.
The property owners and business operator want to change the zoning in one of the few residential blocks of Magazine from Historic Urban Two-Family Residential to Historic Urban Neighborhood Business.
It’s now operating as a nonconforming use in the building that spent 30 years as the Magazine Street Po-Boy Shop. The alcohol permit would intensify that conditional use, so it wants to operate under commercial zoning with a conditional use to serve alcohol.
The CPC staff report showed strong support for the request. The building, with its overhang and angled door at the corner, was originally a store and has a century-long history as a commercial property, Sanborn Maps show. So neighborhood-business zoning would be appropriate, the planners said.
“The only real change is to permit the sale of alcoholic beverages for onsite consumption, which is a customary aspect of a restaurant operation,” they stated. Parking requirements would be waived, and the allowed hours would be set for 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays and to midnight on weekends. The breakfast and brunch restaurant currently operates from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Mason Hereford — a well-respected chef who operates Molly’s Rise and Shine as well as the nearby Turkey and the Wolf, an acclaimed lunch spot that serves alcohol — said he needs the permit because he believes in paying his workers a living wage and offering health care to his salaried employees.
“We are having some people come in and say, ‘Oh there’s no alcohol here. We’ll go to another restaurant that has it,’” he told the commissioners. “In order to be able to compete with those restaurants, it makes sense for us to have alcohol to sustain our model and be in this location forever without making any changes to our hours or anything like that.”
Members of the city’s hospitality industry, from low-wage workers to celebrity chefs, were at City Hall in force on Tuesday to support Hereford and the proposal.
“All of us are committed to repositioning how the hospitality industry is seen. And Mason Hereford is the best among us,” Robert LeBlanc of Cavan Restaurant told the CPC. “I’m keenly aware that if they serve alcohol, they will become a competitor to our business. But to us, that is great because he has really made a positive impact on our industry.”
Tory McPhail, who holds a James Beard award for Best Chef in the South, said he walks past Molly’s on his way to work at Commander’s Palace and wants it to succeed because “a rising tide floats all boats.” Lauren Haydel of Fleurty Girl wants to keep stopping by every morning for a Deviled Egg Tostada and a drip coffee.
Matt Ryan, a former Coliseum Square Association president who spoke in favor of the proposal, addressed the zoning issue. “One of the good things about having a commercial building in each block is the walkability of the city,” Ryan said. “People can go around and walk to a restaurant and have a drink.”
For the opponents of the proposal, the zoning change is a sticking point. The boards of the two neighborhood associations for the immediate area, the Garden District Association and the Irish Channel Neighborhood Association, both voted to oppose the measure.
“This is not about the business owner or the property owner. They come and go; they always do,” said Bill Sawicki of the Irish Channel group. “It’s about maintaining the balance between commercial and residential.
“Commercial expansions like this exert long-term pressures on the immediate neighborhood — increased traffic, parking difficulties, trash, noise, rodents, etc.,” Sawicki said. “This zoning will allow permanent changes.”
None of the opponents objected to the business as it now stands. But adding another liquor license, as well as permanent commercial zoning, to the mix on Magazine Street was troubling to many.
For one neighbor, the issue was the potential expansion of the hours. Hereford proposed attaching a 6 p.m. closing time to the property, instead of the suggested 10 p.m., although he said he has no plans to stay open beyond 3 p.m.
Katie Schwartzmann, who lives next to the restaurant with her husband and their two toddlers, wants to eliminate the possibility of any 6 p.m. closing times.
“Since Molly’s opened, I can’t park at my house on the weekends. If I have to get groceries, forget it — I can’t get back in,” Schwartzmann told the CPC. “It’s a pain in the neck, but it’s OK because it’s two days a week and I can deal with it.”
With a 6 p.m. closing, parking could be seven-day-a-week problem, she said.
“Right now, I can pull up with my two kids at 5:30 and take them in and cook dinner. If people are going to be in those spots while they’re in Molly’s drinking, I’m going to be lugging my kids around on Magazine Street in rush hour — on what is already a very dangerous corner. This difference between 3 o’clock and 6 o’clock really matters to us.”
Another neighbor, who lives directly across from Molly’s, described congestion caused by Uber drivers dropping passengers off at the restaurant.
The CPC staff has exempt Molly’s from off-street parking requirements. As one speaker noted, there’s barely room for a garbage can on the property.
“This exemption is provided because lot dimensions and building orientation in areas designated Historic Urban often do not allow for off-street parking, and it is anticipated that many patrons of the standard restaurant will walk or bike,” the CPC staff report states.
A petition of support signed by Molly’s Rise and Shine customers, which included addresses, shows that the nationally known restaurant attracts many people from throughout the metro area as well as the immediate neighborhood.
Addressing the concerns over allowing another alcohol permit, Nicole Webre, who was representing Hereford and the property owners, noted that the restaurant is already BYOB. “People can walk down the street and buy alcohol,” she said. “With the permit, Mason and the staff can control the consumption.”
Webre said the 6 p.m. closing was decided on because it wouldn’t allow for dinner service while giving more flexibility for any future operators. Hereford has a five-year lease on the property.
The commissioners, however, decided that was too much flexibility, given the objections from the neighbors. They added a restriction that the restaurant at Magazine and First streets could not close later than 4 p.m., with all staff leaving the building by 6 p.m. With that proviso, the proposal was approved 6-0.
This report was corrected to reflect that Molly’s Rise and Shine is the Irish Channel, not the Garden District, and that Nicole Webre is not a practicing attorney.