Oct 082019
 

Molly’s Rise and Shine sits at the corner of one of the few residential blocks on Magazine Street. (via City Planning Commission)

Molly’s Rise and Shine, the quirky Magazine Street breakfast spot run by one of the city’s rising culinary stars, appeared to be on its way to getting a liquor license approved Thursday. It had the backing of the City Planning Commission as well as a crowd of enthusiastic supporters, who packed the Council Chambers for a hearing and City Council vote.

In the end, however, the attempt failed. Council members voted to deny the building at First Street and Magazine commercial zoning and a conditional use that would allow the owners to apply for a permit to sell alcohol.

“With these zoning issues, we put in an inordinate amount of time trying to work things out,” said District B Councilman Jay Banks, holding a thick stack of comment cards before the hearing. “This one, we couldn’t come to an agreement. There are supporters on both sides that feel very, very strongly.”

On one side, opponents spoke of commercial encroachment into their peaceful residential neighborhood and the prospect of drunken patrons spilling into the street. On the other, supporters said that the building has always been commercial, that Molly’s owner— acclaimed chef Mason Hereford, who also operates Turkey and the Wolf — needs the additional revenue to continue paying his employees a living wage, that he runs a tight ship and is vital to the city’s culinary culture — and, besides, what’s wrong with a mimosa or two at brunch anyway.

After a contentious hearing with the City Planning Commission in July, Hereford agreed to a list of provisos that included closing no later than 4 p.m. (it closes at 3 p.m.).

The building at 2368 Magazine St. in the Irish Channel is in a rare residential stretch of Magazine. The building itself, however, is commercial in its design and its historical use, city planner Stephen Kroll told the council.

Many of the neighbors said the residential zoning gave them the confidence to invest in their homes. “Our little neighborhood is feeling the squeeze between Airbnbs and more and more commercial properties,” said Bridget Herbet, who lives three doors down from the restaurant. “We are trying desperately to hang on to our little slice of heaven.”

Changing the zoning for the building, a step toward getting an alcohol permit as a conditional use, could have long-term consequences, they said, to the traffic, noise, parking, trash and property values in the surrounding area.

“We’re seeking a balance between the businesses along this fabulously popular business corridor and the thousands of residents around it,” said Shelley Landrieu, the Garden District Association’s executive director.

By Landrieu’s count, there are at least 30 places within a 12-block radius of Molly’s where folks can buy a drink or a bottle of alcohol. And the Magazine Street Po-Boy Shop thrived in that same corner building for about 30 years without selling beer and wine, she said.

The family-operated po-boy shop closed when its owner retired in May 2018; the family now leases the building to Hereford.

Speaking at the hearing, Hereford told the council he starts his workers off at $15 an hour, pays health insurance for his salaried employees and doesn’t cut back on hours during the slow summer months. He needs the alcohol sales, he said, to maintain his business.

“The main thing that we do is we put the well-bring of our employees over our profits, and we have since Day One,” Hereford said. “I have lots of stuff from my accountant that I can show you to prove it.”

A who’s who of edgy young restaurateurs were among those speaking in support of Hereford. “This is not a dive bar selling pints. This is proper restaurant selling proper cocktails,” said chef Isaac Toups.

Toups said he also got push-back from the neighbors when he opened Toups Meatery in Mid-City. Now, with their quality of life and property values intact, they are behind him and the restaurant, he said.

He and other speakers told the council that New Orleans’ success depends on the success of business owners like Hereford. “The crop of young chefs and business owners are the cornerstone of the continuation of growth of this city’s world-class food culture,” said Jacqueline Blanchard, former chef at Restaurant August and owner of the Coutelier knife shop.

The fact that Molly’s Rise and Shine is a destination restaurant with a metro-wide and even national draw is at the heart of the problem for some of its neighbors.

“This corner is at the max for what a neighborhood can bear, and that’s as is,” said Anne Jordan Blanton, who lives across from Molly’s. “It went from a neighborhood po-boy shop to a business owner who has 70,000 Instagram followers.”

After supporters and opponents had their say, Banks announced he has to put the interests of his constituents first. “Now I get the fact that we need economic development. I get the fact that we need to have sustainable jobs in tourism. I get all of that,” he said. “But when somebody lives next door to something, that’s kinda got a heavier weight to it.

“And while I’m not personally of the belief that the world will end if Molly’s had alcohol,” he continued, “I can’t support this because of those questions that I could not answer: What happens if he (Hereford) decides to leave?”

Banks moved to deny the request for a zoning change and conditional use. The denial passed 5-1, with District D Councilman Jared Brossett voting against.

Before the vote, District C Councilwoman Kristin Palmer commented that the opponents may have trusted Hereford but did not trust the city’s system when it comes to alcoholic beverage outlets.

The City Council went on to its next order of business, the long-awaited overhaul to the city’s ABO rules, which includes a new appeals process for applicants denied an ABO permit.

Reporter Katherine Hart, the managing editor of NOLA Messenger, can be reached at khart@nolamessenger.com.