Alton Road Construction: Restaurant Killer
Chef Bernie thought his street looked "ghetto as shit" even before construction.
Chef Bernie Matz says that carving up Alton Road has taken a bite out of his business. Matz, who is executive chef of Lincoln Road's Café at Books & Books, also owns Bernie's L.A. Café on 15th and Alton. He's worried about whether his restaurant can survive the summer.
The state project is expected to take 26 more months. It has torn up sidewalks, required detours, and reduced parking spaces. "For a small business like us during the off-season... when you add this into the equation, it's very concerning," Matz told Short Order. "I've seen a huge decline in the last month."
Matz wonders, "How many people are just going to say 'Screw it' and get off of South Beach or 'Screw going anywhere near Alton Road'?"
Yellow bags cover parking meters along Alton Road near Bernie's L.A. Café.
In addition, Matz says the reconstruction has removed all of the parking near his restaurant on both sides of Alton Road and all the way around the block. "Basically they've taken 98 percent of my parking spaces, so now forget it. Forget about someone driving over. That's just not going to happen. I'm either getting someone who's walking over or getting a delivery."
The good news is his business is nearly 40 percent delivery-based. The bad news is it's nearly impossible to make deliveries. "My delivery guys can't get around town, so our deliveries are slower," he says. "And traffic's a bitch."
Other small restaurants along Alton that have endured construction include Master's Italian Restaurant and Greco Boys Grill. And as the construction continues to its final destination at Fifth Street, it'll hit others along the way, such as the recently opened Umami Burger on the corner of Tenth Street.
Alex Castro, a front-of-house manager at Jimmy'z Kitchen, just a few steps down from Bernie's, said he can't be sure if it's the season or the construction, but he has also noticed a difference. "If they have their mind already set on Jimmy'z but they see the street blocked, they're going to think, 'OK, the restaurant must be closed.'"
Customers have been telling Castro it's a pain to get to the restaurant, so many are opting for delivery. Meanwhile, he's anxious about construction continuing south. Until then, he's looking on the bright side.
"If they move down a little farther, I think everything's going to be fine," Castro said. "The business is going to keep running the same way... You've just got to wait and be patient."
Get the Dining Newsletter
The week's top local food news and events, plus interviews with chefs and restaurant owners, dining tips, and a peek at our print review.