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Retail Store Expected to Replace Johnnie’s Pizzeria on Santa Monica Promenade

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

August 21, 2015 -- Nearly a quarter-century of unsuccessful restaurant operations at the Third Street Promenade space currently occupied by Johnnie’s New York Pizzeria will soon come to an end.

The Santa Monica Planning Commission on Wednesday approved a conditional use permit (CUP) request from the the Case family, which owns the building, to convert at least the first floor (there is also a basement and second floor) to retail use.

There is no word on what retail store would be placed in the building. But the family says operating a restaurant there is too difficult because of the building’s narrow size, among other configuration issues.

The Case family “would have preferred to rent this out and continue the restaurant use,” family representative Howard Robinson told the commission. “It’s expensive and risky to go through this whole process [of conversion]. It’s just after years of failure, they’ve turned to this.”

Mario’s Restaurant opened shortly after construction of the building in 1991. The restaurant was owned and operated by the family and named for its patriarch Mario Case, an Italian immigrant.

The family determined the business was not sustainable, according to a City staff report, and rented the property in 2005 to Johnnie’s, a national chain.

Marina Case, daughter of Mario, told the commission that Johnnie’s tried to get out of the lease within a year, and looked for a sub-tenant without success.

She said the family has attempted to attract a new tenant with enticements of reduced rent and other perks. There were no takers. The lease for Johnnie’s expires this year.

“The track record of the building as a failed restaurant space has now gone on for over two decades,” Case said. “No one will benefit from having a vacant building on the Promenade.”

She added, “This is no longer a choice between a restaurant and a retail use. It’s become a choice between a long, protracted vacancy on the Promenade or finding a more suitable use for this space.”

The family needed a CUP for the conversion because of a 2006 amendment to the municipal code requiring CUPs for the conversion Promenade ground floor spaces from food use to any other type of commercial use.

This regulation was created at the recommendation of a Task Force formed to address the growing reduction of restaurant uses on the Promenade. City staff says restaurant use on the Promenade has been on the rebound since that time.

The commission approved the CUP by a 6-1 vote. The dissenter was Jennifer Kennedy. She wanted a condition added that the owner could only use the ground floor for retail as a way to prevent any office space there.

Kennedy made a motion for her proposal, but it received no support from her colleagues.

Commissioner Jason Parry said he did not expect the owner to use the floor for anything but retail anyhow.

“I think there’s an extremely powerful market force toward retail,” Parry said. “So I think regardless of what we do, it’s going to be retail.”

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