By Ken Williams | Editor
Uptown Planners recommend permit for Mission Hills restaurant
Supporters of the Wolf in the Woods restaurant, proposed to operate out of a historical building in Mission Hills, packed the Uptown Planners meeting on Nov. 7.
More than 100 people crowded into Joyce Beers Community Center in Hillcrest, many having to stand at the back of the room after all the folding chairs were filled. They waved pale-green flyers containing a unified message: “Yes! Wolf in the Woods!”
Three neighbors spoke in opposition, mostly over concerns about parking and noise.
The Wolf in the Woods proprietors plan to take over a vacant space at 1920 Fort Stockton Drive, formerly occupied by Espresso Mio.
Rina Porras-Moceri, a co-owner of the proposed restaurant who also operates a salon in Mission Hills, updated the Uptown Planners on the project. She gave a brief history of the building, which is almost a century old and once housed the Little Bo Peep Bakery and Ron Kiefer’s butcher shop and grocery.
Porras-Moceri said her family also ran the Mission Hills Market Café at the Fort Stockton Drive site in the 1990s. They had a beer and wine license, she said, and were known for selling imported cheeses and olives.
“I think we were visionary at the time,” she said. “People weren’t quite ready for it then.”
Wolf in the Woods will partner Porras-Moceri and Grace Moceri, owners of the Kettle & Stone coffeehouse at 1619 W. Lewis St. in Mission Hills, with Johnny and Renee Rivera, owners of two popular Hillcrest restaurants, Great Maple and Hash House a Go Go.
Porras-Moceri’s aunt, Sandra Porras, owns the historical building and formerly operated the Mission Hills Market Café. Her late husband, award-winning interior designer Arthur S. Porras, once operated his studio in another space in the building.
The rear of the building has a small deck overlooking a canyon that could accommodate nine people, she said. The dining room would seat 83 people.
Porras-Moceri said the restaurateurs will create a “lovely, intimate and family-friendly European-style café that will blend harmoniously into the community.”
Although Mission Hills residents were enthusiastic in their support for the project, the restaurateurs have a hurdle to jump over.
At issue is an apparent oversight in the recently updated Uptown Community Plan. Even though the historical building has been used for commercial purposes for generations of Mission Hills residents, the property is still zoned as residential.
The applicant came before the Uptown Planners to seek a neighborhood-use permit that would allow for the resumption of a previously abandoned use as a commercial eating and drinking establishment. This technical procedure is necessary before the applicant can go to California’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) to obtain their license.
Public opinion was clearly in favor of the Wolf in the Woods project. Speaker after speaker welcomed the restaurant and said they would patronize it. Many shared fond memories of both the Mission Hills Market Café and Espresso Mio, and said they looked forward to being able to walk to a neighborhood restaurant.
“The operators of Wolf in the Woods are well-known in the community,” Pam Willis said.
Community volunteer Helen Rowe Allen said she doesn’t drive anymore, and looks forward to being able to walk to the restaurant.
But attorney Grace Wilson raised several issues, noting that the property is zoned residential and questioning whether the 17 parking spots directly outside the building were enough to service the restaurant. She also accused the applicant of spreading the “fear factor” that if their project isn’t approved, the building could be razed in order to build condominiums or townhouses.
The board members of the Uptown Planners — a volunteer group elected by the community tasked with advising the city’s Planning Department on local development matters — applauded the widespread support for the project. Chair Leo Wilson said he has received 64 emails related to the project, getting only four negative responses.
Board member Amie Hayes pointed out that since the building is listed as a contributor to the Fort Stockton Line Historical District as a commercial building, there is virtually no chance that the structure could be razed. She also got the project manager to clarify that the restaurant will not have a bar.
The project manager said the restaurant would not operate late-night hours, closing by midnight on weekends. No live entertainment is planned.
Porras-Moceri said Wolf in the Woods would serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. The deck would close by 8:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and by 9:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
After a brief discussion, the Uptown Planners voted unanimously to support the restaurant’s application for a neighborhood-use permit.