City regulations can stymie new, expanding businesses in Oak Lawn

Lack of parking, ‘surprise’ new requirements for liquor licensing delayed opening of Thai restaurant, forced other shops to close before they could ever open

Danny-S

Danny Sikora

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

The number of seats in a restaurant is usually limited by the fire marshal. But in Oak Lawn, that limit is set by parking regulations, according to Thairrific owner Danny Sikora.

Although he acquired the space formerly occupied by Hungdingers about five months ago, Sikora did not receive his final certificate of occupancy until this week. Most of the delays, he said, were city-related.

But Sikora’s schedule isn’t the only casualty. City regulations requiring restaurants and bars to provide more parking spaces than retail stores has resulted in at least two other problems for businesses on Cedar Springs Road.

When Zen Clipz closed, Buli owner Scott Whittall tried to rent the space and turn it into a nighttime cabaret-style venue. Parking issues forced him to scuttle those plans.

And building had already begun on a coffee shop on Throckmorton Street between Macho Nacho and Thairrific when lack of parking put the kibosh on those plans as well.

Sikora said he was approved for a restaurant with 78 seats, even though the space could comfortably seat more.

“The city is not taking into account how pedestrian-heavy this neighborhood is,” he said.

Parking, however, was not the only delay in opening his new business.

“The city has a surprise new requirement before they’ll complete their portion of the TABC packet,” he said.

Sikora said he had to submit to the city a new architectural rendering of his space and a map of all property within 300 feet of his business. But Sikora said that since this regulation is new, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission didn’t know about it — and neither did Dallas City Councilwoman Angela Hunt.

And in the office charged with enforcing this new regulation, no one agreed on what was required.

One city worker told him that it meant 300 feet from the edge of the property. Another said it was 300 feet from his space and a third told him to measure 300 feet from his front door.

The renderings have to be completed within 10 days of submission. After a week’s delay in the city office and being turned down once because of a disagreement of what the regulation meant, one city employee approved the plans and sent the city’s portion of the packet off to TABC, without a day to spare in the 10-day rule.

In addition, the new regulation cost Sikora $1,200, plus a $100 fee to the city to certify that the plans were correct. Another day’s delay would have cost him another $1,200 for a new set of plans.

And by delaying his application until Sept. 3, the city cost him more money, because TABC licenses increased in price on
Sikora said that he thought it was foolish, especially since alcohol has been approved for this location numerous times over the last 15 years.

Once the certificate of occupancy was issued, Sikora said, he could then order the things he wanted for the restaurant that he didn’t need for the inspections.

“We weren’t doing what next-door did,” he said, referring to the coffee shop. He said they sunk $30,000 into the space before learning that the city was not going to approve an operating permit.

For the restaurant’s sign, Sikora said he had hoped his partner’s sister, an artist, could paint it directly on the building. But that didn’t work because the non-retractable awning was in the way.

Sikora said he considered taking down the awning to paint the sign, but then he learned that a city ordinance required a hefty fee for putting an awning back up.

So instead, the artist ended up having to paint the sign on a sheet of plastic. Then hanging the sign required a permitting process that included submitting drawings, a list of items used to construct the sign and an explanation of how the sign would be hung. A professional sign company with a cherry-picker to reach over the awning had to be hired to hang it.

Other delays included a roof leak that Sikora said was not obvious through the exceptionally dry summer and other problems with some of the equipment that was purchased from the previous owner that have been fixed.

Sikora invested in the restaurant earlier this year. Family-run Thairrific has been in business for about 11 years in an old shopping center on Forest Lane at Webb Chapel Road. Sikora said he’d been a regular customer for most of that time. Then the restaurant’s owner/chef said he wanted to cook and wasn’t interested in the business aspect of the restaurant anymore, and he asked Sikora if he wanted to become a business partner.

The two then discovered that much of their business at the North Dallas location was actually coming from Oak Lawn, so they decided to move to the new location, closer to their customers.

Sikora also has a small investment in Aston’s Bakery, another family-run business, located on Lover’s Lane near the Tollway.

Next to the cash register in the new Thairrific location, he installed a bakery counter and plans to offer a limited number of items from the Aston’s.

Sikora said that what sets his restaurant apart from other Thai places is that there are no steam tables.

“Everything’s made-to-order,” he said. “Soup? It’s not coming out of a soup tureen.”

The soup stock is made, but everything in the soup will be added when ordered.

“It’s healthy cooking,” he said. “Few fried items.”

And after five months, Thairrific may be open soon. When? Well, things are on order. But Sikora’s still just not sure on the date.

…………………….

Two Corks ribbon cutting set
North Texas LGBT Chamber of Commerce members John Ley and Elwyn Hull will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony for their new winery, Two Corks and a Bottle, on Tuesday, Nov. 1 from 5:30 p.m.
to 7 p.m. The store is located on the north side of The Quadrangle on Routh at Lacliede streets.
There will be door prizes and happy hour pricing.

American Airlines expanding Curbside Check-In
FORT WORTH — Officials with American Airlines recently announced that the airline is expanding its Curbside Check-In service to give customers traveling internationally the opportunity to check their bags with the skycap — making their trip through the airport as smooth as possible.
For more information about the expanded Curbside Check-in service, go online to
aa.com/curbside.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 28, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Changes coming on Cedar Springs

BYGONES | The Bronx closed last weekend after 35 years. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

Warwick announces plans for Bronx location; JR.’s remodel starts; new restaurants opening soon

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Two restaurants closed on Cedar Springs Road last weekend, but new businesses are opening, and at least one long-time club is being remodeled.

The Bronx, the oldest gay-owned business on Cedar Springs that had operated for 35 years, has been sold to the Melrose Hotel.

Officials with Warwick, the owner of the Melrose Hotel, released their plans for the real estate on Wednesday, April 6.

“The current plans call for a large and pillar-less ballroom which would be complemented by additional meeting and conference space in a nearby building. The construction of a spa and a swimming pool is also under study,” Warwick said.

The property has a 10-story height restriction on the property because it is on the Love Field glide path. While the building occupied by The Bronx is in great shape, the attached building that was last occupied by Spanish Village, is not salvageable.

Both would likely have to be razed to make room for Warwick’s planned improvements.

On Thursday, April 7, Rick Espaillat, a spokesman for Caven Enterprises, reports that work was beginning that day on a month-long project to remodel JR.’s Bar & Grill, which has been located on the corner of Cedar Springs and Throckmorton for 31 years.

The remodeling project will, among other things, give the club a ground-level patio along Cedar Springs Road.

The last time JR’s underwent significant renovations was 1998, when the second floor and balcony were added, Espaillat said. The club will remain open during the project.

The other restaurant that closed last week was Hung*dingers.

Danny Sikora bought the lease from the former owner and will move his restaurant, Thairrific, from its Forest Lane location to Oak Lawn. Despite its current location, hidden in a rundown shopping center in Far North Dallas, that restaurant won the 2011 Readers Voice award for best Asian food.

Sikora said work has already begun on the move.

“We’ve gotten the space about 80 percent cleaned out,” Sikora said.

He said that Hung*dingers installed a new kitchen when they opened less than three years ago. He expects his restaurant to be ready to open on Throckmorton Street in six to eight weeks.

Two other restaurants are under construction in the same building at 4000 Cedar Springs Road.

Scott Jones, owner of Macho Nacho in the original Hunky’s location, said he is waiting for delivery of some furniture and expects to open around April 18.

Coffee Lab, in the former space occupied by Obscurities, is still under construction with no set opening date.

Issues with permits and parking have delayed any changes at another Cedar Springs Road business: Scott Whittall said that they are rethinking plans for Buli, the café which the owner had originally intended to turn into a piano bar by enlarging into the vacant space next door.

Staff writers John Wright and Arnold Wayne Jones contributed to this report.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 8, 2011.

—  John Wright

Thairrific to replace Hung*dingers

Danny Sikora

Thairrific co-owner Danny Sikora announced over the weekend that he’s signed a lease for his North Dallas restaurant in Oak Lawn and plans to move it. Thairriffic, the 2011 Dallas Voice Reader’s Voice Award winner for best Asian food, will open in the space being vacated by Hung*dingers.

Hung*dingers closed on Friday. Owner Royce Mathews said the time was right and a deal was offered that will allow him to return to the world of product design.

Thairrific’s current location is hidden, in a shopping center at 3068 Forest Lane, across the street from the Cinemark theater at Webb Chapel Road. The Forest Lane location will reopen as a new concept later this year.

Sikora said his company, Crucial Pickles LLC, “is developing a new concept, which will feature some staples from the current Thairrific menu plus new offerings, to open later this year in the Thairrific Forest Lane space.”

Chef Kyla Phomsavanh’s menu consists mainly of traditional Thai cuisine using family recipes but will include some items from Laos, Vietnam, Philippines and the U.S.

The restaurant will open with lunch and dinner hours, but Sikora said he plans to eventually expand to late night dining Thursday through Saturday, and weekend brunch. He said they’re planning to deliver. He said he hopes to continue the fun atmosphere that characterized restaurants that have occupied that space in the past.

Thairrific will be at 4000 Cedar Springs Road, Suite E, which faces Throckmorton Street.

Of course, Hung*dinger wasn’t the only restaurant to close on Cedar Springs this weekend. The Bronx Cafe served its final brunch on Sunday.

—  David Taffet

Danny Sikora

One gay Dallas man helps bring the 75-year-old bakery that has been a family’s favorite into the digital age

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

DIGITAL DELIGHTS  |  Danny Sikora went from business manager for his father’s medical practice to marketing consultant for Aston’s Bakery. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)
DIGITAL DELIGHTS | Danny Sikora went from business manager for his father’s medical practice to marketing consultant for Aston’s Bakery. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Aston’s Bakery on Lovers Lane is a third-generation family business.

Danny Sikora said Aston’s baked his parents’ wedding cake and that family tradition was to have an Aston’s seven-layer cake for each family member’s birthday.

Sikora said that earlier this year, Aston’s approached him to work with them.

“They needed help getting the bakery on track,” Sikora said. “My role has turned into development.”

Until his dad died last year, Sikora managed his father’s medical practice. He said that he’s still getting requests for records from patients for a variety of reasons. Some just have new doctors but others need to prove to insurance companies that they are not covering pre-existing conditions.
But as that demand on his time has been slowing down, Sikora was looking to reinvent himself. The medical practice was a family business and he was not looking to go to work for another doctor.

He’s been in business for himself before with a wholesale business, and he had a florist shop, with locations in NorthPark Center and on Henderson Street.

But with the economic downturn, Sikora decided the time to open another new business wasn’t right.

Aston’s Bakery has been around since 1934. Its first location was on Lemmon Avenue near Douglas Avenue. Then the bakery moved to Preston Center where it remained for 50 years.

For the past seven years Aston’s has been on Lovers Lane.

Sikora said one problem the bakery had was the lack of a mailing list. After seven years, former customers are still just finding them.
“All orders are still taken with paper and pencil,” Sikoa said.

Now, he encourages the bakery to also get e-mail addresses, and Sikora markets Aston’s on Facebook and texts special offers like two-for-one clearance on Saturday afternoons.

A recent promotion on GroupOn brought in 480 orders. That included more than 100 new customers.

“That was 17,000 petit fours,” Sikora said.

Most of the bakery’s business is special order.

“This is slow food,” Sikora said. “We’re using 75-year-old family recipes.”

Aston’s gets more orders for its champagne cake than for anything else.

Sikora described it as a chiffon cake with a hint of orange and champagne whipped cream between the layers, all covered with shaved white chocolate.
While the classics remain unchanged since Aston’s first began baking in Oak Lawn, Sikora has encouraged the bakery to update some of its styles for the cakes, cupcakes, cookies and bread on display for sale in the store.

“We’ve added new products,” Sikora said, describing a cream cheese-maple-bacon frosting-covered carrot cake cupcake that Aston’s is currently experimenting with.

Sikora said the bakery’s been around so long that the family just thought everyone knew about them. Until Sikora began marketing the company this year, Aston’s didn’t even have a website.

But while social networking has worked well in bringing in new customers, Sikora is not above marketing the old-fashioned way, too. He’s walked up and down the carpool lanes at Highland Park schools handing out coupons.

While Sikora said everything at Aston’s is baked with whole ingredients — no preservatives, no mixes, nothing artificial — he’s experimenting with putting in a few products that meet those standards but are baked elsewhere. He recently talked to Mark Shekter about adding Ruthie’s Rugaluch for the holidays.

Aston Bakery, 4342 Lovers Lane. 214-368-6425.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 22, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas