Cafe on 2nd
More than two dozen establishments already serve alcohol in Alhambra’s busy downtown nightlife corridor, but a restaurant neighboring Alhambra High School is one too many for city officials. After a heated exchange on Monday night, the City Council sided with a parade of school officials, parents, and one student who said granting a beer and wine license to the Café on Second Street, located just off Main Street, could create a potentially dangerous situation and bad influence on students.
Supporters of the restaurant countered fiercely, going so far as to call it a “witch hunt” against two young Latina entrepreneurs who said they felt unfairly singled out and discriminated against. The argument was not enough to grant them a permit to serve alcohol, but it did raise deeper questions about the direction of Main Street's nightlife development.
Representatives from the school framed the debate as one fundamentally of restricting the exposure of alcohol to young people. Alhambra Unified School District Superintendant Donna Perez said that allowing the cafe, located hundreds of feet from more than 3,000 students, would send an “irresponsible message to our youth.” (The café owners countered that Big 3 Restaurant is just as close to the school and also serves alcohol). Perez said that alcohol is the most widely used substance across grades for Alhambra high school students, and that “in the past week alone we had two students identified under the influence of alcohol before the end of period one.” Other school board members, the principal of Alhambra High School, teachers and administrators followed Perez, sounding a similar refrain about the struggles to prevent young people from being hurt by alcohol exposure.
Although the Alhambra High School PTA did not take an official position, Marcia Wilson, the former president, sent out an e-mail encouraging parents to attend and express individual concerns. Some appeared to struggle with wanting to support the young women in their venture, balanced with concerns about their children. “These are two young women, minority women, who are opening a business in Alhambra. How delightful that is that it’s a minority-owned business. However, I’m also a parent of a 12th grader at Alhambra High School,” Adele Andrade-Stadler, a member of the Alhambra School Board, said. “By placing a beer and wine sends them a wrong message, and is also sort of recruiting them. I believe these gals are really trying to do something different, and I think there might be a place for them in another area in Alhambra. I don’t think the Café on Second is the place.”
But supporters of the café argued that denying them the right to serve alcohol was a double standard in an area that city government intentionally developed as a nightlife zone. “This is not a council meeting; it sounds more like a witch hunt. You’ve got two Latina women who’ve established their business,” said Jeanette Miller. “The example should start somewhere. Not them. Give them a liquor license. Give them the chance. If they don’t abide the law you’ve got a reason to deny them.” Francisca Morales, who took care of her sisters’ children while they attended Alhambra High School, said. “We are reacting to what is going on already. We are singling out this one café on Main Street.”
Priscilla Jaramillo, who took over the lease for the restaurant in April of 2009, said that serving alcohol was fundamental to the succes of her restaurant specializing in Italian cuisine. She and her sister, Sandra, who serves as a manager, argued that the issues with alcohol in the schools more likely start in homes than in a restaurant where one could have a glass of wine or a beer.
“Where were all the people that were opposed to beer and wine sales so close to the school district when the clubs were approved, when the diner was approved, when Alondra wings was approved with a bus stop right in front?” Sandra Jaramillo asked. Priscilla added, “This is my dream. It’s unfortunate that very few get to live out their dreams in life.” She then paused, losing her composure for a moment, before adding, “Base your decision on what’s just and fair and don’t let the American dream die.”
At this point the already heated environment in the room went up a notch. Councilwoman Barbara Messina accused the women of intentionally hiding their intentions of opening an establishment that serves beer and wine. “These young ladies from the very beginning were not up front when they took over this establishment in 2009. She said no at that time, knowing darn good and well that she intended to,” she said.” She also said that the Alhambra policeman, Officer Reyes, who approved an initial application was not fit to make the decision because he “does not live in Alhambra.” A supporter of the women screamed out, “but he works here.” Other Councilmen took a more measured tone in their questioning, counseling the women to try other approaches to their business that would not involve alcohol, and supporting the chorus of school officials’ concerns. After more than an hour of hearing testimony, the Council voted unanimously to support the Planning Commission’s decision to deny the permit.
Priscilla Jaramillo was behind the counter again on Tuesday. The chairs were still up. But only one customer was there. Her mother, Samira, who attended Alhambra High School was helping out behind the counter. Jamarillo, who said she chose to open the café with money she would otherwise have used for culinary school, said she had lost at least $3,000 in her attempt to expand the business. Still her eyes lit up when told of the jazz musician who would play that night. Only if her patrons want to drink while they listen, they will have to leave and go to Main Street.