Los Gatos’ downtown outside eating parklets to hit the streets in 2022

Pizza Chicago di Italia owner Hunam Kal said he’s glad the temporary outdoor dining structure at his downtown Los Gatos restaurant will soon be replaced with a semi-permanent one.

“A lot of people love sitting outside,” Kal said. “Instead of being so temporary, it looks really unique and it’s a great idea to make sure everybody has a simple plan … and consistent plans through the downtown Los Gatos area.”

Kal is one of nearly 40 business owners who are planning to make the transition from temporary to semi-permanent outdoor dining structures in downtown Los Gatos this year.

In 2021, Los Gatos Town Council voted to replace the temporary structures with semi-permanent ones, and allocated $680,000 from its American Rescue Plan Funding to create a grant program to help cover part of the cost. The parklets are deemed semi-permanent, Los Gatos Mayor Rob Rennie said, “because at some point in the future, we’ll need to redo infrastructure in the streets, but we kind of think of them as permanent,”

The structures, which are estimated to stay up for the next seven to 10 years, come as restaurants work to recover from the nearly two years of unpredictable pandemic-era dining protocols.

The town received 42 parklet grant applications by the June 30 deadline, and economic vitality manager Monica Renn said approximately 36 to 38 of those parklets will be constructed.

“Some businesses have decided not to build, while others are working out the final logistics before moving forward, thus the final count remains fluid,” Renn said in an email.

The grants will cover 75% of total construction costs, up to $40,000 per business. Each business was also awarded funds to contract with a firm to create a basic parklet design and subsidize the design and engineering fees, Renn said.

“I have to say, I’m new to Los Gatos–we just opened our business in September–but they have been really very easy to deal with,” restuarant owner Kal said. “Very informative; they make the whole process very simple, quite frankly.”

Not all Bay Area cities voted to keep the pandemic-era outdoor dining structures. Cities like Pleasanton and Palo Alto voted to end their programs to reopen roads to motorists.

San Jose, Sunnyvale and Mountain View voted to keep the al fresco structures in 2021 and are working through similar plans to make them permanent with the help of COVID-19 relief funds.

Several building permits have already been issued, and Renn said construction is set to begin soon.

“As with all construction projects right now, the timeline is a bit unknown given that the pandemic has created a high demand on the construction industry and material acquisition can be difficult right now,” Renn said. “The town expects to see the project completed by the end of 2022 and looks forward to the time when businesses and customers have the ability to enjoy a collection of outdoor dining experiences in Los Gatos.”

One of the businesses that backed out of its parklet plans was Loma Brewing Company. Partner and manager Dan Reineke said the town’s potential plans for the recently closed Gray’s Lane, which sits right in front of the business, made it a challenge to make the investment in a permanent structure.

“We’re not on the main street; we’re on a smaller street. … (It) seemed like even though we were getting a grant potentially and even though the city was going to help out with some of the planning, we still probably would have to put up a bunch of money,” Reineke said.

“Fourth quarter for restaurants wasn’t as nearly as good as we’d expected it to be. … We were not looking forward to spending another $30,000 on something that potentially wouldn’t bring in that much business to us anyway,” he added.

The brewery had been trying to set up outdoor dining for the last five years with no luck until the pandemic hit, Reineke said.

“Outdoor dining is great; we live in one of the best climates in the country,” Reineke said, adding that the town “streamlined the process which is great … but it should have been easier to do years ago when we tried to offer outdoor dining. I’m talking 2018.”

The town gave restaurants a choice of three different parklet designs and two different finishes.

“Just from the feel and look of the town, it just beautifies everything,” Kal said. “Instead of being so temporary, it looks really unique, and it’s a great idea to make sure everybody has a simple plan.”

Toney Loeffler, manager of The Palms, said the al fresco dining structures was a “positive thing,” and helped generate business downtown.

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