Beer and wine on commission's agenda

Promising an affordable and family-friendly atmosphere, a group of investors hoping to open a new restaurant near the United Artists La Cañada movie theater is expected on Tuesday to seek Planning Commission approval for beer and wine sales.

North Shore Burgers would fill the vacancy left by the recent closure of the Rice Garden, but with a slower, sit-down dining concept appropriate for serving drinks with a meal, said general partner Craig Bittner.

"I think it's something the community needs…a place that's comfortable and not too expensive," Bittner said. "It's a location that would not only serve people going to the theater to get a bite before they go in, but also teams after sporting events on the weekends. It's going to have a nice family atmosphere."

But permission for beer and wine sales tends not to be granted lightly in La Cañada Flintridge.

Just over a decade ago, members of both the Planning Commission and City Council blocked a request for beer sales by a Rubio's Fresh Mexican Grill location at the northeast corner of Commonwealth Avenue and Foothill Boulevard — a move that later caused Rubio's to abandon the location.

More recently, officials turned down carryout sales at a gas station but have supported them for the incoming Henry's Market and the revival of the former Foothill Liquor store.

All alcohol requests are not equal, said Councilman Stephen Del Guercio, who sat on the Planning Commission during its denial of Rubio's beer sales request.

"Fairly substantial concerns were expressed by community members about the sale of alcohol in close proximity to a residential neighborhood, and there was an objection to the type of food establishment it was. It wasn't really a sit-down, family style operation. It was almost a to-go operation," Del Guercio said.

Planning Commission member Herand Der Sarkissian, appointed earlier this year, said he doesn't think officials are necessarily teetotalers.

"It depends on the concept. If it's a responsible restaurant that's going to serve beer and wine, my guess is I might go along. If that's a change from past attitudes, I don't know," Der Sarkissian said. "A gas station dispensing alcohol to who knows who at any given hour, maybe being consumed in close proximity, or someone who goes to a proper restaurant and has beer or wine with dinner — the two are different animals."

Ted Slaught, a local developer who spearheaded the Rubio's project only to later see a similar restaurant — the Chipotle Mexican Grill at Town Center — win city approval for beer sales, said North Shore Burgers will likely face much better odds than he once did.

"We had a totally different council back then, and the basis by which that council made decisions was completely different than for the current council. The current council has a very rational and measured approach to development," he said.

North Shore Burgers, said Slaught, "sounds like a good use. Maybe I'll go have a beer there."

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