By Ted AYALA
Chris McReynolds’ voice belies the problems that have beset his entrepreneurial pursuits: clear, with a cheerful lilt. Despite the hopefully momentary impediments to the fulfillment of his dream, there is in his voice a feeling of optimism unbowed, of a deep resource of inner resilience.
“We don’t have a major beef with [the city of Glendale],” he noted calmly. He said the problem is what kind of function the restaurant will be designated by the city.
It was over three years ago when McReynolds and his wife Christine first caught sight of the former location of Shakey’s Pizza in the 3400 block of Foothill Boulevard in La Crescenta. The restaurant’s location, as well as demand for a family pizza establishment in the area, ignited in the McReynoldses a desire to fill the vacuum that the closing of Shakey’s created. In its place would emerge a new Straw Hat Pizza, a once-familiar pizza fixture that has revamped itself over the past few years. With the property purchased and the building converted to suit the needs of their Straw Hat franchise, a quick road towards the further entrepreneurial enrichment in La Crescenta seemed assured.
That is, until the McReynoldses encountered opposition as major as it was unexpected: from the City of Glendale.
Glendale’s Planning Dept. disagreed with the assertion of Straw Hat Pizza as a “full-service” restaurant. Inspectors instead viewed the business as a “fast-food” eatery.
“The previous tenant operated their restaurant as a full-service restaurant,” said McReynolds. “But because of the way our restaurant takes orders – by having customers go to a counter to order and pay – the city considers us ‘fast-food.’”
The McReynoldses had counted on Shakey’s prior status as full-service to be grandfathered in with their new Straw Hat Pizza. But city inspectors were adamant that they could not allow the McReynoldses’ restaurant to follow suit.
With their designation from “full-service” to “fast-food,” the McReynoldses were forced to face a host of unexpected problems that have become a drain on their time and finances.
“Another issue that arose from this matter is parking,” McReynolds explained. “Our restaurant has 36 parking spaces. That is what our predecessors operated with. We can’t make anymore. Problem is the city looks at the way we operate as not falling under the ‘full-service’ guidelines since they consider us ‘fast-food.’”
Though the Straw Hat would, aside from the ordering process, operate as a full-service, sit-down restaurant – complete with waiters – the city refuses to make an exemption for the McReynoldses. City codes have been cited at a recent Glendale City Council meeting when McReynolds spoke as being “crystal clear” on the matter.
Nevertheless, sympathy from the city has been expressed. City Manager Scott Ochoa contacted the McReynoldses saying that the city will make further inquiries and study their situation. Chris McReynolds remains, despite the difficulties that his family has contended with, ever optimistic.
But he understands well that time is of the essence – not to mention money.
“I think we may be able to come to a compromise,” he said. “Frankly, we need to get [the business] going now. We’re running out of money here.”