Café Nini on the Hill expanding outdoor dining

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published June 29, 2022

 Café Nini on the Hill in Grosse Pointe Farms will be building a deck in the parking space in front of the restaurant to add more outdoor dining space for patrons.

Café Nini on the Hill in Grosse Pointe Farms will be building a deck in the parking space in front of the restaurant to add more outdoor dining space for patrons.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran

GROSSE POINTE FARMS — Another Hill restaurant is expanding its outdoor dining space.

Café Nini, at 98 Kercheval Ave., plans to use one of the parking spaces in front of the restaurant to create an outdoor dining platform that would be used seasonally. The eatery already has outdoor dining on the sidewalk.

After discussion, the Farms City Council voted unanimously in favor of allowing the outdoor dining expansion — sometimes referred to as a “parklet” — during a meeting June 13.

Building owner Waref Hawasli said Café Nini isn’t “really going to increase volume” by adding more outdoor dining space, but rather, they want to “create (an) atmosphere” that patrons want. Hawasli appeared before the council in place of restaurant owner Josephine “Jodi” Barbieri, who was sick that night.

“Café Nini has been utilizing outdoor dining for a long time,” Hawasli said. “Jodi wants to push it out into the street and create a better experience for diners.”

The requested deck was 7 feet wide, which the city’s planners with McKenna Associates said was too large.

“I am for this proposal, but as a 6-foot-wide deck,” City Councilman Lev Wood said.

Hawasli said Barbieri would “absolutely” be willing to shave a foot off the width. Similarly, Hawasli said the restaurant owner would be willing to enter into an agreement with the city to pay $120 per month for the parking spot, to make up for lost municipal parking revenue. Other restaurants with parklets have had to agree to the same condition.

Hawasli, who is also a custom home builder, said he had already priced out materials for the parklet. He said it was being modeled on the one at Luxe, and Hill developer Ed Russell’s team would be doing the work. Hawasli said the decking material they plan to use — which is the same as the material used for Luxe — is readily available.

City officials cautioned that they don’t want to see sidewalk tables or chairs in the 5 feet of clearance needed for the public to traverse the sidewalk, and they want to see planters around the edges of the parklet that don’t creep into parking spaces but are still substantial enough to protect diners in the event of an errant motorist.

Council approval came with several conditions, including a request for more detailed drawings, payment of the parking spot lease and reduction of the deck width to 6 feet.

Hawasli said Barbieri plans to use the parklet to allow for outdoor dining in the spring, summer and fall.

Despite council support for the project, not everyone was in favor of the proposal.

Shauna Barthel, who lives adjacent to the Hill on Radnor Circle, said she recently saw a “giant rat” on her patio, and she was worried additional outdoor dining might make the problem worse. She said her dog nearly captured the rat, and the rodent chewed a large hole in her home.

“I’m concerned about what is potentially a public health issue,” Barthel said. “There’s no bait boxes (on the Hill). There’s no traps. … I don’t produce that kind of (commercial) trash, and I’ve got a rat hole at the side of my house.”

Barthel said she saw commercial trash receptacles left open and dirty restaurant linens hanging out of a bin on the Hill.

Public Service Director Matthew Baka said the city uses a pest control company that’s supposed to put out bait boxes on the Hill.

“There are hot spots from time to time, and we react to those,” Baka said.

In light of Barthel’s observation of the lack of bait boxes or traps in the business district, Farms officials said they would look into it.

“Your concerns are important,” City Manager Shane Reeside told Barthel. “We do care about our residential properties. We care about our commercial properties. … We (know) areas of the city have ebbs and flows in rodent control.”

Reeside said they would make sure commercial trash containers in the district are closed and materials are placed in them properly. He said they could also go into adjacent neighborhoods to see where rats are burrowing. Rats need food, water and shelter, and sometimes bird feeders can become an easy food source for them, Reeside said. If the city can determine where the rats are burrowing, they could place bait boxes in those areas, he said.

Mayor Louis Theros said that besides adding traps and talking to the city’s pest control company, they might want to change trash pickup dates for the Hill. Reeside said trash collection now takes place twice per week, on Tuesdays and Fridays. Theros said it might make more sense to move the Tuesday pickup to Monday, to get rid of weekend refuse from restaurants sooner.

City Councilwoman Beth Konrad Wilberding said the city would research the issue in an effort to resolve it and invited impacted residents to return to the council if the problem wasn’t corrected in the next few weeks.

“Let’s take a look at the exterminators,” Konrad Wilberding said. “Let’s take a look at the businesses.”

Sometimes business employees don’t properly dispose of trash, Reeside said. He said the city can — and does — fine businesses for failing to comply with regulations regarding trash disposal.

City Councilman John Gillooly said the Farms heard from neighbors close to Mack Avenue a few months ago who were dealing with the same kinds of rat issues. He suggested sending a reminder letter to business owners regarding trash disposal.

Hawasli said Barbieri and her managers keep their area clean and get rid of garbage properly, but he also acknowledged that the Hill currently has “an issue with rats.” He said the rodent issue could also be exacerbated by ongoing construction a couple of doors away.

Theros said “construction has something to do with it,” but the presence of a food source is also a concern.

City officials said they would investigate to see where the rat problem was coming from.

The loss of another on-street parking spot was a concern for some other Hill businesses and property owners.

Dr. Edward Jeffries, who owns 100 Kercheval Ave. on the Hill, said he was opposed to allowing the use of another on-street parking space for outdoor dining because it would make it harder for him to secure tenants for his property and harder for existing tenants to retain their clients, given the already limited number of nearby on-street spaces. Many other Hill restaurants, including the Dirty Dog Jazz Café and Luxe, are also using on-street parking spaces for seasonal dining.

“There is a strong need for street parking for customers on the block,” Jeffries said. “Café Nini already has outdoor dining. Why do they need more?”

Jeffries said most of the restaurant owners he’s spoken with say they can’t handle the number of patrons they have now due to staffing shortages.

“I understand during the pandemic people wanted to support restaurants, help restaurants,” Jeffries said. “But the pandemic is over. … We don’t need (the city) to pick (which) businesses (they want) to prosper at the sake of others.”

He said reducing on-street parking is “a disadvantage to me, and devalues my property.”

“I pay my taxes,” Jeffries said. “I don’t feel I’m getting a fair deal.”