A Glass of Wine at The Garden Cafe….Is That So Wrong?

Garden Cafe Then….
Garden Cafe Now…

When Dale Wootton bought a run down strip center on Junius street in the early 1990’s it was easy for an outsider to say, “what is Dale doing?” But he had a vision created from a deep love for the neighborhood.  Since then he transformed an old eyesore for Junius Heights into one of the most popular and comfortable breakfast and lunch spots in Lakewood, Garden Cafe.  It is a cozy restaurant dedicated to using fresh produce from their garden in their southern, comfort food cuisine. He even put in a large, fenced in play area adjacent to the back garden so the kids could have their own place to play while their parents finished brunch on the outdoor, dog friendly patio.

Now, Wootton wants to expand his business by adding dinner service, just to 10pm, with a selection of wine and beer available.  He and his attorneys have done at least a year and a half of leg work on this, petitioning, rezoning, doing out-reach, asking the neighborhood for feedback, and constantly making concessions.

They have come up with a Special Use Permit proposal which add a wine and beer license, while addresses and concedes to most of the concerns that have been voiced from the neighborhood, including that the building will always only have 1 story, the back patio space will never be expanded beyond its current size, the Cafe will close at 10pm every night, the Cafe will never be a drive in or drive through, outdoor amplified sound is prohibited, the current occupancy levels for the restaurant and garden area is 115 total, no alcohol will be sold or consumed in the garden area adjacent to the outdoor patio.

At a recent meeting residents in the area expressed concern over the Garden Cafe becoming a “biker bar,” because that is obviously what happens when you introduce wine and beer to the beverage options in any restaurant; and that late night crowds and loud music until all hours of the night will ruin the neighborhood, because that is what happens with restaurants that close at 10pm; and selling alcohol across from a park, that 20 years ago was filled with gang violence before Wootton purchased the property, automatically means that this is a safety concern and neighborhood kids will be put in harms way.

With this, and another go round with the city, Wootton the additional concession that 50% of all sales in the Cafe will be food, keeping the goal for this to stay a neighborhood restaurant always.

If the Cafe kept the current zoning and in the future Wootton decided to sell, here are some things, according to attorney Roger Albright that could be built in this Junius Heights neighborhood legally and without restriction.

“IF the Garden Café was unable to obtain its proposed PD/sup and merely kept the existing zoning the site could be developed  by someone other than Dale as follows:

1.        Currently Contains 35,000 sf., 10,000 in current building 5000 in parking, 20,000 in garden—pave garden area, add 80 parking spaces.
2.       80 spaces would allow additional 4000 sf of restaurant and 8000 sf of retail.
3.       Build second story which is allowed in NS zoning and tract F of Junius Heights Historic District( up to 30’)
4.       Build roof deck on top of second story ( for that “downtown view”). Doesn’t count as square footage so long as it’s not fully covered.
5.       Open 24 hours a day /7 days a week
6.       Live and/or amplified music on the roof deck.

Again we have a PD/sup proposal that would block all this.”

I live two blocks from the Garden Cafe and would love nothing more than to walk to the Cafe and enjoy a good meal with a glass of wine over dinner on their patio, with my sweetheart and my dog. I understand there are many opinions on this.  It is the heated debate on neighborhood porches, as we gather to enjoy a glass of wine and the nice weather….just as we would do at Garden Cafe.

If you are in support of the proposal, the Garden Cafe is asking you to email or write your city council member or Mayor Rawlings in support of the rezoning request for Garden Cafe. The email doesn’t have to be long, just a note to say you are in support of the Garden Cafe’s request for a beer and wine license, as well as any additional comments.  And, they are asking to be included on copy. Garden Café’s email: [email protected]; Find your city council members here. Look up your district here.

The city council hearing is on September 14th so please act fast.  You do not have to live in the city of Dallas to express your support for the Garden Cafe.


  • Kevin

    Seems the neighborhood would relish something like this. I’d love to have a comfortable neighborhood spot to enjoy some good food and a drink on the patio. Good luck to Wooten. He’s done a lot for the neighborhood; now they should do something for him.

  • ELH

    Unfortunately the problem is not with Dale. The problem is with the city. The reason the neighbors are hesitant to support this is because the city plan commission has informed us that there is essentially no way to enforce Dale’s promises should he decide to sell. As neighbors we love and trust Dale, but we also all know how well the city deals with code violations after hours which is when they would likely occur.

  • Somehow, I think if the neighborhood could support him in making a profit he would not need to sell. It looks as if he’s put a great deal of sweat equity in a location he believes in. Great job, very nice improvements.

    If the building sold, the liquor license would not transfer to a new building owner. It would have to go through relicensing, with all the opportunities for protests that licensees face when applying for such.

  • GC Neighbor

    The “Live and/or amplified music on the roof deck.” quote is nothing more than a scare tactic. Outdoor live or amplified music would never withstand a Residential Adjacency Review by the city. The Garden Cafe literally backs up to single family homes.

    As ELH indicates, the problem is not with Dale. No one doubts that he intends to operate the property in anything but an above-board fashion…as long as he’s the operator. The problem is that the property sits within a dry overlay, which cannot be put back once it’s removed. The city no longer zones properties with “D” overlays, and the property will suddenly become immensely more valuable to any potential buyer once it’s removed. The remaining non-restaurant space will also suddenly become restaurants, and many years from now it could be a mini bar district in the heart of an historic district.

    Zoning is not, and should not be, about operators of properties. It is only about use, and the economics of the situation always drive the highest and best use under the zoning, or at least the highest and best profit.

    Amy S.: while the liquor would not automatically transfer, businesses very regularly purchase liquor licenses from previous operators, which does not subject the new operator to the same scrutiny. Further, although the liquor license does not technically transfer, the ability to sell alcohol under the zoning does, and there is very little that residents can do to effectively stall new TABC applications. Just ask our friends on Lower Greenville and Henderson.

    I’d love to see Dale be allowed to sell wine and beer, but it’s not worth the future price to the surrounding area. I see no reason why he can’t operate a BYOB restaurant like Urbano. It’s been a vast success and does not pose near the potential threat that removing the overlay at the Garden Cafe does to the surrounding area.

  • GC Neighbor

    Meant to add that I understand the city takes the position that BYOB on this property is illegal. While I do not quite understand this, I feel moving toward the ability to BYOB is a better solution than removing the overlay with an SUP.

  • ELH

    GC Neighbor, the position the city takes with regard to BYOB is the same as the one they take relative to Urbano. Dale cannot facilitate alcohol consumption, this means he cannot provide glasses or charge a corking fee nor can staff open containers. Not liking the way it has to be done doesn’t make it suddenly any more illegal than it was before.

  • It is the rare full service restaurant that can make a profit large enough to pay for a prime spot as BYOB. And there are few restaurants that are able to full-out own their own locations. Owning your own real estate can make the difference between a 10 year spot and a 30 year spot for a restaurant.

    Personally (assuming he really wants a full service, beer and wine restaurant) I’d recommend he sell the building, and use the proceeds to buy a building that is zoned differently.

    I guess the real problem is that this is a “wet” area that has been overlayed “dry”, whereas the rest of Dallas just changed from “dry” areas with a new overlay of “wet”. You can now get a full liquor license almost anywhere in Dallas except for this little corner.

    All it will take is a new buyer for the building with the right connections to get the overlay removed. Some hooked-up developer will recognize that, surely.

    Then the neighborhood will be out a neighborhood-friendly operater and right in the middle of the scenario they dread.

  • me

    people fighting this are total a**es. Garden Cafe has proven to be a great neighbor, wonderful/perfect business in a quite unique location SERVING this great neighborhood – with unfortunately it seems a few complete a**holes argggghh !!! I just can’t imagine why anyone would not support these people and reward their hard work and community contribution. Geeeez! What’s wrong with these people ??? Move to Plano !!!

  • let us boozies booze it up at the GC, please.

  • Dealing with City Hall.
    Drives a girl to drink!

  • I had no idea it looked so horrible before!

  • Anon.

    Why not just put a 5-year renewal on the Use Permit the GC seeks from the City. If they or a future owner become ‘bad actors’ then the SUP doesn’t get renewed. Everyone is happy. Oh, wait. This is Dallas. No one is EVER happy here. Its a wonder we have any nice things.

  • Taco Loco

    The only way I’ve found to send an email to my council person is through their website. It won’t let me copy anyone on it. Any suggestions?

  • Taco Loco

    Sent emails to the mayor and my councilperson. Will help GC in any way. They are good people who have great food. Need more places like this around town. I’ll be in this weekend for some cheese grits!

  • I am in full support of Dale, The Garden Cafe, and my “future” right to enjoy a quiet, beautiful glass of wine at one of my favorite spots on the planet. I choose to behave myself, I choose to respect the property, and I choose to respect the rights of my surrounding neighbors. I am not afraid of the future or what could “potentially” happen. I embrace this small tiny change in our wonderful East Dallas neighborhood.

  • Steve

    10,500 sq ft bldg.115 seat restaurant & only 21 parking places? Across from a playground. Residential street surrounded by homes. Irreversible. Restrictions unenforceable.
    No other neighboorhood in the city would put up with this. And we won’t either.

  • Mark

    Dear GC Neighbor,
    The Planned Development District Ordinance would limit any uses within that property (garden & building). Specifically, Restaurant Use would be limited to 1775 sq.ft. plus the concrete patio which is roughly 900 sq.ft. In addition, the zoning would define the “garden”. Meaning not only would more restaurant space be prohibited by zoning, the next owner would also have to keep the garden intact. That is, if the proposal is passed. As it stands the “highest and best use under the zoning, or at least the highest and best profit” as you said, would be exactly what the worst case scenario above states. Forget about RARs, forget about the music. Do you want the next owner to be able to pave the garden and built a 2nd story, along with a rooftop patio? Do you want a 24hr restaurant in that spot? This building and restaurant space is already extremely valuable for those abilities without a D-1. Cafe Brazil seems to do great without alcohol. Especially at about 2:30 in the morning after all the biker bars close. If the proposal is not passed on September 14th, I would be concerned with a Cafe Brazil duplicate moving in next door. Also, there is no D-.5 that allows BYOB but not SUP. It’s either D or D-1.

  • TONY

    The original pic looks a lot like the Bishop arts district before it it’s transformation it has now.

    Just saying…

  • Mark

    Steve – The 115 person capacity is a limitation added to the proposed SUP. The legal capacity for inside is 60 people. Outside is anyone’s guess. Especially if the garden remains undefined and the next owner decides to clear it out and put some bleachers in. You can see all of the PDD/SUP limitations in the article referenced below. As to “across from a playground” please read the quote from a neighbor that appears in this article http://eastdallastimes.com/2011/09/07/garden-cafe-owner-talks-zoning-plans/

  • primi timpano

    No wine on the patio; at least 8 entrees at anytime; no boce court; limited size playground? WTF. Yeah, Texas and Dallas are real business friendly. I’d move and sublease to the highest bidder.

  • Twinwillow

    This situation could only happen in Dallas! Thanks again to our city fathers who want to bring back “witch burning”.

  • GC Neighbor Too

    Gentleman buys a building with a Dry Overlay and wants to open a restaurant. He did so and as a neighbor, we were there. Now he is asking to remove the overlay. While he has a right to do so, he does NOT have a right to EXPECT the overlay to be removed as his comments seem to suggest.

    In the mean time and over the years before and after, neighbors have bought and invested next door (some only separated by a 3/4” wood picket) knowing that building next door has a Dry Overlay. They have every right to expect the Dry Overlay to remain unless they approve the removal.

    This issue in only between the Owner and the Neighbors and there is a lot at stake. Once the Dry Overlay is removed, it is NEVER going back since City of Dallas no longer implements this type of zoning. The SUP proposed requires the involvement of multiple agencies and is difficult or impossible to enforce (as stated by the City Staff and Attorney). This property is not on a street corner; it is buried in a quiet neighborhood surrounded by single family homes and a park all of which have seen tremendous improvement since we moved in 17 years ago. Yes the gunfire is less now than 17 years ago but there is much improvement needed. While the current Owner of the Garden Cafe is a great neighbor, it has to be considered that ZONING STAYS WITH THE PROPERTY and once the Dry Overlay is removed it can never be reinstated.

  • sausage on a stick

    Dale, Come on down to Peavy & Garland Road. We’ll welcome you with open arms (and enjoy a glass of vino or three)! You’d make a great neighbor for Good2Go; Goodfriends and Peavy Road!

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