The Dallas Morning News
Archaic rules threaten shop
Lack of 2 parking spots means Val’s can’t serve cheesecake and wine
Valery Jean-bart just wants to make cheesecake for customers to savor at his Lower Greenville shop. Maybe they even linger over a glass of wine with that slice of sea salt mocha.
Which is why he has tried everything a reasonable, law-abiding human being could possibly do to appease the Dallas City Hall bureaucrats still enforcing a hopelessly outdated parking ordinance that makes little sense in 2023.
How outdated? The automobile-centric rules that threaten to ruin Jean-bart’s artisan bakery business are 58 years old — older than a lot of people who are reading this sentence and older than a lot of the policy folks who swear they are trying to get this antiquated law rewritten.
I wrote two weeks ago about the city’s Planning and Urban Design Department getting nowhere on its goal to retool the parking-minimums code.
Meanwhile, out here in the real world, the fun and tasty Val’s Cheesecakes shop is getting hosed over two parking spots.
Val’s Greenville location has six spaces, not the eight mandated by a code dating back to 1965 that, among its moldy stipulations, requires restaurants to provide one parking spot per 100 square feet.
Jean-bart signed the lease in late 2017 without fully grasping the consequences of his property’s parking problem and its resulting classification as a “grab-and-go” food establishment.
Once he realized the box he was in — thanks to a designation that precludes serving alcohol or setting up tables for customers — Jean-bart tried everything:
Using skills from his previous career as a civil engineer, he sketched schematic after schematic to determine any possible way to add those two additional parking spots. Nothing worked.
He tried to persuade the city to let him install a bike rack and promote his shop to cyclers. Nope.
He asked surrounding businesses about leasing the two needed parking spaces from them for $1,000 a month. No luck there.
Jean-bart has even completed the paperwork required for the city to consider designating this single property a planned development district with a small parking variance.
Not only would it be highly unusual for the city to approve a PD designation for such a small property, Jean-bart would have to pay about $7,000 to proceed with his application. If it’s rejected, he loses most of that fee.
The Haitian-born cheesecake aficionado says he loves Dallas as much as he loves his culinary craft, but he’s about ready to call it quits on Lower Greenville.
“My heart is just not in continuing to fight,” he told me.
Nearby business owners have regularly told him he will never get the rules revised nor will the city ever change.
Even if Jean-bart were eventually to win a parking variance — or, even better, the city replaced its outdated code — chances are that Val’s Cheesecakes would be near the end of its lease, which expires in 2025.
“I don’t know that I’ll want to renew,” he said. “So that money I spend will benefit the owner and the next tenant, not me.”
Passion for pastry
The sting of this experience is especially sharp as Saturday’s annual Lower Greenville Avenue St. Patrick’s Day block party approaches.
Located in the heart of the festival area, Val’s Cheesecakes will sell various food items along with its signature pastries that day. Jean-bart also plans to convert his lobby into a spot for partygoers to take a break from the revelry’s chaos.
But because Val’s isn’t allowed to sell alcohol, Jean-bart again will see only a tiny fraction of the profit his neighbors make. “What you can make from selling alcohol that day can set you up for the whole year,” he said.
Despite the city-imposed “no tables, no alcohol” restrictions, the line at Val’s is often long on Saturdays with customers driving from Southlake, Cedar Hill, Fort Worth and Frisco.
When folks pull out a stool from under the lobby counter to eat their cheesecake on the premises, Jean-bart isn’t about to tell them they are breaking any rules.
“I don’t care what the city says,” Jean-bart told me. “I’m not going to chase a person out of Val’s Cheesecakes. It’s just not going to happen that I tell them they must go out to the curb.”
In an interview last week with The Dallas Morning News’ Eat Drink D-FW podcast, Jean-bart recounted what led him to leave civil engineering for cheesecakes after arriving in Dallas 15 years ago.
It’s worth listening to the entire interview to hear his story of the bond built with his mother as they created cheesecakes together each Sunday afternoon during the four years she also battled cancer.
Marie Jose Labossiere died in 2012, and Val’s Cheesecakes remains a tribute to her.
‘Pain and sadness’
In addition to the Greenville location, Jean-bart recently opened Val’s Cheesecakes Kitchen and Pantry in the Cedars neighborhood, which sells snacks, sandwiches and pastries and provides preparation and cooking space for new food-business owners.
He remains baffled that two-too-few parking spots changed the trajectory of his dream. As far as what more he can do, Jean-bart pointed to the voter registration cards on his counter.
“An election is coming up in May,” he said. “People don’t realize how important it is for the success of the city’s smallbusiness owners for you to vote.”
He also noted that while staff aren’t elected, City Council members generally have the final say on issues such as parking reform.
Andreea Udrea, assistant director in planning and urban design for the city, is aware of Jean-bart’s parking dilemma and many others like it.
She said theirs are properties “built under different zoning and development regulations, and that now are not benefiting from the flexibility needed to be redeveloped and used according to the new times.”
Udrea’s effort at parking changes aims to relax or eliminate some regulations and replace across-the-board minimums with market-driven, case-by-case reviews.
The work was mostly set aside more than a year ago because of other priorities, and even the most optimistic forecasts put change too far down the road to help Jean-bart and others like him.
As we said goodbye in the parking lot — which already engulfs a large portion of the property as it wraps around the front and side of the small sweet shop — Jean-bart’s last words were these:
“I love my location. I love my business. But it’s been six years of pain and sadness over how this has gone.”