For years, people who have come to Cafe Zoe, a popular coffee shop in the Willows area of Menlo Park, have asked its owner, Kathleen Daly, whether the shop would ever serve beer or wine.
As of April 18, Ms. Daly said, the cafe, located at 1929 Menalto Ave., is one step closer to doing so. On that date the cafe won approval from the Menlo Park Planning Commission for a permit to serve wine and beer with extended cafe hours.
The city's approval is a required step in obtaining a license to sell alcoholic beverages from the state, explained Ms. Daly. Her pending license application can now move to the next level: approval by the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
It's hard to predict when that license will be approved, she said, but expects it to be within the next 45 to 90 days.
The launching of those services, she said, might also have to be delayed while she attends the college graduation of her daughter also named Zoe. Ms. Daly said that Zoe means "life" in Greek, and fits with the cafe's mission of promoting peace, hope and community, but the cafe wasn't named after her daughter. She said Zoe plans to partner with her, working at the cafe in a larger role after she finishes college.
In a booming market where renting restaurant space can be costly, Ms. Daly said being a small business owner can be tough. She said the cafe needed another source of revenue to stay alive.
"Staying open just to serve coffee isn't an affordable business model," she said in an interview.
"We have the most to lose," she told the Planning Commission, saying she plans to take a number of precautions to ensure safety of customers and others. She said she has received education on regulations governing the serving of alcohol, and said her employees who serve alcohol will be 21 or older and must pass a certification test. The cafe would also have an account with a local cab, Uber or Lyft driver to provide safe rides home to customers after drinking.
According to the application submitted to the city, Cafe Zoe wouldn't be a bar in a traditional sense. Hours would only be extended on certain days of the week. It would close at 5 p.m. on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays; at 10 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays; and at 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. With the longer hours, Ms. Daly said, the cafe could host events like book clubs, poetry readings, acoustic and amplified music concerts or fundraisers.
The move to add later hours and serve beer and wine has local support. City staff says it received at least 21 emails and a petition with 127 signatures in support of the change.
Mary Hofstedt, who told the commission she has worked in alcohol prevention programs, and lives within walking distance of the cafe, told the Planning Commission that the plans did not trigger any warning signals for her.
"It's family-friendly, it's beer and wine, and it's (coming) from a trusted community member," she said.
One community member had some concerns. Ellen Haffner told the commission she was worried that children passing by Cafe Zoe on Menalto Avenue after school might see adults drinking beer or wine.
"Beer and wine (don't) belong in a family-centered neighborhood," she said. A commissioner responded by saying that people often sit outside and drink alcoholic beverages at restaurants on Santa Cruz Avenue where children are present.
"(Whether it's a) glass or beer or espresso, I don't really see that much of a difference," said Planning Commission chair John Onken. "Especially given the clientele."