Something’s cooking on the Luby’s site – Lakewood/East Dallas

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A new locally owned neighborhood restaurant could soon be opening at the Luby’s site on Mockingbird.

One of the casualties of the pandemic, Luby’s served its last meal at this location in April 2020. Jon Alexis, the current owner/operator of TJ’s Seafood in Preston Hollow and Oak Lawn and Malibu Poke in Dallas and Austin, plans a “family friendly” restaurant on the real estate at the corner of Mockingbird and Norris between Skillman and Abrams.

The concept hopes to serve alcohol with its “American menu” but needs permission to offer customers cold beer, frozen margaritas or a bottle of red. Current City of Dallas ordinances prohibit serving alcohol within 300 feet of a school, property line to property line. The property line of the Luby’s site actually shares a property line with the St. Thomas Aquinas Lower School, where pre-kindergartners through second-graders attend.

A public hearing at the Dec. 8 City Council meeting will be held to hear Alexis’s request. The City Council will  discuss the merits and take a vote. City Council approval of the variance and a TABC permit will allow Alexis to serve his thirsty customers. This site is in District 14, represented by Council member Paul Ridley. Ridley has not shared his opinion about the variance request with The Advocate. The City Council meeting begins at 1 p.m. You can watch the public hearing here.

Alexis won’t have any problems with convincing concerned parents of St. Thomas Aquinas School. The school actually owns the property. Luby’s never owned the building that housed the restaurant but was always a tenant of St. Thomas Aquinas before the buffet restaurant closed and stopped paying rent. The Rev. John Libone, the pastor/president of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Parish and School, wrote a letter supporting the request to grant the variance permitting the sale of alcohol within the 300-foot distance from their Lower School. You can see the letter here.

Sarah Lamb, the listing broker from The Retail Connection, says St. Thomas Aquinas received several offers from “wonderful local operators” but the school felt Alexis and his group had a vision that would be “the best steward for the property and the neighborhood.”

Oddly, no neighborhood meetings were held with adjacent residents or neighborhood associations to share plans and hear feedback. There is a long-standing East Dallas tradition of property owners requesting changes that need City approval to host meetings with the surrounding community. Further, this request doesn’t require the City to mail any notices within a certain radius letting them know of a public hearing. How can there be a public hearing if  the public doesn’t know about it? Seems way less transparent than most issues affecting property uses.

Residents along St. Moritz Avenue, the street bordering the northern property line of the site, have mixed reactions to the request, mostly from being in the dark about what is actually being requested and what the plans are. “It seems to me that since the school and restaurant are as close as they are and there is a reason not to serve alcohol within such close proximity then it seems clear they should comply,” says Judi Reinert, who lives directly across from the Luby’s site. “There are reasons for these restrictions and they should either be adhered to or do away with the regulations. I am sure there are many other considerations for this site, just choose another. I wonder how parents of children attending St. Thomas feel about the variance?”

Mark Risser lives at the corner of Norris and St. Moritz but sees it differently. “I have lived in the neighborhood for several years and enjoy an urban environment,” said Risser. “I am in support of the alcohol variance on the property. That said – I would like a little better understanding of the concept for the space.”

Alexis says his family friendly restaurant will have a big patio and serve the “hip, connected East Dallas families.” But will they serve a LuAnn?