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New cafe to move into Echo Park Lake Boathouse [updated]

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Storefront ReportECHO PARK — The cafe at the Echo Park Lake Boathouse is a busy place on weekends, with diners and their dogs vying for available tables. But despite what seems to be a successful enterprise, the current cafe, called Square One at the Boathouse, is on its way out.  The city’s parks commissioners voted on Wednesday in favor of turning over the boathouse cafe concession to an outfit called MTI Investments, which plans to open Curate Cafe in the same place.  What’s behind the change?

The Department of Recreation and Parks failed to come to an agreement with the current cafe operator, which also owns Square One Cafe in East Hollywood and Silver Lake. According to city documents, the department went looking for a new operator after the principals of Square One involved  in the boathouse wanted to reduce the share of annual revenue given to the city. In 2015, the boathouse sold more than $580,000 in food and drinks, according to a parks commission board report. About $29,000 – or 5% – of that revenue went to Recreation and Parks.

In its proposal,  MTI Investments, which manages six other restaurants and is based in Santa Fe Springs,  offered up at least 9% of the boathouse revenue to the city.  Their boathouse menu would include locally sourced ingredients, organic beef burgers, vegetable dishes, salads and breakfast items.

John Himmelstein of Square One at the Boathouse, which has been operating on a month-to-month basis, said he was not sure when the new cafe would open. “It was our pleasure to serve the community,” he said.

Update: Himmelstein provided a more detailed response about operations at the boathouse:

“First, we are glad that we were able to open our cafe in conjunction with the renovation of Echo Park. When Mayor Elect Garcetti asked that we jump in, we did. Unfortunately, it’s no longer a sustainable business model for us. The Recreation and Parks department wants to double our rent as well as have mobile vending. Our initial contract called for us to have exclusive rights to sell within the boundaries of the park. Unfortunately, the city did not enforce that provision.

We look forward to welcoming our customers at Square One’s two other locations —– on Fountain Ave. in East Hollywood and in the heart of Silver Lake on Hyperion Ave. We wish Echo Park and the new operators of the boathouse well.”

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14 comments

  1. Well that’s a total drag. It’s hard to see how someone would do this better than Square One. I hope MTI can hit the $300,000 number that would’ve made this to make sense to the Parks department.

  2. Parks and Wrecks on another money grab. Service to the community means nothing to them. Look at what they did with the Greek.

  3. Never liked Square One though. It wasn’t all that great.

  4. Such bullshit. That place was hands on and genuinely local. MTI investments sounds like a death knell. Have fun with that, shitty planners. My family will never go in there

  5. Oh no! I love Square One at the Boat Hoiuse!

  6. I liked square one but the last time we ate there we got super sick, food poisoning. My husband and I are different things. I wanted to go back but never did after that. I had eaten there in the past and didn’t have a problem.

  7. Enjoyed the food – but expensive. Willing to try the new place

  8. That’s a long menu!

  9. People automatically scream “City Greed”. They clearly went with the vendor who is offering them 9% of their sales as opposed to 5%. What’s the issue there? That revenue goes to maintaining the parks, including the one where this boat house is located. Sometimes I think people just like to complain just to do it.

  10. I’d prefer a falafel place there.

  11. According to Square One, the city reneged on their deal: “The Recreation and Parks department wants to double our rent as well as have mobile vending. Our initial contract called for us to have exclusive rights to sell within the boundaries of the park. Unfortunately, the city did not enforce that provision.”

    I like their food and it’s pretty affordable. It’s really too bad that a corporation is moving in. I have no doubt that the new place will be more expensive.

    • The concession was up for renewal, so all terms of the deal were subject to change.

    • Parks and Recs has a history of not abiding by its contracts, the same exclusive rights where given to former Boathouse proprietorMr. Art Miller in 1996-1997, I maybe off by a year. That man invested his retirement money, Parks and Recs.treated that man like a personal employee. Parks/Rec promised to have a vendor free park, Mr Miller Paid $25.00 an hour to on duty Park Rangers to enforce the no vending law. When Mr.Miller felt he was being strong armed, he organized the park vendor’s to work for him on a percentage basis. Pks+Recs didn’t like that to much and started to harrass Mr.Miller till it elevated into a police matter. It became one of the Rampart Police scandal cases of abuse. In the end, he could not sue Parks and Rec, but did sue and win his case against RAMPART PD.

  12. I enjoyed eating occasionally at Square One, but their menu and prices were definitely not for everyone who uses the park. If I had known that their contract included an absolute monopoly on food sales in the park, I probably wouldn’t have eaten there, just on principle. I’m not advocating an unregulated vending situation, but I see no reason why Parks and Rec couldn’t allow a small number of licensed food vendors to sell at specific times and places as well as having an active cafe in the boathouse.

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