Menlo Park restauranteur cries foul over street’s reopening

The City of Menlo Park is reopening part of its main drag, Santa Cruz Avenue, to traffic after closing the street for outdoor dining and shopping. The owner of Roma’s restaurant calls the move unfair and dangerous.

Roma owner Erkan Akkaya opened his Italian restaurant in Menlo Park in March and then the pandemic hit. He’s slowly recouping his losses, thanks to the closure of Santa Cruz Avenue, the city’s main downtown thoroughfare.

It’s allowed his restaurant and others to spill onto the street but soon half of his coveted outdoor seating will be gone.

“It doesn't make sense if they want to open a street they should open both sides because this is unfair competition between us and all the restaurants too,” said Akkaya.

The City of Menlo Park plans to re-open one direction of two-lane Santa Cruz Avenue between El Camino Real and University Drive for drivers heading westbound.

“I just don’t understand why they are opening just one side of the street and keeping closed the other side,” said Akkaya.

Akkaya also thinks the move is unsafe for many pedestrians, who he believes, won’t use the crosswalk but jaywalk where they park.

“What we’ve tried to do is balance these different interests,” said Menlo Park Vice Mayor Drew Combs.

Combs said while the closure benefitted restaurants, some retail shops felt it made their establishments less accessible and visible to drivers. He adds it made more sense to open one side over the other.

“The side that we didn’t open that remained closed we saw lots of activity from the businesses in utilizing that space that had been closed specifically for the restaurants,” said Combs.

The hair salon next to Roma’s said the reopening will help not hurt their salon.

“I understand it’s maybe not good for restaurant business but for us, we are indoor and we operate differently and individually it's really helpful for us,” said Lida Zahmatkesh of DJ’s Hair Design.

As for safety, Combs said concrete barriers and stop signs will help slow traffic.

However, Akkaya said the decision is another setback in an already difficult year. He hopes the city expedites his permit to build a patio in adjacent street parking.

Right now, San Mateo County allows for indoor dining at 25 percent capacity. Roma’s owner believes more people feel comfortable dining outdoor then indoor.

On Friday, the city will begin posting notices on barricades about the street reopening which will happen Monday.