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Steak 'n Shake Sidewalk Cafe Would Leave Street Too Crowded, Board Says

By Mathew Katz | February 3, 2012 2:19pm
Customers line up outside of Steak 'n Shake, next to the Late Show's studios.
Customers line up outside of Steak 'n Shake, next to the Late Show's studios.
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DNAinfo/Mathew Katz

MIDTOWN — The combined clamor of Letterman fans and Steak 'n Shake devotees has forced a community board to reject plans for a sidewalk cafe.

Community Board 5's Consents and Variances Committee voted Thursday to ask that the Department of Consumer Affairs deny the burger joint's request for a six-table, 12-seat outdoor space outside its 1695 Broadway storefront.

The spot is right next to where crowds line up almost daily to become part of the audience for Letterman's "Late Show."

"It’s impossible. I can’t even imagine how you could think to put a sidewalk cafe there," said committee member Candy Cook. "And I’m not against sidewalk cafes."

With last month's opening of Steak 'n Shake and fellow newcomer Pie Face, neighbors have complained that the block is just too crowded with diners and "Late Show" fans. Some board members at Thursday's meeting said pedestrians need to walk on the road just to get by.

Another committee member, Howard Mendes, pointed out that at 12 seats, the sidewalk cafe would nearly double the small restaurant's 13-seat capacity.

"I think you should have contemplated not having a sidewalk cafe when you leased the space, because it's rather small," Mendes said to the applicant. "I think it should be an amenity, not the be-all end-all of an operation."

Dawn Arnold, Steak 'n Shake's district manager, said she hoped to work with the board to find a solution that would allow the burger chain to have a cafe at least some of the time — possibly in the evening when lines for Letterman disappear and the area is less crowded.

She also said the restaurant could eliminate its roped-in lineup area to make room for the cafe.

"We can replace the ropes with the tables," she said. "If we don't use those tables, we can keep the line."

But that wasn't enough for some committee members.

"Getting rid of the [ropes] doesn't get rid of the bodies that want Steak 'n Shake," replied Committee Chair Ron Dwenger.

The committee's recommendation will be voted on at CB5's full board meeting on Feb. 9.

"We’re looking for a solution, we didn’t find one here today," Dwenger said. "But we can revisit that."