Val’s Cheesecakes opened on Lower Greenville in November 2017. And since then, the dessert shop’s owner, Valery Jean-Bart, has been trying to get the paperwork he needs to allow customers to eat their cheesecake on site.
Jean-Bart says he knew when he opened the shop what kind of certificate of occupancy he was getting. It’s one that allows for to-go only. When customers purchase a treat, they’re not supposed to eat it at the store.
“I will never chase a customer who starts to eat their cheesecake right in front of me,” he says. “I’m not going to tell them, ‘No, no, go stand on the sidewalk. Leave now.’ They open their jaw right then and there, and I’m not going to do that. Just not going to happen.”
The problem has to do with the number of parking spaces Val’s Cheesecakes has (six) and the square footage of the business (around 800 square feet). Val’s needs two more parking spots, eight total, to apply for a certificate of occupancy that allows customers to enjoy their purchases inside the shop. That’s one parking space for every 100 square feet.
Three years ago, Jean-Bart was granted an off-premises beer and wine license. The effect is similar to the certificate of occupancy stipulation he’s been fighting: no one can consume alcoholic beverages in the store. As with the certificate of occupancy, he knew the rules when he applied for the license.
With a different certificate of occupancy and a different alcohol license, neighbors could go to Val’s, purchase a cheesecake and enjoy it at the store with a glass of wine.
In the past three years, the beer and wine license has cost Jean-Bart more than $3,000. He estimates he’s sold about 10 bottles of wine during that time, but he continues to pay the fees because he sees a potential to serve wine in-store.
“I’m just fed up,” Jean-Bart says. “I can’t benefit from my customers feeling comfortable to eat their cheesecake there. I can’t benefit from my beer and wine license. And I can’t benefit from the yearly block party, the Saint Patrick’s block party.”
Over the past five years, Jean-Bart has been trying to change his situation. He has been in communication with many City departments, most recently Planning and Urban Design and the office of District 14 City Council member Paul Ridley.
“Last week I went to meet with the city planner, and the planner said, ‘This is stupid that you can’t eat your own cheesecake,'” Jean-Bart says. “Their own planner is saying, ‘Your customers can’t eat their cheesecake because of two parking spaces? That doesn’t make sense.'”
The business owner says there are variances that could be granted, or he could apply for new zoning. There is also something called delta credits, which is a way to calculate required off-street parking; Jean-Bart says there’s only one person at the City who can explain delta credits. As an engineer himself, he says there’s no way to reconfigure the area to carve out two additional spaces.
They even asked if adding bike racks would count for additional parking spaces, but that wouldn’t work.
“We’re not asking for any favors,” he says.
Some people have suggested that Jean-Bart strike up a parking agreement with one or a couple nearby businesses, such as Blue Goose, Halcyon, Terilli’s or Stan’s Blue Note.
“I’ve asked,” Jean-Bart says. “They all said no.”
All he’s asking for is for City officials to “give me some direction, give me some consistency” to grow his business.
On Facebook, Val’s Cheesecakes asked neighbors to reach out to the mayor and City Council members to help solve the issue.
“I closed a location on Maple Avenue recently,” Jean-Bart says. “And I have the duty and responsibility to make my location on Greenville profitable.”