Is Riverside/Avondale Ready For Mellow Mushroom?

April 26, 2012 593 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Mellow Mushroom has announced they will begin construction of a new location in Avondale. Instead of replacing two non-contributing structures, they have opted for an impressive adaptive re-use project that aims to serve as a future model for the community at large. The benefits of a unique re-use project are wide ranging. They minimize waste of good building materials, preserve neighborhood character, contribute to job creation as dollar for dollar these projects provide more funds to the local work force than a new construction project and provide an economic benefit to the neighborhood as surrounding property values increase when an abandoned building has been re-purposed.

To gain perspective, here are a few examples of similar projects that have been successful in similar built environments such as Avondale.

Double Wide Grill - Pittsburgh, PA's historic Southside

Image courtesy of Google Street View.

This weekend, the Double Wide Grill joins the Southside’s eclectic array of eateries. Located at 2339 E. Carson St., the 4,300 square-foot restaurant is owned by Steve Zumhoff and Scott Kramer.

Occupying a 1930s-era gas station, the 145-capacity restaurant features indoor and outdoor bars and a large patio. Calling the Double Wide a “Texas roadside gas station,” Zumhoff, who also owns the Southside’s successful Beehive Coffeehouse and Lava and Tiki Lounges, decorated the grill with artifacts culled from swap meets and a Texas trip.

“It’s going to change the whole dynamic of the street,” says general manager Brendan Byers, who thinks the Double Wide will bridge Southside Works with Carson. Zumhoff and Kramer worked with architect Val Zarro, LaQuatra Bonci Associates and Flynn Construction on the building’s renovation and landscaping. Oil City-based McCullough Brown designed the kitchen.

“It’s kind of trailer chic,” says Byers, who previously worked at the Pittsburgh Athletic Association. “I haven't been this excited about a project in years.” Telling the “Double Wide story,” the grill’s menus depict the life of Hank and Tessie Mae, who fixed cars and sold barbecue.

Image courtesy of

Yeah Burger - Atlanta, GA's historic Virginia Highlands

Yeah Burger "before" image courtesy of Google Street View.
Transforming a former car detailing station, Yeah Burger opened an 80 seat restaurant with patio in the Virginia Highland of Atlanta in 2010.  Sitting at the heavily pedestrian-trafficked corner of North Highland and Virginia street, this burger bar has become a focal point of the neighborhood and features communal seating.  The outdoor patio is often filled with families as this reuse project has softened the pedestrian landscape and greatly contributed to the sense of community along this popular neighborhood commercial district.

Yeah Burger in Atlanta's Virginia-Highlands image courtesy of

Image courtesy of edit

Leons Full Service

Leons image courtesy of

The Gallaghers, Blanchard and Moore set out to start what is in very many ways a compliment to The Brick Store. Where the pub features quality pub food and beer, Leon’s focuses on a seasonal menu directed by Eric Ottensmeyer, an inventive cocktail menu led by Miles Macquarrie, and a more involved wine list. The vision, however, never strayed far from the building it was in.

“When we built this out we wanted to use as much of the old building as we could. Kind of uncover the old build building. We did that at the Brick Store around the corner, mostly because we were just on a budget so we used just whatever was there, but we found that really brought out the old building and it had so much character, and we wanted to do that here as well,” said Gallagher.

Many people in Decatur may only know Leon’s as that place with the sand pit across from Decatur Diner, and while on a rainy day the restaurant’s Bocci court can look particularly sad, its purpose is exemplary of the owner’s vision: community.

“It was very important to us that this remain a corner where no matter where you were you would feel like you were on this corner in Decatur. [and] that outside area here has become a talking point for folks here. When I’m walking up to work and people are hanging out there, and playing Bocci Ball I feel like I’m walking into a backyard barbeque as opposed to walking into any sort of work,” said Gallagher.

Christen Thompson, The Anges Scott Profile

Leons image courtesy of

Loreley in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY

Loreley "before" image courtesy of Google Street View.

Loreley Biergarten opened in the summer of 2010 in the burgeoning Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn.  This former gas station that is adjacent to a Brooklyn-Queens Expressway overpass has become a focal point of the two streets that intersect at this once downtrodden corner.  Loreley is an 80 seat restaurant with a 60 seat patio that draws people together with activation of an outdoor space and communal tables.  Loreley is emblematic of the type of gentrification going on in popular Williamsburg.  Where downtrodden buildings once dominated the landscape, fathers and sons now can be seen enjoying food and watching soccer matches in this impressive re-use.

Loreley images courtesy of

Big Star in Chicago's Wicker Park

Mellow Mushroom Seeks Preservation in Avondale

The ranch-style Shell prototype was the most common design for Shell gas stations in North America during the mid 20th century.
Mellow’s design will stay true to the old service station’s original look and feel, according to owner John Valentino who immediately fell in love with the buidling’s ‘vibe’.   Built in 1964, the structure is emblematic of the store model of Shell gas stations deployed in the 1960’s and throughout the 1970’s that featured full service pumps and full auto repair services.  Neighborhood residents fondly remember the door-to-door service provided at the auto shop where your car would be dropped at your doorstep after repairs were finished.

The old Shell station also is the subject of local lore, where former State Attorney and Jacksonville Mayor Ed Austin ‘discovered’ Henry Coxe who would go on to become a prominent attorney and later became the President of the Florida Bar.  As the legend goes General Counsel Ed Austin drove into the station in 1973 and encountered Coxe, who worked at the service station after graduating law school.  Austin was impressed with the 26 year old Coxe and referred him for a job.  Leaving the Shell station became a reluctant decision for Coxe, but he did eventually took up the offer and went to work as a prosecutor and a stellar legal career was born.  Because Coxe’s ’64 Mercury Comet was still at the service station until he saved enough money to buy parts to complete repairs, he wound up driving to work at the misdemeanor division of Duval County in the Shell station’s service truck for his first 6 months on the job.  
Valentino has teamed up with architecture and interior design firm D Coop who have worked on such buildings as the new Black Sheep Restaurant being constructed in Five Points, Uptown Market in Springfield and Pulp in San Marco.  Valentino hopes to incorporate such features as the old tire racks, air hose systems and garage doors into the new space.  In addition, the trademark rooflines will be extended creating a soaring and dramatic effect that will encompass the restaurant’s new outdoor courtyard area.  Between 14 and 15 new parking spaces will be added.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the project is the creation of a new public square that will separate the building from Ingleside Avenue.  Plans call for the installation of bike parking facilities that will be used by the entire Shoppes of Avondale area, which is presently underserved with adequate bike parking.

Clockwise from top left: Off street parking that can be converted to stacked parking arrangement during off peak hours, overflow parking along Van Wert for off peak hours, existing inadequate bike parking options along Shoppes of Avondale.

Artistic bike parking options could be on their way to Avondale as a part of Mellow Mushroom's adaptive reuse.

Mellow Mushroom's plans include a centralized public plaza with bike parking at the intersection of St. Johns and Ingleside.

Additional parking stalls added as part of the site's redevelopment.

Valentino’s creation of a public area and promotion of alternative transportation serves to illustrate several policy goals expressed in previous discussions regarding ways to improve the neighborhood, specifically by addressing gaps in certain zoning regulations.

The concept of incentive zoning can complement the Riverside Avondale Zoning Overlay by maintaining the historic characteristics that built the neighborhood.  Density bonuses have been successfully implemented in cities like Seattle and New York, whereas a developer is permitted a certain exception to the zoning code in exchange for the inclusion of a specified community benefit.  These benefits can take the form of a public space fronting a building, a widened and improved sidewalk, historic preservation or transportation and infrastructure improvements.

Along the commercial areas in Riverside and Avondale, density bonuses can provide for such things as public green space, allowing parking deviations when permanent bike facilities are substituted for a portion of the overall parking requirement or funding transportation improvements which could serve to match funds for specific neighborhood transportation projects identified in the 2030 Mobility Plan.

Parking management and multi-modal transportation solutions are two items the Riverside Avondale Historic District must employ to sustain the integrity of the neighborhood while ensuring the economic viability of the District’s commercial interests that lie in harmony with the neighborhood’s residential component.  Bonus densities that contribute to multi-modal transportation solutions promote a pedestrian-friendly environment that responds to the needs and quality of life of our community.

Developments such as Mellow Mushroom and Kickbacks have sought to address these issues.  It’s time for the neighborhood to finally embrace these alternatives.  After all, these goals fall in line with the intent of the Overlay and the will of the community.

Article by Mike Field