In a year filled with ups and downs, Ken MacMillan didn’t need to hear he’d been the victim of a grand theft.
The owner of DiStassio’s Italian Restaurant on Market Avenue, MacMillan and his son are involved in a new venture just getting started, relocating their popular eatery up the hill to 590 Morro Bay Blvd.
The former home of Old Paris gift shop, MacMillan is hard at work transforming what was originally a Wells Fargo Bank branch, into an elegant eatery.
It happened over the Citywide Yard Sale weekend, April 1-2, he explained. Someone apparently drove into the rear parking lot and up the old bank drive-thru lane where they stole about 600 square feet of concrete paver bricks worth several thousand dollars.
The bricks had been installed on the Shasta Avenue side of the building in a wrap-around porch. MacMillan, who purchased the large property, said the bricks had to be pulled up to make way for some plumbing lines that need to be run and were s tacked up behind a fenced enclosure behind the building.
Unfortunately that made it pretty easy for someone to drive right next to where they were, but it had to be at least a 2-man job.
“It would have taken hours,” MacMillan said, while showing the scene of the crime to a reporter. “It was thousands of pounds. It would have taken more than one truck load.”
He acknowledges that it sounds like an inside job, as the bricks weren’t in plain sight, but in truth the gate at the rear parking lot wasn’t locked, so anyone could have gotten inside.
Police logs reported they had “no further investigative leads” in the case, and MacMillan jokes that somebody’s probably getting a nice re-paving job on their patio with his bricks, and some shyster is probably doing the job at 100-percent profit.
It’s a hiccup on what so far has been a pretty smooth job. MacMillan said thus far his interactions with the City on the new project have been “wonderful.”
And there’s plenty that could go wrong, as the former bank needs to have interior walls built, new plumbing run — both water and sewer — bathrooms put in, a kitchen, fire sprinklers, and much more. It’s a big job and he hopes to have it done by sometime in the fall.
The finished restaurant will feature a large dining area in the center with a high, vaulted ceiling, booths and wall seating. “Young people like wall seating,” he said. There’ll be a patio in front overlooking the Boulevard, with a fire pit and lights in the trees. And there’ll be another patio along the side, where the stolen pavers had been.
The property has a small, private parking lot in the rear and there’s plenty of street parking too. It’s the only restaurant in the immediate area and he hopes to capture more business by opening for lunch too.
“This is the entryway to the City,” MacMillan said, explaining why the move out of the City building and its sweeping view of the waterfront. “It’s a real main entrance. With the roundabout, if the City develops the way they want, this will be a nice location.”
Meanwhile, they’ll keep DiStassio’s open until it’s time to move. All equipment in that City-owned building, which is leased to MacMillan at $9,000 a month, is theirs and he intends to reuse it.
He’s got 1-1/2 years left on the lease with the City, he said, but there’s an “out clause” that requires simply giving notice. It’s not the way he’d planned for this to all turn out. He was in escrow to buy the building on Market Avenue, which was part of a massive bankruptcy for the previous owner, who had bought the property from the City, put a ton of work into it to get it opened, and then lost it in bankruptcy.
MacMillan was an integral part of all that and when the building went up for sale, he tried to buy it. But the City, which was still owed more than $1 million for the property stepped in, and took repossession of the building paying just a couple hundred thousand dollars to the bankruptcy proceeding.
MacMillan can’t hide his displeasure at how the whole deal went down and has complained before in a public meeting at what the City was doing, but declines to discuss it on the record, choosing to put it behind him and move forward.
That property is a key to the City’s hopes for its future tax revenues, and is the center-piece of a redevelopment strategy and economic vitality program, driven by the need to add another $4 million a year in taxes to meet an anticipated future budget shortfall.
The City has issued a “request for qualifications” or RFQ to see if there is anyone who wants to take a stab at redeveloping the property, which includes a small parking lot at Market and Pacific, and the large lot below the building on the Embarcadero.
The City envisions a large motel project that would include a parking garage, multi-story motel and retail development and also redevelopment of the Centennial Parkway.
MacMillan has his doubts, but wishes the City well in its plans. In the meantime, it could be tough to get someone to rent the building once DiStassio’s leaves, with the City actively looking to redevelop the property.
That wouldn’t be anything new for the site, which was the original Breakers for many years, then Hungry Tiger, Rubens and finally Brannigan’s Reef, which closed in 1995.
Except for when it briefly opened as Anthony’s in about 1999, it sat vacant for years, until the recent remodel. The City bought the property in the early 2000s, using a windfall of money from Duke Energy, which had bought the Morro Bay Power Plant, triggering local fees for natural gas burned at the plant.