Monday, August 1, 2011
Court Says New Cafeteria Will Produce Needed Revenue
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
With the judiciary facing an unprecedented cut of $350 million to its budget, and trial courts across the state preparing to shutter courtrooms and layoff staff, the Los Angeles Superior Court is set to offer judges, lawyers, jurors and litigants an opportunity to help the branch fiscally.
And themselves gastronomically.
The cafeteria in the Stanley Mosk Courthouse, which closed in May for renovation, is slated to re-open its doors soon, under new management and a new contract which provides that percentage of its earnings will be paid to the courts.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William F. Highberger, who is overseeing the project, says the new food service provider will be paying the branch four percent of its gross revenues as rent, a source of much needed additional revenue, since the former operator of the ninth floor cafeteria paid nothing in exchange for use of the space.
Highberger says the Administrative Office of the Courts terminated the previous arrangement for the cafeteria since it was not generating any income for the branch, but finding a new operator posed some difficulty since the kitchen and dining area “had really fallen on hard times.”
He says the space was shown to about four companies, but “none would touch it” since “so much equipment was broken and had not been replaced in years.”
Only LunchStop, a food service provider which runs cafes at the Airport, San Fernando, Pasadena and Antelope Valley courthouses, was willing to take a chance on the space, after some extensive work was done.
‘Gross Beyond Belief’
On a recent morning, Highberger walked through the kitchen, pointing out everything that needed to be replaced and repaired. On the stove, he says, only two of the eight burners were operational, and only one of three ovens. One of the two walk-in refrigerators did not work, and a smaller refrigeration unit that had stopped functioning was being used to store paper, he adds.
Delayed maintenance, Highberger says, had also led to “unspeakable” grease build-up on the grill and clogged vents which were “gross beyond belief.” Cleaning the deep fryer, had required use of a paint scraper, he discloses, but in the end, the entire area “cleaned up good.”
LunchStop Regional Manager Irene Patino says she recognized the potential for the run-down cafeteria to be “a warm, comfy, homey place to relax, have coffee, have a snack or have lunch with your friends.”
Once the remodeling is done, she predicts, “it will be really, really attractive up here.”
Highberger agrees, noting the dining room and balcony offer sweeping views of the city skyline, making it “one of the most beautiful spots in the city,” and deserving of its name as the Panorama Café. On a clear day, he says, diners on the south landing will be able to see all the way to Signal Hill and Long Beach harbor.
The dining area also got a fresh coat of paint, and some new exterior doors and awnings. Wooden barriers which once had blocked off the view to the north and channeled foot traffic to the exit doors have been removed, placed on casters, and can be repositioned to section off the westernmost part of the dining room.
Highberger says this space is intended for use by court staff, so “they can avoid lunchtime contact with lawyers and litigants.”
A space which had held a dish conveyor has been repurposed as a “business center,” slated to offer postage, stationary supplies, photocopying, fax access, printing services, flash drives, CDs and DVDs for sale. Additionally, a glass walled area on the south side of the room, once used as a dining area for sequestered juries, has been converted into small conference rooms, to relieve the “overbooked” conference center on the fifth floor, Highberger says.
All of this work, he says, is estimated to cost a total of about $300,000, split between the AOC, the court, and LunchStop. The judge explains that costs were kept to a minimum because much of the equipment for the kitchen and seating for the dining area comes from the closed Van Nuys West Courthouse, and the furniture for the business center and conference area came from other areas of the court, or out of storage.
Highberger says his hope is that the cafeteria will be a place people want to go, since for years, “the standard advice of the judges in the building was ‘do not go to the ninth floor.’ ”
Encouraging jurors and staff to stay in the building, the judge says, would cut down on the traffic at the metal detectors and reduce staffing needs, but he understood why people would not want to go to the cafeteria.
“The salad bar and the turkey were okay,” Highberger recalls, “but the rest of the offerings were mediocre.” Having seen the condition of the kitchen though, he says, “it was a miracle they could get any food out at all.”
Patino promises the new LunchStop fare will offer variety and value. The planned menu boats an “extensive” 20-ft salad bar, high-protein and vegetarian offerings, fresh fruit bowls, yogurt parfaits, and “grab-and-go” deli sandwiches, she says. Diners can get a complete meal for under seven dollars, and repeat customers can take advantage of “buy 10 get one free” coupons for extra savings, Patino says.
LunchStop is also a “green” operation, Patino adds, which uses 100 percent recyclable and biodegradable products and coffee from a company in San Jose which “blows away” the java sold by Starbucks in the plaza right outside the building.
The cafeteria was scheduled to open in mid-July, but the date has been pushed back due to delays in obtaining the necessary clearance from the Health Department, Highberger says. Once the operating permit is issued, however, he says the cafeteria will be able to open in a matter of days.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company