Former Luby’s site on Mockingbird Lane between Skillman Street and Abrams Road. Photo by Sam Gillespie.

The former Luby’s restaurant site on Mockingbird Lane between Skillman and Abrams will soon be resurrected as a neighborhood hangout.

The as-yet unnamed restaurant will be a family-friendly place “where you can grab a breakfast taco to go on your way to work, enjoy a casual lunch, watch the game, enjoy a beer while your kid runs around,” neighborhood resident and experienced restaurant owner Jon Alexis told readers of the Lakewood/East Dallas Advocate’s Facebook page. “Great menu, great drinks in a chill atmosphere.”

The site also will have a “huge patio,” Alexis, says, for “hip, connected East Dallas families.”

One of the casualties of the pandemic, Luby’s served its last meal at this location in April 2020. Alexis is the owner/operator of TJ’s Seafood in Preston Hollow and Oak Lawn, and Malibu Poke in Dallas and Austin.

Neighborhood resident Sarah Lamb, who listed the property on behalf of St. Thomas, says the church and school received several offers from “wonderful local operators” but the school felt Alexis and his group had a vision that would be “the best steward for the property and the neighborhood.”

The City of Dallas approval process for the site wasn’t without controversy, though. Originally, Alexis was told he needed to obtain an alcohol variance in order to serve alcohol within 300 feet of the St. Thomas Aquinas Lower School. The Luby’s and St. Thomas land parcels are separate, but both are owned by the school; Luby’s was always a tenant of St. Thomas Aquinas. 

Santos Martinez of La Sierra Planning Group, which is representing Alexis’ group on planning and zoning issues, says the City determined that because St. Thomas Aquinas is a private school and Alexis meets other requirements, an alcohol variance is not necessary.

Before the City Council took a second look at the City Code, Alexis thought he had to apply for a variance because a City ordinance prohibits serving alcohol within 300 feet of a school (property line to property line). 

The Rev. John Libone, the pastor and president of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Parish and School, wrote a letter supporting the request to grant the variance.  

“While we are a school and our property lines are contingent, we fully support their application for a variance to operate as a restaurant selling alcohol with an FB & MB permit,” Libone wrote in the letter. “We discussed their intended use at length before they moved forward with their project. In fact, our staff and school families intend to be frequent patrons!”

Residents who live along St. Moritz Avenue, the street bordering the northern property line of the site, had mixed reactions to the initial zoning variance request, mostly because they were unaware of plans for the building.

Neighbors lined up on both sides of the project while the City was evaluating the initial variance request to allow liquor sales. 

“It seems to me that since the school and restaurant are as close as they are and there is a reason not to serve alcohol within such close proximity then it seems clear they should comply,” says Judi Reinert, who lives directly across from the Luby’s site. 

There are reasons for these restrictions, and they should either be adhered to or do away with the regulations.”

Mark Risser lives at the corner of Norris and St. Moritz saw the situation differently. 

“I have lived in the neighborhood for several years and enjoy an urban environment,” Risser says. “I am in support of the alcohol variance on the property. That said — I would like a little better understanding of the concept for the space.”

Although the City determined no variance was needed, a public hearing was still required. In December, Martinez appeared on behalf of Alexis and requested a denial given the new interpretation of the code that a variance was unnecessary. The Council voted unanimously to deny the variance, and that was that.

Reading City code is apparently hard even for the people who wrote it — but the good news is that we’ll be drinking margaritas on Mockingbird soon. 

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