Hollywood restaurant has set up illegal dining hall in traffic median
Earlier this week, Eater announced the upcoming debut of Mokuzai, a pop-up sushi restaurant that plans to operate in a “private lantern-filled” park in Hollywood at the intersection of Cahuenga, Wilcox and Franklin. However, multiple sources, including representatives from the Hollywood United Neighborhood Council (HUNC) and Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council (HHWNC), say Mokuzai has taken over the space illegally and is defying a mandate from the city to cease operations. The parklet, which is technically a city-owned traffic median, is not classified for use as an outdoor dining area, according to the LA Department of Transportation (LADOT).
Mokuzai was advertised as a sushi pop-up by Madera Kitchen owners Milton Sznaider and Loyal Pennings, who have been operating their restaurant and event space near the corner of Cahuenga and Franklin since 2014. Without informing the city of their plans , Sznaider and Pennings removed the low vegetation from the triangle-shaped median, built a fence, and placed furniture and fixtures to create what looked like a secluded outdoor dining area. Before these improvements, the median was never used as a public park, and only contained a large tree, called vegetation, and a 9 meter high vertical Hollywood sign welcoming drivers arriving in the area from the 101 highway.
However, according to George Skarpelos, chairman of HUNC, Sznaider and Pennings lacked the power to clear existing vegetation to accommodate furniture, fixtures and a six-foot-high fence around the median for their own purposes. Additionally, HHWNC President Anastasia Mann told Eater that while Sznaider and Pennings have a permit to dine al fresco for the sidewalk outside of Madera Kitchen, they do not have a permit for the sidewalk. middle triangle across the street. Mann also says that the the median is zoned A1, which prohibits commercial use. And finally, a representative from LADOT says eating in the median has never been approved by the city and that his office will contact Streets LA (the city’s Office of Streets Services) to enforce unauthorized use of the median.
When contacted for comment, representatives for Sznaider and Pennings said Mokuzai was using the health permit, liquor permit and outdoor permits from Madera Kitchen, located across the street on along Cahuenga. Sznaider and Pennings claim to have been working on the pop-up for months and only recently received a refoulement. Apparently, Madera’s team have helped pay for the maintenance of the park for the past 15 years, and for the past year have been the only one paying for maintenance, electricity and water for the median, which costs up to $ 2,000 per month. .
In one newsletter to the Whitley Heights Civic Association in May 2021, Sznaider and Pennings claim to have received permission to develop an outdoor space from David Wexler, a median patron who has helped pay for its restoration and upkeep since 2015. In the newsletter, Wexler says, “’Milton [Sznaider] approached me and told me he wanted to take it back as an outdoor dining area. ‘I said, if you have a plan, go for it.’ Representatives for Sznaider and Pennings said they were in talks with the city to ensure the scheduled June 24 opening date goes without any issues. The pop-up had opened smoothly this week, but informed customers about Instagram that a major leak had taken place in the kitchen and that it would be open again on June 17th.
Despite the tension between Madera / Mokuzai and the Neighborhood Defenders, Sznaider and Pennings don’t appear to be intending to remove their additions to the space. It’s unclear at this point what will happen to the median, as Sznaider and Pennings have pushed back any attempts to remove the furniture and the fence. HUNC officials claim Streets LA has already asked Sznaider and Pennings to remove all items and cease operations at the Median. Earlier this week, the LA County Department of Health street vendors raided and fined to operate carts and other non-compliant cooking vessels.
Update: Solar de Cahuenga is not affiliated with Madera Kitchen and is not involved with Mokuzai.