For Roasters & Retailers

A Carmel coffee shop is in hot water over food photos meant to bridge language gaps.

Mira Porges is a keen observer of her customers at the Carmel Cocoa and Coffee Bar in Carmel. One long-time patron says morning regulars don’t have to order Porges starts making their coffee drinks when they walk in. When Porges noticed international customers struggling to order food because they don’t speak English, she designed a solution: She framed color photos of about two dozen dishes and mounted them on the wall. Some customers merely point to what they want to eat.

It’s been a successful system, especially with the recent influx of Chinese tourists to the city (see story, p. 32). But after years of running under the community’s radar the shop is on the the bottom floor of Carmel Plaza, and not visible from the street Porges finds herself at odds with Carmel’s amorphous idea of its “village character.”

Since buying the business in 2006, she expanded the menu to include sandwiches, salads and other dishes, but a Carmel ordinance limits coffee shops to a maximum of 10 percent of sales from food. Porges says there’s no way she can cover rent selling only coffee and pastries. Trying to come into compliance, she applied in spring for a full-line restaurant permit.

At a Planning Commission meeting in April, the menu photos on the wall came into question. Commissioners wanted Porges to shrink the size of the display, but planning staff cautioned against regulating it when other businesses, like real estate offices, use similar displays. On July 12, the commission voted 3-2 in favor of a new permit, with no requirement to change or remove the photos.

But Mayor Steve Dallas took issue with the commission’s decision and filed an appeal. At a City Council meeting Oct. 3, he criticized the store’s layout, and slammed the photos: “This reminds me of walking into a McDonald’s and picking from a menu. Period. It’s that simple.” He wanted Porges to remove the photos. He recommended printing them on menus, or translating the menu into Chinese.

City Attorney Glen Mozingo voiced concern over infringing on First Amendment rights. Councilmember Carrie Theis praised Porges: “As business owners, we have to think about who our customer is and how we can better serve them.”

The council is scheduled to vote on the appeal Dec. 5. They asked Porges to work with planning staff to cut down the size of the shop’s counter and change the layout, which Porges says she’s done. The photos remain for now. She says they’re important to her customers, and violate no ordinances.





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