Valery Jean-Bart just wants to make cheesecake for customers to taste at his shop in Lower Greenville. Maybe they even linger over a glass of wine with that bite of sea salt mocha.
That’s why he’s tried everything a sane, law-abiding person can do to appease the bureaucrats at Dallas City Hall who are still enforcing a hopelessly outdated parking law that makes little sense in 2023.
How outdated? The car-centric rules that threaten to destroy Jean-Bart’s artisan bakery business are 58 years old — older than many people reading this sentence and older than many of the political folks who swear they’re trying to get this antiquated law rewritten.
I wrote two weeks ago that the city’s Department of Planning and Urban Design has gotten nowhere on its goal of restoring the minimum parking code.
Meanwhile, out here in the real world, the fun and tasty Val’s Cheesecakes shop is being swept across two parking lots.
Val’s location in Greenville has six spaces, not the eight required by a code dating back to 1965 that, among its moldy provisions, requires restaurants to offer one parking space per 100 square feet.
Jean-Bart signed the lease in late 2017 without understanding the ramifications of the property’s parking problem and the resulting classification as a “grab-and-go” food business.
Realizing the box he was in – thanks to a designation that excludes serving alcohol or setting tables for customers – Jean-Bart tried everything:
Using skills from his previous career as a civil engineer, he sketched schematic after schematic to figure out any possible way to add the two extra parking spaces. Nothing worked.
He tried to persuade the city to let him install a bike rack and market his shop to cyclists. No.
He asked surrounding businesses to rent the two needed parking spaces from them for $1,000 a month. No luck there.
Jean-Bart has even completed the paperwork required for the city to consider designating this single property a planned development district with a minor parking variance.
Not only would it be highly unusual for the city to approve a PD designation for such a small property, Jean-Bart would have to pay about $7,000 to proceed with the application. If it is rejected, he loses most of the fee.
The Haitian-born cheesecake lover says he loves Dallas as much as he loves his culinary craft, but he’s about ready to call it quits on Lower Greenville.
“My heart just isn’t in it to keep fighting,” he told me.
Nearby business owners have regularly told him that he will never get the rules revised, nor will the city ever change.
Even if Jean-Bart’s were to eventually win a parking variance — or better yet, the city replaced the outdated code — chances are Val’s Cheesecakes is nearing the end of its lease, which expires in 2025.
“I don’t know if I want to renew,” he said. “So that the money I spend will benefit the owner and the next tenant, not me.”
The sting of this experience is especially sharp as Saturday’s annual Lower Greenville Avenue St. Patrick’s Day block party approaches.
Val’s Cheesecakes, located in the heart of the festival grounds, will be selling various food items along with their signature pastries on the day. Jean-Bart also plans to convert his lobby into a place for partygoers to take a break from the chaos of the party.
But because Val’s is not allowed to sell alcohol, Jean-Bart will again see only a small fraction of the profits the neighbors make. “What you can make from selling alcohol that day can set you up for the whole year,” he said.
Despite city-imposed “no tables, no alcohol” restrictions, the line at Val’s is often long on Saturdays with customers driving from Southlake, Cedar Hill, Fort Worth and Frisco.
When people pull up a stool from the lobby counter to eat their cheesecake on the spot, Jean-Bart isn’t about to tell them they’re breaking any rules.
“I don’t care what the city says,” Jean-Bart told me. “I’m not going to chase a person out of Val’s cheesecake. It’s just not going to happen that I’m going to tell them to go to the curb.”
In a podcast last week with The Dallas Morning News’ Eat Drink D-FW, Jean-Bart told what led him to leave civil engineering for cheesecake after arriving in Dallas 15 years ago.
It’s worth listening to the full interview to hear his story about the bond that was built with his mother as they made cheesecakes together every Sunday afternoon during the four years she also battled cancer.
Marie Jose Labossiere died in 2012, and Val’s Cheesecakes remains a tribute to her.
In addition to the Greenville location, Jean-Bart recently opened Val’s Cheesecakes Kitchen and Pantry in the Cedars area, which sells snacks, sandwiches and pastries and provides prep and cooking space for new food business owners.
He is still confused that two too few parking spaces changed the course of his dreams. As for what else he can do, Jean-Bart pointed to the voter registration cards on his counter.
“An election will come in May,” he said. “People don’t realize how important it is to the success of the city’s small business owners that you vote.”
He also noted that although employees are not elected, city councilors generally have the final say on matters such as parking reform.
Andreea Udrea, assistant director of planning and urban design for the city, is aware of Jean-Bart’s parking dilemma and many others like it.
She said their properties are “built under different zoning and development regulations and do not now benefit from the flexibility needed to be redeveloped and used according to the new era.”
Udrea’s parking change efforts aim to relax or eliminate some regulations and replace general minimum requirements with market-driven case-by-case assessments.
The work was mostly shelved more than a year ago due to other priorities, and even the most optimistic forecasts put changes too far down the road to help Jean-Bart and others like him.
As we said goodbye to the parking lot – which already engulfs a large part of the property as it goes around the front and side of the small sweet shop – Jean-Bart’s last words were these:
“I love my location. I love my business. But it has been six years of pain and sadness at how this has gone.”