Lillian’s Italian Kitchen preps new space in Santa Cruz
May 3, 2016
by Jondi Gumz, Santa Cruz Sentinel
SANTA CRUZ — Soon the frustration will end for folks who have been unable to get a meal atLillian’s Italian Kitchen, the popular Eastside restaurant in a small spot at 1116 Soquel Ave.
After nine years and a TripAdvisor rating of fourth best restaurant in Santa Cruz based on customer reviews, the owners are about to move into a bigger space — double the seating — in the historic Ebert Building with the clock tower at 1148 Soquel Ave. They have hired almost 15 new employees to join their staff of 17.
They will close the doors of the current location Saturday night and anticipate opening the new spot sometime in May.
The expansion is made possible by a $416,000 U.S. Small Business Administration loan from Santa Cruz County Bank.
“That was a huge investment,” said Charlotte Moreno, co-owner of Lillian’s with her husband Joe and their sons Chris and Matt. “It’s a complicated process. They made it really easy for us.”
During the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, Santa Cruz County Bank made 34 SBA loans for $24.9 million for small business acquisition, operation or expansion. In the past six months, the bank made 18 loans for $15.8 million, a faster pace as wrecession impacts fade.
Moreno is enthusiastic about moving to the Ebert Building, which just turned 100 years old, and the owners, who are longtime Santa Cruz residents.
“The Eberts worked with us and really made it possible for us to move in,” she said. “We wanted to stay in the neighborhood. We didn’t have many options.”
No Eastside retail space is available, according to a search on ChooseSantaCruz.com, the city’s website for businesses.
Moreno had a good reason for staying in the neighborhood.
“We live four blocks from the restaurant,” she said.
Architect Terri Fischer designed the new space, which is being remodeled by Testorff Construction of Aptos, and mostly local subcontractors including Lucky Electric of Santa Cruz.
Chef Chris Moreno, who has been working in a 90-square-foot kitchen, will have more room.
Matt Moreno, who handles the front of the house, will manage more tables, with seating for 78 to 85 people.
Training of new employees will start next week. More of the new staff are part-time as existing staff were given more hours.
With expansion, Lillian’s will no longer be a small business — defined as up to 25 employees — which get an extra year to comply with the state’s new minimum wage.
The minimum will go to $10.50 an hour on Jan. 1, reaching $15 an hour by 2022.
To Charlotte Moreno, “$15 seems like a reasonable wage.”
Most of the tipped staff earn under $15 an hour now, she said, adding, “They make a good hourly wage when you factor in tips.”
Dishwashers make $14 an hour, but they get a share of tips, she noted.
As minimum wages rose in Seattle last year, some restaurateurs began experimenting with no-tipping policies, raising prices or adding a service charge, and others seeing profits eroded by the hierarchy of pay, with higher dishwasher wages leading to increases for cooks and waiters.
“We’re going to watch what the industry does,” said Moreno. “We’re going to survive.”