The aroma of slow-cooking meat and a $1 million investment in downtown Santa Rosa proved irresistible to the City Council.
The council on Tuesday unanimously approved a plan by celebrity chef Guy Fieri to install a large outdoor smoker oven behind his recently reopened Tex Wasabi's eatery on Fourth Street.
“I just love the thought of having a smoker,” said Councilwoman Susan Gorin, predicting that folks would be thrilled by the aroma wafting from the gas smoker oven.
Councilwoman Marsha Vas Dupre said it would be “a fragrance to some,” but might also prompt complaints from vegans, who consume no animal products.
What happens if the smoke wafts over Courthouse Square and creates a nuisance, Councilman Gary Wysocky asked.
Bob Mathis, a commercial kitchen designer hired by Fieri, said a 6-inch flue would carry the smoke three stories high and release it with “little impact” at street level.
Fieri's smoker is a 300-pound model, far smaller than the 1,400-pound smokers he has installed at other restaurants with no odor complaints, Mathis said.
The smoker retains heat and smoke to flavor the meat for hours of cooking, and emits “a puff when you open it up,” he said.
Any odor complaints would be investigated by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, said Cheryl Woodward, the city deputy director of economic development and housing.
That was enough for the council to allow Fieri to use part of a city parking lot behind the restaurant as the 10-foot space, or setback, required by city ordinance between the smoker and the restaurant property line. The vote allows Fieri to build a steel structure, housing both the smoker and the restaurant's garbage bins, up to the property line.
In exchange, Fieri will pay the city $1,038 for the first year, increasing by 3 percent annually for seven years. The agreement was modeled after the fees paid by restaurants using a garbage enclosure in the city's Third Street parking garage.
Fieri, a spiky-haired sushi chef and Food Network star, said in a letter that he had invested $1 million to remodel Tex Wasabi's, which he expects will employ more than 60 people and earn more than $2.5 million in its first year.
Councilman John Sawyer said the setback deal shows “our downtown is willing to take a risk ... on something a little bit outside the box.”
Allison Berk, the teen councilmember — and an avowed vegetarian — said she liked the idea, too.