Benefield: Weird (required) booze boundary dropped at popular Santa Rosa food park

For months, patrons at Mitote Food Park were prevented from drinking on one half of the courtyard. Operators got permission to drop the awkward partition.|

To some, it might be a small change; a sign removed.

But the sign had four exclamation points and it was taken seriously: “No alcoholic beverages beyond this point!!!!”

So when the sign came down, there was a certain amount of celebration in some circles.

No longer is there a line of demarcation in the middle of the wildly popular Mitote Food Park delineating where customers can drink a beer and where they cannot.

The folks at the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, the agency that required Mitote have the odd booze boundary, dropped that requirement last week.

“We are excited,” Mitote operations manager Al Lerma said.

Until now, that rule meant that food and lemonade could be had at the long family-friendly picnic tables, but if a customer wanted a beer, it had to be imbibed over there.

Operators honored it, because the state required it, but honestly? It felt weird.

And meaningless.

And for the folks at Mitote, located in the heart of Roseland, it was kind of a pain to monitor. They had to be on the lookout, warning people away from wandering.

No longer.

“It was kind of a sixth-month trial is the way I see it,” Lerma said. “I think it was extra precaution on behalf of (California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control) that we were doing everything right. We were confident. We passed the test and are doing everything right.”

Open since late June, the food park has centralized a number of local food trucks, offered congregant seating and organized live music events and Sunday morning farmers markets.

Their beer list is usually about eight options strong, and fans of their mixed drinks, which include the “Mezcalrita” and “Una mas y nos vamos,” are devoted.

But be sure, Lerma said, taking down that weird boundary space does not turn the food court into party central.

“We are conscious about not having a big rowdy space,” he said. “It’s not a late night place, we like to think of it as a family place.”

And the removal of barriers of where alcohol can be consumed in the park’s footprint actually lends to that feel.

Families can sit at the picnic tables with tacos and beer, rather than have the beer drinkers shunned and segregated beyond a low fence.

“We were literally having to say, ‘You can’t drink over there,’ and they’d say ‘My whole family is over there,’” Lerma said. “It was just kind of a hassle and inconvenience and not good for customer service. All of that goes away now.”

No more bar court and food court — just one space.

“It’s a great space,” Lerma said. “Finally we can really maximize ourselves on this.”

Debbie Morikawa of Cloverdale enjoyed a Modelo with her fish tacos late Monday afternoon with her husband, Steve.

A week prior, they would have had to sit at the other end of the court.

“This is wonderful,” she said. “We were going to take it to go but it’s too good.”

Music played from a speaker in the background and better yet, Morikawa’s beer was discounted — she got the order in just before happy hour ended at 5 p.m.

“Can’t beat that,” she said.

The place hasn’t stood still since it opened.

It’s kid friendly. It’s family friendly. It’s dog friendly. It’s bike friendly.

They added a massive tent area in October when the weather turned. They brought in heat lamps.

They have expanded their Sunday lineup to include a Farmers Market.

The guy who sells churros five nights a week regularly has a line 20 deep, Lerma said.

The massively popular Tuesday Night Taco bike ride brings scores of people each week when they hit the area as their dinner and turnaround spot.

“We have a basic four or five food trucks, we can do more on Sunday when we do the farmers market,” Lerma said.

The farmers market features grilled chicken, jewelry and other vendors, a pizza maker and someone who sells ceviche.

“It’s convenient, it’s in Roseland. People haven’t had a lot of options to go out in that space where it’s lively,” he said.

But not too lively.

And no longer awkward.

You can reach Staff Columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @benefield.

Kerry Benefield

Columnist, The Press Democrat

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