Earlier this week, Eater reported on the upcoming debut of Mokuzai, a pop-up sushi restaurant that plans to operate inside a “private, lantern-filled” parklet in Hollywood at the intersection of Cahuenga, Wilcox, and Franklin. However, multiple sources, including representatives of Hollywood United Neighborhood Council (HUNC) and Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council (HHWNC), claim that Mokuzai has taken over the space illegally, and is defying a city mandate to cease operations. The parklet, which is technically a city-owned traffic median, is not classified for use as an outdoor dining area, according to the LA Department of Transportation (LADOT).
Mokuzai was announced as a sushi pop-up from Madera Kitchen owners Milton Sznaider and Loyal Pennings, who have operated their restaurant and event space nearby the corner of Cahuenga and Franklin since 2014. Without notifying the city of their plans, Sznaider and Pennings removed the low-level vegetation from the triangle-shaped median, built a fence, and placed furniture and fixtures to make what resembled a secluded outdoor dining area. Previous to these improvements, the median was never used as a public park, and only contained a large tree, said vegetation, and a 30-foot-tall vertical Hollywood sign welcoming drivers coming into the neighborhood from the 101 freeway.
However, according to George Skarpelos, president of HUNC, Sznaider and Pennings had no authority to clear the existing vegetation in order to accommodate furniture, fixtures, and a six-foot-high fence around the median for their own purposes. In addition, HHWNC president Anastasia Mann tells Eater that while Sznaider and Pennings have an outdoor dining permit for the sidewalk outside of Madera Kitchen, they do not have a permit for the triangle median across the street. Mann also says the median is zoned A1, which prohibits business use. And finally, a representative with LADOT says that dining in the median was never approved by the city and that their office will reach out to Streets LA (the city’s Bureau of Streets Services) to enforce the unpermitted use of the median.
When reached for comment, representatives of Sznaider and Pennings said Mokuzai is using the health permit, liquor license, and al fresco permits from Madera Kitchen, located across the street along Cahuenga. Sznaider and Pennings claim to have been working on the pop-up for months and only recently received pushback. Apparently, the Madera team has helped pay for the maintenance of the park for the past 15 years, and for the past year has been the sole party paying for the maintenance, electricity, and water for the median, which costs up to $2,000 a month.
In a newsletter to the Whitley Heights Civic Association in May 2021, Sznaider and Pennings claim to have received permission to set up an outdoor area from David Wexler, a patron of the median that has helped pay for its restoration and maintenance going back to 2015. In the newsletter, Wexler says “‘Milton [Sznaider] approached me and said he wanted to take it over as an outdoor dining space. ‘I said, If you have a plan, go for it.’” Sznaider and Pennings’s representatives said they’re in talks with the city to ensure the projected opening date of June 24 comes without any issues. The pop-up had been conducting some soft openings this week but notified customers on Instagram that a major leak had taken place in the kitchen and that it would be back open on June 17.
Despite the tension between Madera/Mokuzai and neighborhood advocates, Sznaider and Pennings seem to have no intention of removing their additions to the space. It’s unclear at this point what will happen to the median as Sznaider and Pennings have rebuffed any attempts to remove the furniture and fence. HUNC representatives say Streets LA has already told Sznaider and Pennings to remove all items and cease operations on the median. Earlier this week, LA County health department raided and fined street vendors for operating non-compliant carts and other cooking vessels.
Update: Solar de Cahuenga is not afiliated with Madera Kitchen and is not involved with Mokuzai.