Mike's Diner Bar, a Midtown institution that just last week was on the brink of eviction, received an eleventh-hour reprieve and now plans to remain at its Middlefield Road location and to add breakfast and lunch to its menu.
Mike Wallau told this publication that he reached an agreement late last week with the property owner, Scher Holdings LLC, to extend their existing agreement. The deal came together about a month and a half after Scher notified Wallau that the restaurant would be evicted for being a day late with rent, prompting an outcry among Midtown residents and city officials.
The deal came not a moment too soon. Wallau was notified by the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department last week that he would have to vacate the building by 7 a.m. on Monday morning, Sept. 11.
The notice from Sheriff Robert Jonsen informed Wallau that if he failed to leave by then, the sheriff would "immediately enforce the writ by removing you from the premises."
That threat dissipated by the end of last week, when the property owners agreed to accept Wallau's rent payments for July and August, Wallau told this publication. The property owners agreed to continue Mike's tenancy, and they called off the sheriff after Wallau dropped off the rent payments Friday afternoon, he said.
The popular diner at 2680 Middlefield Road has been in limbo since July 20, when Wallau received a letter from property owners Scher Holdings LLC and Finebaum Surviving Spouse's Trust informing him that they would be returning his July rent check for $22,052.81.
He maintained that he was late because his daughter had emergency surgery the day rent was due and that he wasn't able to get to drop off the check on time because he was with his daughter.
The circumstances of the pending eviction touched a nerve in the Midtown neighborhood, which has seen an increase in vacancies in Midtown Shopping Center over the course of COVID-19 pandemic.
The neighborhood just south of Oregon Expressway suffered another blow in February, when a blaze destroyed a shopping plaza at Middlefield and Loma Verde Avenue that included Bill's Café, Philz Coffee, AJ Quck Clean Center and Palo Alto Fine Wine and Spirits.
Annette Glanckopf, a Midtown resident and a longtime neighborhood activist, said Midtown lost 15 businesses during the pandemic, not counting the four that were damaged in the fire. The loss of Mike's, which has operated there for 29 years, could spell the final blow, she told the Palo Alto City Council during an Aug. 14 discussion of economic strategies.
"We are very concerned that if the negotiated mediation doesn't work for Mike's, this may be the final nail in the coffin for Midtown," she said. "Would any new retail business want to locate here?"
One of the Midtown Shopping Center buildings along Middlefield Road in Palo Alto, shown here on Aug. 25, 2023, includes a cafe, kids' gym and ice cream shop. Photo by Emma Donelly-Higgins.
Wallau said he was pleasantly surprised by the high level of support he has received from the community and from city leaders since news of the pending eviction became public.
"It made a huge difference to me and my family and the restaurant," Wallau said in an interview. "Everything has been phenomenal. I could never have imagined that we'd ever get this type of support.
"It just makes me want to stay, double down and try even harder to help revitalize Midtown. I feel this whole exercise has been for the greater good, not just for Mike's but for small businesses and Midtown."
Len Filppu, who along with Wallau is at the forefront of relaunching a Midtown Merchants Association to support revitalizing the shopping district, shared her assessment. Shortly after news of the eviction became public, he helped circulate a petition to save Mike's that garnered 1,456 signatures.
"Losing Mike's would have been just devastating for Midtown," Filppu told this publication.
Others shared his assessment. Vice Mayor Greer Stone, who lives in Midtown, didn't mince words when he learned about the eviction notice.
"I think so many of us feel that the eviction letter was unjust, unfair and just absolute crap," Stone said during the Aug. 14 council discussion.
Now, city leaders and business owners hope the retention of Mike's could spur a broader revitalization of Midtown. Filppu highlighted Wallau's recent efforts to further enhance the restaurant, including a $2 million renovation project that he completed in 2019. The investment would have made it particularly difficult for Wallau to walk away from his business, Filppu said.
"He did a tremendous job fixing it up," Filppu said.
More changes are coming soon. Wallau said that his restaurant will expand service from offering just dinner to also include breakfast and lunch. He hopes to start doing so later this month, noting that it's been hard to remain solvent as a business when you're only open a third of the time.
"Just doing dinners wasn't making the grade. I've been wanting to do breakfast and lunch for some time, but the labor market has been difficult. I think we're finally in a position where we can staff breakfast and lunch." Wallau said.
Upon learning that Mike’s will remain in Midtown, Glanckopf said the neighborhood is "tickled pink" that a deal has been made and that the restaurant will soon offer breakfast and lunch.
'We are gratified that the petition MRA circulated, reached over 1450 signatures. We feel this was a major catalyst in keeping Mike in Midtown and It shows the power of community good wishes and working together," she said.