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Boston’s North End opens for outdoor dining after fee controversy

Political analysts are calling it a "big win" for Boston Mayor Michelle Wu.

Boston, MA 05/1/22 An order is served outside Quattro Ristorante-Grill-Pizzeria, on Hanover Street. May 1 marks the first day of outdoor dining in the North End. (Photo by Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff)

It was a beautiful sunny day with temperatures in the 70s as Boston’s North End neighborhood opened for outdoor dining Sunday. The allowance for outdoor seating comes weeks after the rest of the city and amid controversy over outdoor dining rules in the neighborhood.

The decision by Boston Mayor Michelle Wu to set different rules for the North End, including a $7,500 fee per restaurant to open outdoor dining for the season, has been a contentious one among North End establishments, with some owners protesting the decision.

The fee is meant to help alleviate the impact of outdoor dining on North End residents, which Wu said includes congested streets, parking issues, and increased trash and rats.

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But one North End restaurant owner, Jorge Mendoza of Monica’s, felt so aggrieved by the decision that he decided to run for Boston City Council and eventually mayor.

While a clear majority of Boston.com readers said they don’t think Wu’s outdoor dining fee is fair, Wu did introduce some flexibility with the option to apply for a hardship waiver and the option to open for outdoor dining for only part of the summer.

“Win, win, win for Michelle Wu across the board,” Democratic analyst Mary Anne Marsh told WCVB’s “Off the Record.” “She stood up for the residents of the North End and they appreciated it.”

“She showed the restaurateurs…that they weren’t gonna get their way just because they were protesting and pouting and screaming and everything. And then she got all the changes she wanted in the North End, and they paid for it.”

Republican analyst and attorney Andrew Lelling agreed with Marsh.

“Outside dining in the North End is extremely popular. You get the sense that the restaurant owners were playing chicken with Mayor Wu and that didn’t go so well,” he said.

Frank DePasquale, the owner of several North End restaurants, told WBZ-TV that outdoor dining is financially crucial for restaurants in the neighborhood, especially after the pandemic caused so much hardship for the industry.

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“It’s gigantic for us. I personally lost half a dozen people. But we understand and it’s all about us being one family. The residents and businesses.”

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DePasquale told the news station that there are many rule changes for outdoor dining this year in the North End besides the new fee, including places where there is one-way traffic and four-foot spacing so people can get by.

“They are testing all these things, and I think it’s for the betterment of everything,” he said.

Caffe Paradiso owner Adrian DeStefano told Boston 25 News that she had mixed feelings about the new rules, but was happy to be open for outdoor dining.

“I think it’s fantastic, I’m happy. You know, it’s a long wait coming. So, we waited a long time, especially this year, when everybody else goes out,” she said.

“We also do understand the North End is one of the local, major points and there are too many restaurants and it is very congested. We understand that, but you know what, in Europe, it’s congested and nobody gets killed.”

Ultimately, customers dining outdoors in the North End seemed to be happy with the outcome.

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“It’s very relaxing because of COVID, it’s very safe. It’s a beautiful sunny day and not hot — so perfect,” a diner named Amy told WBZ NewsRadio.

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