Gabriela Pataro was just trying to follow the rules. In return she got dirty looks and arguments from a bunch of angry dog-lovers. "It wasn't a very positive thing for us," says the owner of Café Lago of her struggle to keep dogs off the property.
Open since 2000 just south of White Rock Lake, her restaurant features a large patio popular with neighborhood folks, many of whom want to dine with their furry companions. Time and again, customers would walk in with a four-legged friend and she was forced to play the bad guy. She loves dogs, too, but the law clearly stated (until recently, but we'll get to that) that no animals were allowed on restaurant patios.
"If someone had a dog on the patio, I'd risk getting a ticket," Pataro explains.
Those tickets could ring in as high as $75 an incident--and were written for her or Café Lago employees, not for the owners of the canines in question. Pataro struggled for years to find a solution. She grew tired of going around and around with customers, hearing tales of other area restaurants that chose to ignore the law. In 2004 (at the end of her rope), she started contacting various city offices to try and figure out why the law was selectively enforced and whether there might be a way to change it.
It was an exhausting exercise, to say the least. And to make matters worse, when the city finally did address the issue in 2007 with some guidelines for restaurants wishing to welcome pets the legal way, Pataro recalls that the resulting list was "ridiculous". Installing air curtains was just one of the impractical, cost-prohibitive steps a would-be pet-friendly restaurant would have to take, according to those regulations.
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She wasn't pleased.
Enter City Councilwoman Angela Hunt. The District 14 representative organized a committee, of which Pataro was a member, to sort the situation out. Two years later (or about a week in city government years), they arrived at a list of common-sense rules. Now, instead of breaking the bank with high-tech equipment, restaurants need only pay close attention to leashes, waiter-animal contact and the like when dogs are on the premises. They do, however, have to submit a special application and have it approved.
Café Lago was the first Dallas restaurant to get a stamp of approval on its Dog Variance Application (#001) from the Office of Environmental Health Services. And for now, it's a pretty exclusive club. The only approved establishments:
Bread Winners on McKinney Ave.
Two Starbucks locations (2801 Allen St. and 3699 McKinney Ave.)
I Fratelli at 2815 Allen St.
State and Allen Lounge
Penne Pomodoro at 11661Preston Rd.
Cibus at NorthPark Center
In other words, if you're dining al fido anywhere else (such as The Londoner in Uptown, which openly courts dogs) you may well be breaking the law.