The Mill Valley Planning Commission unanimously approved a proposed renovation of the 54-year-old, two-story, approximately 16,000-square-foot Shapiro building that includes Mama’s Royal Cafe, Jolly King Liquors, Marin Theatre Company and much more at 387-397 Miller Avenue.

The commission did so with minimal dispute over the proposed changes, lauding the application for simply modernizing one of the most dated buildings in town.

“It’s not an attractive building and you’re doing a great service to Mill Valley by improving this thing,” Planning Commission Chair Urban Carmel said in a hearing last month. 

“This is a great contemporary upgrade to what appears to be a pretty dated building,” added Commissioner Nate Bosshard.

In approving the application, the commission lauded the aesthetic upgrades, reconfiguration of a parking plan in a lot rife with stowaway cars, installation of floodgates given its proximity to the Arroyo Corte Madera del Presidio creek and replacement of fabric awnings with those made of metal and wood. They also urged the Shapiro family, which dates back to the early decades of Mill Valley and which was represented at the hearing by Scott Meyers of Crome Architecture, to consider some landscaping improvements as well.

The commission’s only stern push back was to the city’s own parking requirements, which commissioner Greg Hildebrand called antiquated, specifically that the need to provide 131 parking spaces as part of the project made it more difficult for the restaurants to utilize features like outdoor seating.

“The city has invested a lot of money in that whole Miller corridor, talking a lot about sustainable design and how can we activate Miller,” he said. “What I have heard tonight is all about parking. I don’t know how we can get retail to be successful if we force people to increase parking and not have any outdoor space. Our parking requirements are preventing this from being an active retail spot. How can we evolve as a community for the future if what we are talking about is parking as opposed to design and community and activity. And wouldn’t it be nice if there was landscaping and seating outside the restaurant?”

Here are aerial looks at the property:


​Meyers says the renovation, which includes the installation of an elevator, could take 9-12 months once permits are issued. Mill Valley native Justus Jennings, the new proprietor of Pilgrimage, the replacement restaurant for Mama’s Royal Cafe after purchasing it from Candace Paine, says he’s unsure how the renovation will directly impact his own tenant improvements of the space. 

“I hope to accomplish my renovations to coincide with the work they are planning,” he adds. “The old Mama’s space will rise again, by a born and raised local, for the locals and visitors alike.”

In an interesting wrinkle, the commission’s approval coincided with the filing of a lawsuit by Shapiro Associates against at least a half dozen of current and past owners of Think Clean Cleaners, a longtime tenant in the building. The list of defendants include current owners Soon Tae Yang and Mi J. Yang, as well Think Clean operators dating back to 1970.

The Nov. 22 filing alleges the defendants are responsible for impacting the site with hazardous waste including tetrachloroethylene, and trichloroethylene, dichloroethene (DCE) and vinyl chloride, among others. Shapiro Associates is seeking compensatory damages of more than $5 million, according to the filing by John Till and Melanie Mariotti of The Paladin Law Group LLP in Walnut Creek.  

In the filing, Shapiro alleges Think Clean Cleaners “spilled, released, and discharged” hazardous chemicals “at the site due to the willful, intentional, reckless, negligent, or improper use, handling, storage, and/or disposal practices of the dry-cleaning operations.”

Shapiro alleges that they incurred costs from being required to enter into a cleanup agreement with the Department of Toxic Substances Control in order to investigate and remediate the contamination at the site.

Here’s the staff report on the renovation.

Want to know what’s happening around town? Click here to subscribe to the Enjoy Mill Valley Blog by Email!