GROUND-FLOOR RETAIL IN MIDTOWN? ... The small retail strip in Midtown Palo Alto that houses Cafe Sophia, Indochine Restaurant and three other businesses is getting a new tenant: a dental office scheduled to open this month. Palo Alto Dental Wellness will fill the vacant corner at the north end of the strip, at 2700 Middlefield Road. But the owner of the adjacent Cafe Sophia is concerned. Sophia Omar fears that the tight parking situation will only get worse. "When you go to the dentist it's not in and out. You're there for a while. So where will my customers park?" she asked. Omar is also losing her triangular-shaped outdoor seating area, in front of the dental office. It was not only for Cafe Sophia's customers, but it was also a place for people to gather. "People who had pets would sit out there and people with disabilities also used the outdoor seating," she said. Indochine owner Don Stewart also has worries about the impact of a dental office as his neighbor. "I don't feel bad that another business is coming to Midtown; I feel bad that we have limited parking here," he said. But Omar is realistic. "I have no choice. I will accept it," she said. Omar moved into her current space in March 2006, following a 15-year-stint in Charleston Plaza, where Peet's Coffee now brews.
GOURMET CHOCOLATES, PALO ALTO-STYLE ... Mark West knows chocolate. He has spent the last eight years researching, tasting and making a variety of chocolates from a variety of countries. His hard work culminated in this weekend's opening of Monique's Chocolates at 539 Bryant St. Purchasing chocolate at West's store is a complete experience. "You buy it, then you can sit at our bar and eat it and watch how it's made," he said. The kitchen is on display in the store, along with the chocolates. And each plate of chocolate displayed has its country of origin listed. Bolivia, Dominican Republic, Madagascar and Venezuela are a few of the countries represented. West, who lives in Palo Alto and bikes to his store, focuses on the organic side of the business. "I don't use chemicals. It's all natural. I even get my organic cream from Michal the Milkman," West said. The small space is decorated in different shades of chocolate, topped off with high-end Italian globe lighting. But the cement floor is stark. "That's because it's a working floor. We cook right here," West said. Monique's Chocolates is the former site of two art galleries, but more importantly the former former site of Just Desserts."We've come full circle here," West said.