Alice Waters’ Café Fanny in West Berkeley to close

Café Fanny on San Pablo Avenue, which is closing on Friday March 9. Photo: amorimur/Flickr

Café Fanny, which is co-owned by Chez Panisse restaurateur Alice Waters, is closing. Tomorrow will be the café’s last day, according to staff at the popular eatery who were only informed of the development today.

A senior staff member said the reason given for the abrupt shuttering was that the café was not financially viable.

Café Fanny was opened by Jim Maser (who also owns Berkeley’s Picante) and his sister-in-law Alice Waters in 1984 and named after the heroine in Marcel Pagnol’s 1930s movies, as well as Waters’ daughter.

A statement from the owners reads:

Twenty-­eight years ago Café Fanny was conceived in the spirit of Marcel Pagnol’s trilogy -­ a love story involving the whole community, centered around a little standup café.

So it is with a heavy heart that we are closing Café Fanny today after 28 memorable years.

It is the right moment in time to explore new possibilities for this small space that can still house the romance and idealism of the original.

We want to thank our staff, suppliers, friends and most of all you, our wonderfully loyal customers who have been with us in bowls of café au lait and beignets for so long.

With gratitude and love,

Alice, Jim, Laura, Steve and Kermit, March 8, 2012

Reader AB, who tipped Berkeleyside about the imminent closure, said she was shocked.

“I work right around the corner and frequent the café. It’s a shame to lose a great local business and I hope everyone who works there lands on their feet. Our office is buzzing with all of us wondering why this this happened so suddenly — the café is normally so busy there is a line out the door!”

AB went into the café this morning and said the staff seemed upset. “One barista I spoke with was already talking about looking for a new job.”

Café Fanny, a casual, European-café serving breakfast and lunch, has been a popular Berkeley foodie destination for 28 years. It is located at 1603 San Pablo Avenue, sandwiched between Acme Bread Company and Kermit Lynch Wines.

Interested in food and restaurants? Check out the Berkeley Area Restaurant Guide, with concise reviews of up to 100 restaurants each in Berkeley and Oakland. And read the story behind the guide.

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  • Ivory Tower

    A little gossip…. Alice Waters used her connections to get Fanny into Yale. She had well-known friends like Orville Schell write recommendations for her daughter. What that had to do with Fanny’s accomplishments other than being the daughter of a powerful person, who knows?

    Anyway, the legacy of Alice Waters could probably stand to be taken down a notch. I like the suggestion of Acme Bread taking over the spot and selling dishes using their bread.

  • Worker

    A hater? as I mentioned below, what if your job gave you a 24 hour notice and then you were out of a job? 

  • Ivory Tower

    This is true. When I got laid off last year along with most of the staff, management kept us around for two months as a “transition” period. It was nice to get paid for those two months, but morale was absolutely horrible, for those laid off and those retained. Plus, it was probably a bad business decision. Bottom line, running a business is tough work. It takes a toll on families of the owners.

  • coq

    I’m going to get slaughtered for saying this. But you know what would make a killing there? El Pollo Loco.

  • EarlyMorningCoffee

    What a bummer!!!!!

    Off topic: Velo-Sport on University has closed and was absorbed into the scooter shop on the other side of Spun Sugar. Just found out yesterday.

  • Sue Ttomasello

    The fact remains that the employees were treated poorly because the owners were caught up in a messy divorce and now their health insurance, sick pay, and vacations are gone overnight-without even a warning.

    I feel bad for the employees, but you sound like these employees are the only ones getting the shaft.  Have you been in the real world lately, it’s happening everywhere!
    The fact that they have had health care etc. is pretty amazing, I would hazard a guess that that is not the norm, although I have not done a survey, have you?

    AND, I agree CF makes the best god damn cafe au lait, although I always did hate the bowl!!!  I will miss them and sounds like a lot of others will too. Let us commiserate, OK?

  • Tsering

    The service was slow, the prices were high & their attitude was snobby. I won’t miss them.

  • stephenkaus

    Disagree. I was a regular when it opened and still stopped by when I was in the neighborhood.  The millet muffins are (were?) the best.

    Possible recipe: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/305465

  • Andrew

    I’m just curious why most comments jumped on to the employee concerns. Yes, it is unfortunate if they were suddenly out of a job, but that can be how it goes in business. If a business decides to shutter it is usually very sudden and not done until all other options have been exhausted. And not done without a lot of grief all around – employees, owners, investors, the community it served, vendors…

    There are a lot of judgmental comments in this post. Seems best to me that we not pre-judge people or events.

  • Guest

    Just got back from my last Fanny cafe au lait and delicious croissants. A woman describing herself as the graphic designer of the Cafe told me that the managers were given heads up about the closure a few weeks in advance. The woman who seemed very close to Jim Maser seen walking about the Cafe in a Loro Piana quilted vest said the Cafe had been in the red for the past several years and that Picante had been filling in the gaps. She mentioned that Picante is doing very well and pulled in 6 million last year. And while Cafe Fanny pulled in 1 million last year, that wasn’t enough to cover the double rent (retail space and kitchen) and the staff cost that amounted to about 25,000 per month.

    Why she would divulge such information to a total stranger? So it would make it on Berkeleyside, I guess?

  • guest

    its not exactly THE CHEESE BOARD

  • Nebraska Boy

    I will miss the many good memories generated there over the years.  Very sorry to see it close but am grateful to have occasionally enjoyed the unique experience that was CF.

  • http://twitter.com/SnarkAttack1 jjaammeess

    Good riddance!  Decent food but way too long of a wait.  No wonder they couldnt make any money.  Who has that kind of time to wait in line for a poached egg on a piece of toast for $9!  To top it off they poach the egg in a machine.  Gross!

  • WaynesMom

     So working class people are consigned to drinking crap coffee and eating Church’s or some other kind of crap Industrial Food, who decides? and who’s the true elitist?

  • sara

     I agree.

  • Keasley

    Keep in mind that we don’t know the severance terms for the employees. It’s possible they’ve been offered terms that most of us would consider fair. Or better than fair. Or not. We just don’t know and I don’t think we should slam the owners without knowing.

  • Keasley

    Keep in mind that we don’t know the severance terms for the employees. It’s possible they’ve been offered terms that most of us would consider fair. Or better than fair. Or not. We just don’t know and I don’t think we should slam the owners without knowing.

  • Erik Schmitt

    I have great memories of standing at the bar with an amazing cappuccino and crepes having incredible conversations with the many fascinating people who hung out there. It was well worth the wait in line to be a part of something that was truly unique.

  • Erik Schmitt

    I have great memories of standing at the bar with an amazing cappuccino and crepes having incredible conversations with the many fascinating people who hung out there. It was well worth the wait in line to be a part of something that was truly unique.

  • y_p_w

    I think most of the customer base was distinctly middle class.  Most people didn’t seem to be rich, although I do remember seeing a few megabuck cars in the parking lots from time to time as well as one regular customer who was an attorney wearing fancy suits.

    They had some relatively inexpensive menu items, such as those millet muffins, Irish oatmeal, or beignets.  I was hoping to go there this weekend for the beignets before I found out there were closing on Friday.  Drip coffee was no more than your average cafe and they had no problem with free refills.

  • Café Fanny alumni, 1997-98

     “THE” Millet Muffins, in memoriam…

    1/2 cup plus 1/8 cup plus 1 tbl brown sugar
    5 Tbl butter melted
    1 egg
    1/2 cup plus 1 Tbl millet
    1 1/2 cup flour
    3/4 plus 1/8 tsp b powder
    3/4 plus 1/8 tsp b soda
    1/4 tsp salt
    3/4 cup plus 1/8 cup buttermilk

    Makes 9 muffins reg sized

    Beat the eggs and the sugar(I add a tad of vanilla), add the butter with 1/2 of the buttermilk. Stir in the millet which you have ground a bit in the processor (NOT pulverized just lightly ground to break it up from ball form…..you still want it crunchy). Add the dry ingreds and the rest of the buttermilk. Bake for 20 min at 350 in muffin tins that you have put paper mufin cups sprayed with pam in. If you are mixing up the night before save a bit of the millet to add just before baking to keep it crunchy as it will soften in the batter overnight a bit.

  • Alina77149

     Great idea. I hope Acme is listening.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_FFXVQWUQVCFDQSVSB52HZZS6BE think4ever

    Alice Waters has never been one to care much about her co-workers, and that’s what the staff at Cafe Fanny has been. They are what made the place a destination. Now she seems to see them as irrelevant, trivial, unworthy of ethical consideration.

  • Jesse123

    California is an “at will” state, so no notice was required for letting employees go. It’s sad, but certainly not a new thing in this economy.

  • Former Fanny Worker

     Having worked at Fanny years ago, I can attest that Jim was a bit of a pompous clown, and defintely not very likable, but I was getting health insurance while earning $9/hr, about 15 years ago…not bad.

  • Jesse123

    An “action”?  “Unfair treatment?”  Wow. Grow up and join the real world. Employment in CA is “at will”, and sadly that means that you can be fired on the spot for no reason. Millions have been laid off, and you’re griping about this? Sure, it’s sad for the employees, but they will get unemployment, and having Cafe Fanny on their resume will give them a great leg up in looking for another job.  sheesh!

  • Jesse123

    That’s life, sometimes, Worker. Usually when someone is let go, they get no notice, just their office packed up and out the door within the hour.

  • Jesse123

    Oh, that attitude is not limited to Alice and Chez Panisse. I’ve met that attitude in many of the Bay Area’s hottest restaurants.

  • panofsky

     You can’t have it both ways; stop pretending you care about good food and the employees at Fanny while you complain about “their portions were way too small for the prices they charged”.  No wonder why is closing!  Think about why the owners couldn’t making it.  And the reason it’s simple as one-two-three! “Markets” are taking over your life and mine! Think about it and please stop complain for the obvious.  Unless you just want to complain for the shake of complaining ! 

  • panofsky

    You can’t have it both ways; stop pretending you care about good food and the the working employees at Fanny while you complain about “their portions were way too small for the prices they charged”.  No wonder why is closing!  Think about why the owners couldn’t making it.  And the reason is simple as one-two-three! “Markets” are taking over your life and mine!  Think about it and please stop complain for the obvious.  Unless you just want to complain for the shake of complaining ! 

  • kawh

    i’m great with slamming them. they are horrible employers.  a dear friend worked for them for many years– then was tossed away after having a short-term health issue.  you reap what you sow. i feel terrible for the employees… but this is all probably a business decision so they can screw their creditors. just my opinion.

  • Lydian Baker

    That was my first thought.  I used to work at Acme, and back then we wondered why Laura put up with Jim’s behavior, and/or why Alice continued to work with him.  Hope she finds a new life for herself.

  • Twillmonkey

    The only ones who know what really happened are the owners…but the place was very busy, the prices are/were stupidly high, and the workers are laid off–boom–with no notice.  So much for taking care of your community, though, and all that blahblahblah phoniness is now out in the open.  Too bad more people couldn’t see through the act years ago. Boycott Chez Panisse and Picante.

  • guest

     Cafe Fanny and Picante are 2 separate business entities. They are not financially linked.

  • Sue Tomasello

    Oh, I guess you are privvy to the employees severance package to be able to state facts like that.

  • Resident

    I find most of these comments incredible.  This place was a unique gathering place for the unique people of Berkeley.  From homeless people (where we would go out to give them coffee and food), to those destined for Washington and positions of leadership.  Even some 0.01%ers would come.  It was truly a melting pot….with great food as the attraction.  Can’t we respect the loss without all of the rest of the commentary?   We miss such a venue in Berkeley.  Yes, I feel for the employees…I was close to all of them.  Yes, this is more complicated than the financial issues.  But this is the world we are living in.  it’s complicated.    

  • Guest

     No offense to Paula but her food was tired and boring. With no menu changes, ever.  For all those people thinking they were eating Chez Panisse quality ingredients think again……

  • Guest

     I worked at Chez Panisse for 9 years, Alice does care about her “co-workers” and knows very well that w/o them there would be no Chez Panisse nor would there have been a Cafe Fanny.  It’s easy to jump on the “Alice is evil” bandwagon when you don’t know the facts.

  • Elmwood_Neighbor

    Thank you.   I was about to post this, “Oh Millet Muffins, I think I’m going to miss you most of all,” when I found your post.  

  • Absandmfs

     You said it!  I’ve depended on Cafe Fanny granola since 1991 when I spent several months in the area and breakfasted at Cafe Fanny at least three days a week. Let us hope that CF granola continues.

                                                                   Unbalanced in Boston

  • Linda Pruitt

    The only good thing about it was as a quick way to show visitors a collection of way-out Berkeleyites.

  • LOOK ITS LILY

    I HAVE BEEN TO THIS RESTURANT !!! (HOW EVER U SPELL IT )

  • LOOK ITS LILY

    Anyways who even cares how she treats them o_o

  • LOOK ITS LILY

    and its not closing ITS VERU POPULAR NOW O_O