Shop Talk: The ins and outs of Berkeley businesses

RUSTIC ON SHATTUCK  The lamented closure of nightclub Shattuck Down Low will be assuaged for some by the word that a new, stylish casual restaurant will be opening on the site, perhaps as early as January. Lisa Holt and David Shapiro of Rustic Restaurants LLC have a strong pedigree, having developed and launched the Milliken Creek Inn & Spa in Napa and the revamped Hotel Yountville. Holt told Diablo Magazine that the Berkeley project is planned as the first of several in the Bay Area. You can get a glimpse of the design aesthetic that Holt prefers from her current Pinterest page for Rustic. According to the Daily Cal, Down Low owner Daniel Cukierman is looking for a new site in downtown Berkeley.

IS RAVIOLI THE NEW PIZZA?  The characterful building next door to Comal on Shattuck is being redesigned for Belli, which plans to specialize in fresh, housemade pasta dishes, with an emphasis on ravioli (as we flagged up in August). According to Tablehopper, Belli will open initially for dinner six days a week, with lunch service expected to start once the restaurant settles down. Founder Paul Oprescu teaches home salami making, home meat curing and pasta from scratch at Oakland’s Institute of Urban Homesteading. With Belli, Comal and Phil’s Sliders, the northern stretch of Shattuck downtown is turning into quite a restaurant strip.

MORE ROOM FOR CANTONESE  Like many Berkeleyans, you may have tumbled out of a movie at the California theater on Kittredge and sought good Chinese food next door at the Great China. Too often, those desires are frustrated by lack of space in the small restaurant. The restaurant suffered a serious fire in January and has not been open since. Now the Great China is hoping to reopen in the former Looney’s building on the corner of Oxford and Bancroft. The application for expansion of the existing building has been filed with ZAB and the restaurant says construction is under way with an expected opening date in spring 2013.

CHANGE ON DURANT  Pepe’s Pizza, which opened 18 months ago on a promise of cheap pizza for students, closed last month at 2516B Durant. But a little bit further up at 2550 Durant, U Cafe opened at the end of August, selling Asian pastries, coffee, smoothies and cake. U Cafe is open Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to midnight and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. until 2 a.m.

Shop Talk is Berkeleyside’s regular column in which we post updates on Berkeley businesses — openings, closings, new directions, relaunches, relocations. If you’re a Berkeley business with news, or a Berkeleysider who has spotted a change in your neighborhood or on your travels, shoot us an email with the details. Read previous Shop Talk columns here.

Berkeleyside publishes many articles every day. To see all our stories in chronological order, and read ones you may have missed, check out All the News.

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  • David D.

    Pepe’s did a surprisingly good job at being a comfy pizza and salad buffet with acceptable food in a space that could have easily been a large basement rather than a restaurant. Considering the limited competition, it seems they priced themselves out of business in a rather unusual manner: Instead of charging too much for their product, they charged too little. Go figure! Hopefully another pizza and salad buffet opens up in town someday. (Before you say anything, Round Table’s buffet hours are a joke.)

  • David

    Its fun watching town prosper. Berkeley owes a lot to developers who are saving the core from becoming a kind of dump. Because there is nicer housing and cultural venues the whole place is thriving. Hope the restuarants just keep coming. I’m not sure who deserves the most credit, but its working.

  • another BUSD parent

    yay to the return of Great China!

  • The Sharkey

    I think that location is just terrible.
    Nothing has done well there since Tower Records moved out.

  • Biker 94703


    Berkeley owes a lot to the small business owners who put their time and money on the line to open businesses in a relatively saturated market.  I thought 4 ice cream stores was too many, but they’re still plugging away: good for you business owners!

    I’m not sure what a “cultural venue” is, but it sounds like developer / politician double-talk.

  • Charles_Siegel

     True.  That building has a long history of business failures, because some of the storefronts have little visual contact with the street. 

    Sitting in Pepe’s was like sitting in a basement. 

    I actually think the only solution is to replace that building with something better designed. 

  • What is UP with all these sudden lease problems in downtown Berkeley? First Tully’s, then Naia, now the Down Low?

    I realize there’s always lease problems here and there, but there seems to be a rash of them downtown lately, and for long-standing, successful places. Am I making this up? Is there a pattern? Are they all owned by the same people?

  • Geodog

     I talked to the folks at Naia (the best gelato in Berkeley, no matter what the Berkeleyside folks voted). They had just outgrown their space — they used to make all the gelato in the big kitchen in the back, but then as they expanded, they moved gelato making elsewhere, so then they found themselves paying for a bunch of space they weren’t using … decided it wasn’t economical (plus they are making tons more money wholesale now).

    They had a great closing party — all the gelato you could eat for $5.

  • Mbfarrel

    Yes, but dyed in the wool radical Berkeleyites can take comfort that clearing the site for the dreadful hulk that is there now, provided much of the ammunition that was thrown from the rooftops during the liberation of People’s Park

  • Mbfarrel

    It will be interesting to see if Great China spurs any in creased business activity along Fulton. Maybe on Bancroft as well, though the block east of Shattuck is fairly dismal for pedestrians.

  • anon

    Lease problems = landlords raise the rent to high for anyone to pay, current leasee moves out, empty storefront for God knows how many years. 
    Good for business!

  • The Sharkey


    The lower floor is bad for a storefront, but it could be OK for a gym (not needed in that area) or a MakerSpace or some kind of office.

    But for any business that relies on foot traffic, that space is a death sentence.

  • The Sharkey

    Or a convenient excuse for business that want to move to an area where there are fewer gutter punks scaring away customers and coating the sidewalks in filth.

  • Charles_Siegel

    The space above it, where Peking Express has moved, is also set back too much from the sidewalk and from anything else interesting. I think it is very hard for a business to succeed there. 

    The two storefronts that face the sidewalk (currently a Greek restaurant and the Roast and Grill) could succeed because they are more visible, but their entrances are set back from the sidewalk in awkward locations, and most of their  window area faces the empty space in the center of the complex, rather than facing  the sidewalk.

  • EBGuy

     I’m not a small business owner, but I have seen how lease situations can go bad.  My general observation is that if you don’t put a gun to your landlords head, they’ll put one to yours.  It seems that you should start negotiations at least 6 months before the lease expires.  A broker can be helpful in these types of situations as they’ll do a lot of the heavy lifting for you.   You can find out the rent on a comparable space and proactively line one up for your new business location (see Berkeley ACE?).  Now you’re prepared to negotiate a new lease.  Otherwise, you come to your landlord, hat in hand, two months before the lease expires, expecting to renew with similar terms.   The landlord thinks you can tolerate a 30% rent increase because you’ve invested so much in the space (and you can’t go anywhere in two months time) — plus they have that low Prop 13 tax basis to fall back on.  Your business, of course, can’t tolerate a 30% rent increase and has to fold (or you’re so fed up with rent seeking economics, that you close up to spite him).  I have a sneaking suspicion this is what happens in many cases where we see vacated storefront (Amandas?)

  • “With Belli, Comal and Phil’s Sliders, the northern stretch of Shattuck downtown is turning into quite a restaurant strip.”  Um, I’m pretty sure it’s already a restaurant strip.  Restaurants tend to come and go, but there have been quite a few. What, Revival doesn’t exist?

  • We could have been clearer, but the northern stretch here refers to the part between Center St and University.

  • anon

    Silly Sharkey. This is about rent increases. Go take your elitist, classist talk to another thread.