Chez Panisse sets new opening date after fire

Chez Panisse 04.30.13 by Emilie Raguso

Reconstruction work on the front of Chez Panisse on Tuesday, April 30. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Chez Panisse said it is planning to reopen on Monday June 10, three months after a fire damaged the front section of the famous restaurant in Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto.

Cristina Mueller, who works in owner Alice Waters’ office, said the restaurant is in the throes of rebuilding work. The restaurant is not taking reservations yet, but will let customers know via its website when it is begins to do so. Both the café and the restaurant will reopen at the same time.

Mueller said a crane had earlier today lowered a large steel frame into the restaurant for structural support, and that a new foundation was poured last week for the portion of the restaurant that was damaged by the fire, believed to have been sparked by an electrical fault.


The early morning fire on March 8 that damaged the front of Chez Panisse started underneath the dining alcove. Photo: Colleen Neff

Asked whether returning customers would notice any differences to the restaurant’s décor or architecture once they return later this year, Mueller said there would be some improvements, but that mostly it should feel very familiar.

According to Inside Scoop in the San Francisco Chronicle, the addition of the frame marks the first time that metal has been a part of the 42-year-old building’s redwood foundation. When it is unveiled, the restaurant will also sport a new gabled roof, following new designs by Kip Mesirow, the restaurant’s original builder.

In a note posted on its website, Waters said they had decided against opening part of the eatery while building was ongoing. “We had considered whether it would be possible to open the café earlier with construction still going on, but have decided to complete all construction work before opening. This will allow the builders unfettered access to the building without having to open the café on a daily basis—which would have slowed their work considerably. We are, of course, working as quickly as possible and may be able to open earlier; we will update as the rebuilding progresses.”

Chez Panisse closed indefinitely, major rebuild needed [03.19.13]
Chez Panisse rebuilds, focuses on re-opening [03.13.13]
Fire at Chez Panisse damages front of restaurant [03.08.13]

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  • guest

    Along with all the other wonderful things Alice Waters had done, here is now another which will empower every home and business owner in Berkeley…

    The process and timeline of approvals, inspections, being added to hearing agendas or allowed to avoid them; all of that is public record. So next time you or I arrive at the planning dept. counter to apply for a permit to slightly expand our houses or remodel our kitchens and we’re greeted with blank stares and maddeningly vague answers…

    We will ask the nice people behind the desk ONE BIG QUESTION – WDYDFA? (What did you do for Alice?), because that’s the treatment we want. Equal protection under the law and all that…

  • The_Sharkey

    Same thoughts here. Considering how long some folks I know have had to wait for approval for renovations/additions, it seems remarkable that Chez Panisse is breezing through so much construction so quickly.

  • BerkeleyPerson

    Hh .. .come ON!
    When was the last time you applied for a building permit after a fire?

  • The_Sharkey

    Fair point, but even replacing like-with-like usually involves more of a wait than C.P. seems to have gone through.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    I had exactly the same thought. Man that was fast.

  • Annoyed

    When is the last time any of you actually did apply for a building permit. I did 2 years ago and, having followed the instructions and arrived with the plans and required information (and a checkbook, sigh), got the permit in about 2 hours. And I am most certainly NOT Alice Waters.

  • guest

    Miss Alice can afford to hire an army of architects and lawyers to wade through the paperwork for her.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    No doubt, but getting the city to expedite is the real accomplishment.

  • sue

    “You” PAY for expediting.

  • guest

    Then which council member’s aide are you?

  • guest

    Exactly. And why do you pay? And who?

    Why? Because Berkeley’s permit process is so convoluted, often spontaneously handcrafted, and definitely a ‘who you know’ game. So rather than, a) improve/streamline the process (too much work and possible staff cuts might ensue). Or b) get departmental staff out of the “Y” and back to work. (“NO way, at 400lbs I need the sauna.”)

    Nooooo, and here’s where Who? comes in. They’ve got a nice little scheme to keep their architect friends and family busy – by shoving the work on to them for a mere few thousand of YOUR, Ms. Taxpayer, money. “You want a permit this decade – write a check to my leetle frens!” (Pacino, Scarface reference)

  • guest

    The last time I was too stupid or too cheap to fully sprinkle and rewire my multi-million-dollar-gold-egg-laying-goose. Around ’82, I think it is was.

  • berkeleyhigh1999

    council member aides dont apply for permits, they get them after they start construction, get caught unpermitted, then get their zoning “granted” by the board they chair. see Ryan Lau.

  • Arthur F

    What are you complaining about ?
    You are living in Berkeley which is renown for many thing .. One of them is a great restaurant recognized for helping the food movement, inspiring people..
    Aren’t you pleased ?

  • guest

    Art, it’s about equity in the process. When my wife and I see CP spring back up like a set change at the opera, and we compare our experiences, we feel under served. Like the last time we ate downstairs. Yikes what teeny portions.

  • Chris J

    Which is why so many people avoid even pursuing permits when possible. I understand the need for safety, hence the inspection process. The aggravating thing about pursuing permits is the differing opinions and seemingly shifting sands of required compliance.

    YEARS ago we planned to build as simple a thing as a treehouse in our backyard for our kid. We dutifully called the zoning dept and the bldg dept and the bottom line was a quote of permits and zoning variances (setback problem) that would have cost us nearly $600.

    The building materials were less than $250. Well, IF that treehouse weren’t built up to code, its probably long gone now some twenty years later.

  • Chris J

    Yah, lets segue again here. Wife and I ate there a couple of years back and it was delightful…great food, but on reflection, as good as it was, it wasn’t worth the $250 price tag with tip. Still, it was an interesting experience.

  • The_Sharkey

    If it’s in your own back yard and you, your family, and your friends are the only people who will be using it, I don’t see why the city needs to be involved at all.

    That one needs to spend $600 in permits and variances to build a simple playhouse in a private yard is revolting.

  • Chris J

    Yeah, many people simply hire the tradesmen, contractors or whomever who are already fairly aware of safety concerns when doing the actual construction, as well as the unusual requirements and constraints that the local city permits would require, so if one is careful in choosing one’s tradespeople that would do a proper and ‘to code’ installation, then involving the city, these people feel, would be simply asking to boost their costs on a project by x (permit fees, additional costs when work isn’t done ‘right’ as perceived by the inspectors, etc.).

    We’ve not done any work on our home that required involving the permit process, though contractors always quote two estimates–one with and one without permits…so I’m told. I think when our new roof was put on six years ago there was a permit pulled–more than likely.


  • guests

    We can’t find 1517 Shattuck Ave. (Chez Panisse) anywhere on the Design Rewiew Committee’s agendas. Anne Burns, can you help us?

  • guest

    Anne Burns, we’re waiting. For Anne’s sake, somebody wake her up. The sooner the situation is explained, the better it will be, for her.

  • guest

    A major change in the facade and no DRC review. Alice, is someone is setting you up?