Café Clem revamps to cope with labor, food costs

Cafe Clem at 2020 Kittredge St. will reopen today after being close for three weeks. Photo: Café Clem
Cafe Clem at 2020 Kittredge St. will reopen today after being closed for three weeks. Photo: Café Clem

For the last three weeks, patrons of Café Clem at 2020 Kittredge St. in downtown Berkeley have gone to the restaurant, only to see a sign on the door reading “Café Clem will be closed until further notice.”

Many worried that the much-loved restaurant was shuttered for good. But at 7:30 a.m. Monday, the café will reopen, something that the owner, Dorothée Mitrani-Bell, wasn’t sure would happen again.

Mitrani-Bell, who also owns the French restaurant La Note on Shattuck Avenue, shuttered Café Clem during the holidays to rethink its existence. The café, while popular, was under serious financial pressure. In fact, in September, Mitrani-Bell addressed the Berkeley City Council and said: “I can’t survive.” The recent rise in Berkeley’s minimum wage, coupled with increased wholesale costs, meant the cafe’s margins were not large enough, said Mitrani-Bell.

However, after mulling over the situation, Mitrani-Bell decided to revamp aspects of the restaurant, rather than close it.


A Croque Madame at Café Clem which re-opens on Monday Jan. 11 with a new concept. Photo: Café Clem
A Croque Madame at Café Clem which re-opens on Monday Jan. 11 with a new concept. Photo: Café Clem

“I created it with such love that I can’t drop it so easily,” she said. “But economically, it’s a super big strain.”

Mitrani-Bell will reduce Café Clem’s hours. It used to be open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends. It will now be open from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. during the week and from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday. The café will be closed on Sundays.

In addition, Mitrani-Bell has revamped the menu to eliminate some of the more costly items, she said.

She is cutting out expensive meats like roast beef, salami, and prosciutto, as well as some baked goods.

“This is going to help alleviate labor costs and, in conjunction with cutting out some more costly items from the menu, will help keep us afloat,” she said.


Berkeley’s minimum wage went up from $10 to $11 in October 2015 and will increase to $12.53 by October 2016. In addition, the state is now requiring small business owners to pay for sick leave.

Mitrani-Bell opened Café Clem in 2012. It was a reincarnation of a café she had operated on Seventh Street in West Berkeley but had closed in 2008. Less than half a block from Berkeley High School, and right next door to the Central Branch of the Berkeley Public Library, the café is known for its coffee drinks, fresh baguettes, pastries, pains perdus, and French-inspired sandwiches like Croques Monsieur. Scores of students go there before school and during lunch, as do Berkeley High teachers. The patio, with its round tables and red umbrellas, is a popular place to dine.

Flowers left by mourners at Library Gardens, the site of both the balcony collapse that killed six in June 2015 and Café Clem. Photo: Emily Dugdale

The café became a central site last year for remembering the six young people who died in June 2015 when a balcony sheared off at Library Gardens. Café Clem is located in the complex. Hundreds of people paid their respects to the victims by leaving flowers, notes, candles, stuffed animals and photos at an impromptu shrine right by the restaurant.

“It is so heart-warming that Café Clem has become a flower shrine in memory of the victims of the most tragic accident…” Mitrani-Bell wrote on the café’s Facebook page.

Related:
Shop Talk: The ins and outs of Berkeley businesses (04.17.12)


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