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Shop Talk: French Hotel, La Botella Republic, more

The French Hotel has been sold to Prima Donna Hotels, which will remodel the rooms and covert the cafe into a bistro. Photo: Visit Berkeley
The French Hotel has been sold to Prima Donna Hotels, which will remodel the rooms and convert the café into a bistro. Photo: Visit Berkeley

NEW OWNERS FOR THE FRENCH HOTEL The three-story brick French Hotel on Shattuck Avenue in the Gourmet Ghetto has long been a favorite spot to get an espresso or latte. Now the hotel has a new owner/operator that is planning to renovate the 18-room hotel, make it more upscale, and convert the coffee shop into a bistro. It will be renamed SenS Hotel and Bistro Berkeley. Dean Banks, the associate vice president and director of operations for Prima Donna Hotels, which purchased the property, said standards will be kept high and customers shouldn’t worry, even though the source of the coffee will change. (The hotel and café had been owned and run previously by David “Sandy” Boyd, who operates a number of other coffee shops through his Emeryville-based company Espresso Roma) “It’ll be the same,” said Banks. “I doubt people will taste the difference.” The hotel operator plans to bring in high-quality coffee and add soups, sandwiches, and other menu items, he said. Prima Donna Hotels, which is owned by Michael W.N and Shirley N. Chiu of Los Gatos, will renovate the rooms and decorate them in an east-west style similar to the hotel it operates in Bali in Indonesia. The hotel group also operates the Residence Inn by Marriott in Livermore. It just sold three hotels in Portland, OR, and is building another hotel in Indonesia, said Banks. Watch for the temporary banner out front announcing the new name change.

La Botella Republic is now open. Photo: Siciliana Trevino
La Botella Republic has now shut its doors. Photo: Siciliana Trevino

LA BOTELLA REPUBLIC WINE BAR CLOSED  Two years after opening to great fanfare – and to the delight of wine lovers on the hunt for unusual California wines – La Botella Republic at 2055 Center St. in downtown Berkeley has shut its doors. The decision to close was a result of two factors, said co-owner Lauren Brody-Clark: Berkeley doesn’t seem to have the kind of “drinking culture” to support a wine bar (on many nights the best-selling drink was IPA beer); and Brody-Clark needed to spend more time with her children, 4 and 7, now that her husband and co-owner Christopher Clark has taken a job as associate creative director with Yahoo. “Last year I was gone five nights a week,” said Brody-Clark. “Right now my kids need me. I couldn’t be full-time at two different things.” The professional class – well-to-do techies and the like – that the couple had hoped to cater to never materialized either, she said. Brody-Clark said she doubts they even live in Berkeley. La Botella Republic is located on the ground floor of the Berkeley Central apartment building, which went after those well-paid professionals too. But most of the building’s occupants are foreign Cal students whose parents are paying top rent, not techies, and they are not drifting downstairs to drink, according to Brody-Clark. In addition, downtown Berkeley hasn’t arrived yet, she said. “It’s frustrating. Downtown should be more like Fourth Street with adorable shops, boutiques, and awesome restaurants.” The couple is in negotiations to sell the business and it will remain some sort of service establishment, she said, although she declined to name the prospective owners. “I’m disappointed. I loved my bar and I am very proud of what we created. I am very thankful to our patrons.”

Yaza at 1555 Solano Ave. sells socially conscious clothing designed and produced by two sisters from Tibet. Photo: Namgdyl Newton
Yaza at 1535 Solano Ave. sells socially conscious clothing designed and produced by two sisters from Tibet. Photo: Namgayl Newton

YAZA: SOCIALLY CONSCIOUS HIGH FASHION  In 2011, after their father died, the sisters Namgyal Newton and Tenzin Wangmo decided to finally create the clothing company they had long dreamed about. The sisters had been raised in Tibet where their mother had a boutique and had come to the U.S. as students at different times. After selling “socially conscious clothing and accessories” online, the two sisters opened a store, Yaza, at 1535 Solano Ave. in early March. “They brought with them centuries of tradition inherited from their diaspora roots, a penchant for design and a love of the fabrics, threads, colors and craftsmanship that was handed down from the Indian and Nepalese people they encountered along their lifelong journey,” reads an explanation on their website. Yaza is the name of the small town in Tibet where their father was born. Newton runs the store while Wangmo runs the sustainable workshop on the outskirts of Kathmandu. The jerseys and cottons used in their unique designs come from Hong Kong, near Jaipur in India and Nepal. “We chose Berkeley because we feel it’s our demographic,” said Newton, who used to work in the computer industry. We like “the way Berkeley is – the university, the tolerance, the interest in other cultures, the interest in things that come from other parts of the world.”

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Annemarie Skin Care will soon open at 812 Bancroft Ave. between Fifth and Sixth streets.

SKIN CARE SHOP ANNMARIE OPENS Annmarie Skin Care, a company that specializes in handcrafted, herb-based skin products, is opening its first brick-and-mortar store at 821 Bancroft Ave. between Fifth and Sixth streets. Annmarie and Kevin Gianni founded the company in 2009 but it has solely been online until now. “We’re so excited to be opening our first retail store,” Annmarie said in a press release. “We’ve been wanting to do this for a while, as it will give us a chance to meet many of our customers face-to-face, connect with them and to help them determine the best skin-care routine for their needs.” The Giannis have been working on the store for months to create a welcoming environment that mirrors the philosophy they bring to their skin-care products The store will include a plant-based “living wall” in the entryway. The grand opening event is Friday March 25 from 10 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at 821 Bancroft Ave. The ASC team will serve organic, cold-pressed juice from Happy Moose Juice and Revive kombucha tea at the celebration.


Shop Talk is our regular column in which we post updates on Berkeley businesses. 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, and check out Bites for the latest East Bay restaurant news.