Author Archives: Frances Dinkelspiel

Bankrupt Premier Cru not run in ‘reliable fashion’

In December 2011, John Fox was all smiles as he held large scissors to cut the ribbon for the grand opening of Premier Cru's new retail store at 1011 University Ave. Photo: Premier Cru
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An analysis of the books and inventory of the bankrupt Premier Cru wine company shows that it collected $45 million in wine orders but had no bottles associated with those orders in the warehouse at 1011 University Ave in Berkeley, according to court documents.

In addition, the company had $42 million in customer deposits on hand in December 2014 — most of which was no longer there when the company filed for bankruptcy in January 2016, according to court documents.

Those two startling numbers, along with some statements from a former employee and an accountant hired to examine the records, reveal chaotic business practices at the Berkeley wine company owned by John Fox and Hector Ortega. Those dealings have prompted the Federal Bureau of Investigation to investigate whether Fox ran a Ponzi scheme.

Court documents also show that Fox managed a company that often sold bottles it did not have, mortgaged its building at 2011 University Ave. to the max, and deliberately tried to prevent its bank from attaching some of its funds. In addition, business records were sloppily kept.

“For the most part, I have determined that the Debtor’s books and records were not maintained in a reliable fashion,” Richard Pierotti, a certified public accountant hired by the bankruptcy trustee, wrote in a court declaration. … Continue reading »

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24-hour East Bay giving blitz to help 500 nonprofits

East Bay Gives
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Get out your phone. Ready your finger. Open up your wallet. Don’t worry, it’s all for a good cause.

On Tuesday, May 3, hundreds of people are expected to participate in East Bay Gives, a 24-hour online giving blitz in support of 500 nonprofit organizations throughout Alameda and Contra Costa counties. It’s the third time the East Bay Community Foundation has organized the fundraising campaign as part of Give Local America. The event has raised $850,000 in the last few years.

“We are excited to once again rally thousands of people to raise money for the local nonprofits that make the East Bay a special place to live, work and thrive,” said James W. Head, CEO of the East Bay Community Foundation. “This year, we are aiming to ignite the generosity of even more donors and inspire them to give back and give local.” … Continue reading »

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New incubator signals growth in city’s tech ecosystem

The Batchery occupies a 12,000-foot space on the third floor of 2036 Bancroft Ave. Photo: The Batchery
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Michelle Calloway is standing in front of a group of potential investors holding a microphone. The rules of the pitch are strict: no videos, no samples, nothing in fact that could make it simple to describe the product she plans to launch onto the market. Instead, she has the simple power of words.

So Calloway takes a deep breath and launches into a description of the augmented-reality greeting card company Revealio that she and her husband, Jerry Bowden, hope will disrupt the greeting card industry. People are craving connection, she tells the group, and a personalized, emailed video card could shorten the emotional distance between a soldier overseas and his sweetheart, for example, or a grandmother and grandchild.

“It’s a printed card that comes alive before your eyes,” says Calloway. “It’s amazing.”

Read more about Berkeley startups.

Calloway was giving her practice pitch at The Batchery, Berkeley’s newest tech space, located at 2036 Bancroft Way, near Shattuck Avenue. Calloway was hoping the feedback provided by The Batchery’s partners – all of whom have deep experience either starting or running companies – would refine her delivery. … Continue reading »

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Berkeleyans to be asked to accelerate $15 minimum wage

Steve Gilbert (holding the mic) announces at a press conference on Monday that the coalition, Berkeley for Workign Families, has collected enough signatures to place a measure on the Nov. ballot raising the minimum wage to $15 by Oct. 2017. Photo: SEIU 1021
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A coalition of unions, politicians and community activists, fed up with what they perceive to be the slow pace of change coming from the City Council, appears to have collected enough signatures to place a measure on the November ballot raising the minimum wage to $15.

The group, which calls itself “Berkeley for Working Families,” turned in around 4,400 signatures to the City Clerk’s office on Monday, well above the 2,638 required.

If adopted by voters, the measure would raise Berkeley’s minimum wage to $15 by Oct. 2017. Then the wage would be raised each year by 3% + inflation until it hits $16.37, which is considered Berkeley’s official “livable” wage. The measure would also require employers to provide sick leave – up to nine days a year for large employers, and six days a year for companies with fewer than 10 employees.

“People are working and working and working but they can’t keep their heads above water because the cost of living is higher than in the rest of the state,” said Steve Gilbert, a retired mechanic with SEIU Local 1021. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley school superintendent worked 18 months with lapsed credentials

Donald Evans. Photo: Hayward Unified School District
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For much of the last two years, Berkeley School Superintendent Donald Evans has been working without credentials required by his contract.

In July 2014, a year after his appointment, Evans let his school administrative services credential and his teaching credential lapse. He finally renewed them on Jan. 4, 2016.

The Berkeley Unified School District Board is considering giving Evans a pardon for his inattentiveness. The board is scheduled to take action Wednesday to waive the district’s requirement that its top manager hold valid credentials. The action, presumably, would only apply to Evans.

“I am so embarrassed,” Evans said Tuesday. “I didn’t know my credential had lapsed. The state used to send reminders. It stopped doing it and left it up to school districts. Berkeley Unified doesn’t do it (send out reminders).” … Continue reading »

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24-year-old Cal grad launches $6M start-ups fund

Jeremy Fiance. Photo: LinkedIn
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A 24-year old Berkeley alum who raised funds for start-ups while still in school announced Monday that he has started a $6 million fund for companies connected to UC Berkeley.

Jeremy Fiance has launched The House Fund, which will seed very early stage companies with anything from $50,000 to $250,000.

Financial backers and advisors (most of whom are UC Berkeley grads) include Shervin Pishevar, an early investor in Uber and now a managing partner at Sherpa Capital, Jeff Brody, managing partner at Redpoint Ventures, John Burke, the founder of True Ventures, and Prakash Janakiraman, the founder Nextdoor, and others, according to Venture Beat.

“We believe a University ecosystem is an ideal place to start up and Berkeley’s is one of the best around,” said Fiance in an article he posted on Medium. “But there’s still a huge need for strengthened community and funding support.” … Continue reading »

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Berkeley author T.J. Stiles wins second Pulitzer Prize

Custers Trials
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Berkeley author T. J. Stiles won a Pulitzer Prize in history Monday for his book, Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America.
It is the second time Stiles has won a Pulitzer. In 2010, he won the Pulitzer in history for his book, The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt.

Custer’s Trials was also a finalist in the biography category.

Both books were published by Alfred A. Knopf.

“My obituary headline just changed again,” Stiles wrote on his Facebook page. “I am utterly flummoxed. My heartfelt thanks to my editor, Jonathan Segal, and everyone at Alfred A. Knopf and Vintage. I am very lucky to work with the best publisher in the business.”

While Custer is best known for being killed at Little Big Horn, Stiles only dedicated a small portion of his book to that battle. Instead, he focused on the 36 years prior to Custer’s death. Custer attended West Point, was decorated for his fighting in the Civil War and had an unsuccessful stint on Wall Street, among other experiences. … Continue reading »

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News

The Berkeley Wire: 04.13.16

Wildflowers in Tilden by mystuart. Photo shot April 10, 2106

Wildflowers in Tilden by mystuart. Photo shot April 10, 2106

BART board to review renovation of Downtown Berkeley station (Daily Cal)
Michael Pollan: 10 dishes that made my career
(First We Feast)
An herby Iranian frittata from Michael Pollan’s chef teacher (NYT)
UC Berkeley student petition demands campus give out abortion pills (College Fix)
Actor Jeff Bridges takes us to school before benefit show (Bay Bridged)
Berkeley Rep to stage premiere of ‘Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday’ (Broadway World)

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Joyce Goldstein dinner launches ‘Illuminoshi’ group

Famed chef and cookbook author Joyce Goldstein talked about Mediterranean Jewish food to the Illuminati, a new group of Jewish food professionals, on April 5. Photo:
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Joyce Goldstein probably couldn’t have picked a tougher crowd to showcase recipes from her newest cookbook than the 75 people who gathered at Covenant Winery in Berkeley on April 5.

The people who munched and mingled in the large room right next to where Covenant makes and blends its kosher wine were self-described Jewish food professionals. They had come together formally for the first time that night as the “Illuminoshi,” a name they chose after deciding the “Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals,” was too bland.

There were winemakers and grape growers and caterers and writers and specialty food producers. There were personal chefs, food justice workers, teachers, PR mavens, and culinary tour operators. Noah Alper, the founder of Noah’s Bagels, was there. Alice Medrich, the chocolate and dessert maven, was too. The man who helped invent Cap’n Crunch, Chaim Gur-Arieh (who is now a winemaker), was also mingling. Others on the invite list included Mike Rose, the co-owner of Semifreddi’s, the restaurant owner and caterer Hugh Groman, Dafna Kory from INNA Jam, Andrew Stoloff of Rubicon Bakery, and Tal Safran, the co-founder of Josephine.

In short, Goldstein was facing Jews who knew their food. … Continue reading »

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Ohlone human remains found in trench in West Berkeley

Construction workers uncovered ancient Ohlone remains on March 29 while digging a trench in front of Spenger's Fish Restaurant at 1919 Fourth St. Photo: Wendy Kenin
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Update April 10: The developer of the Fourth Street site issued a statement to Berkeleyside through its publicist, in response to the original April 8 story:

“Jamestown is complying with local stakeholders, including the recommendations of the appointed Most Likely Descendent, in order to ensure the respectful and dignified treatment of the remains. In light of this discovery, Jamestown is performing further archaeological studies of the property and has enlisted a member of the Ohlone Tribe to monitor future excavation work. Construction will continue but all excavation work will stop until a monitor is in place. We are committed to the local community and protecting the traditions of the native peoples.”

Original story: Construction workers on March 29 uncovered what appear to be “pre-contact” Indian remains while digging a trench on Fourth Street near Hearst Avenue as part of the redevelopment of Spenger’s Fish Grotto and adjoining parcels.

Workers excavating adjacent to 1919 Fourth St. immediately stopped all work on the site and notified authorities, as required by the use permit, according to Matthai Chakko, a city of Berkeley spokesman. Jamestown, the corporate owner of the property, brought in an osteologist, or bone expert, who determined that the remains, which lay among shell midden — remnants of the ancient shellmound that sat for centuries in that area — were human. The Alameda County Coroner’s office later confirmed the finding.

“Because of the context with shell midden around it, and because we know that part of town contained shell mounds, we know it was a burial and it was human,” said Andy Galvan, a Chochenyo Ohlone Indian who is the curator of the Mission Dolores Museum in San Francisco and who often helps developers determine whether there are Indian artifacts on their properties. … Continue reading »

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City Council to focus on creation of more housing

For Rent signs on Spruce Street. Photo by Melati Citrawireja
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In the past five years, the population of Berkeley has grown 5.5%, but its housing supply has only increased 1.2%.

That discrepancy, coupled with an economic boom that has pushed highly paid tech workers out of San Francisco and into the East Bay, has sent housing prices higher than ever before. Berkeley’s median rent grew $400, or 12%, to $3,584 in 2015, according to a February 2016 Berkeley city staff report. That means a person must earn $143,360 to afford a median rent apartment, according to Mayor Tom Bates. The median price of a house to buy grew even more – up 15% – to $974,000, according to staff reports.

This housing crisis is prompting the Berkeley City Council to consider about a dozen separate housing-related items on Tuesday’s agenda, including one far-reaching item put forward by Bates that includes 13 separate sections.

“Our ethnic and cultural diversity is being eroded as low- to moderate-income households are displaced or priced out,” Bates wrote in his proposal. … Continue reading »

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Malcolm X school tells community about possible child abduction attempt

A student at Malcolm X Elementary School may have been involved in a child abduction attempt. Photo: Malcolm X.
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UPDATE, March 17: Berkeley police issued a Nixle alert at around 12:45 p.m. with regard to the possible child abduction attempt described below. The alert details what the 9-year-old student says happened, and says the driver of the van was a black man in his 20s or older, with shoulder-length dreadlocks. The passenger in the van was described as a Hispanic man in his late 20s, 5 feet 9, with a thin build and dark straight hair. It remains unclear if the incident relates to a series of attempted abductions from last fall that involved a green minivan. Read the full alert.

ORIGINAL STORYMalcolm X Elementary School is on alert after a young girl reported that two men in a green van followed her to school on Monday, March 14.  One of the men got out of the vehicle and tried to grab her, prompting her to run away. The description of the van is similar to the description of a vehicle used in one of the five child abduction incidents in the fall.

Alexander Hunt, principal of Malcolm X, sent an email about the incident to the school community Wednesday afternoon, and said the Berkeley Police Department was investigating. According to Hunt, the young student left her home in the 2900 block of Harper Street around 8 a.m. to walk to  Malcolm X on Prince Street near Ashby Avenue.

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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
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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. … Continue reading »

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