Category Archives: Local business

Nosh on the town: ‘A taste of West Berkeley’ tour

Eduardo Morell slices bread at his bakery in West Berkeley. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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It’s really hard to not fill up on bread when it’s this good. There’s hearty, earthy 100% rye topped with a generous smear of salted Clover butter. And a classic country loaf jazzed up with whole-wheat flour sliced thick, so it’s easier to appreciate its tender, chewy crumb.

We’re at Morell’s Bread, the first stop on Berkeley’s newest food tour, A Taste of West Berkeley. Baker Eduardo Morell is talking to us about his sourdough starter and gluten development. I sneak a few more bites of the rye and butter while I watch Morell’s wife and business partner, Tamsen Flynn, shape country loaves on the large bakery counter behind us. … Continue reading »

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How Quirky is Berkeley? Mark Bulwinkle’s sculpture inside the new Mad Monk

Julia Vinograd. Photo: John Storey
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As Berkeleyside reported in July, Ken Sarachan’s resurrection of the old Cody’s bookstore at Telegraph and Haste is open for business. Inside are books and records, and nine painted-metal portrait sculptures by Mark Bulwinkle, depicting iconic Berkeley figures. Sarachan has used Bulwinkle on other projects, and Bulwinkle art decorates the outdoors balcony at Mad Monk as well as the restrooms. … Continue reading »

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Council cancels special meeting on minimum wage

Berkeley City Council, Jan. 27, 2015. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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Update 6:15 p.m. Only three council members were present for the special meeting: Kriss Worthington, Jesse Arreguín and Darryl Moore. After brief thanks from the officials to city staff for preparing the meeting, it was canceled for lack of a quorum.

Original story: Two votes scheduled for Thursday night’s special Berkeley City Council meeting, which was just announced Wednesday, may not actually take place due to “insufficient quorum,” according to various reports being circulated online.

The focus of the meeting was supposed to be a compromise related to two competing minimum wage proposals that are slated to be on the November ballot.

A spokesman for the city, Timothy Burroughs, said as of 5:16 p.m. that “There is still a Council meeting scheduled for 6pm.”

City Clerk Mark Numainville confirmed at 5:24 p.m.: “We will not know if the meeting is cancelled for lack of quorum until after the noticed start time.” … Continue reading »

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Premier Cru owner will plead guilty to fraud

Premier Cru. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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John E. Fox, the embattled owner of the wine retailer, Premier Cru, will plead guilty to wire fraud in federal court in San Francisco on Thursday, one day after he turns himself into authorities.

Fox could face as much as 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for defrauding his clients – some of whom were among the most accomplished venture capitalists and investment bankers in the world. In an charge filed June 28, but only unsealed recently, the U.S. Attorney has charged Fox with intentionally defrauding his clients from 2009 to 2015.

        Read the back story about Premier Cru on Berkeleyside.

“John Fox did knowingly and with the intent to defraud devise, participate in, and execute a material scheme and artifice to defraud and to obtain money and property by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses,” reads the indictment.

Fox had requested that the charges be sealed until closer to the arraignment because he was worried for his personal safety, according to court documents.  … Continue reading »

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Sara Strong continues her family’s woodworking legacy

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Woodworking runs deep in Sara Strong’s blood. Her grandfather was a boatbuilder from Finland who came to the U.S. and started a furniture business. As a young child, Strong spent Sundays at his side, watching and learning as he worked in his wood shop. On other afternoons, she did the same with her carpenter father.

Even so, woodworking as a profession is actually fairly new for Strong. She has been in web and graphic design for most of her adult life and, aside from the occasional project, didn’t give the woodworking idea her full attention until just a year and a half ago. Yet it’s no surprise that Strong Wood Studio is growing quickly.

“It’s all just kind of in me. It comes out,” she says as we gaze at a table-to-be in its glue-up stage. The piece rests on her deck, done up with bright orange clamps, waiting to be trimmed, sanded and finished. It looks good, like a woman in curlers getting ready for a night out — you can just tell it will steal the show. … Continue reading »

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After 19 months, Elmwood Theatre finally changes marquee

The marquee of the Elmwood Theatre has been changed after 10 months. Photo: Joey Brite
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The Babadook is gone. So are Gone Girl, Boyhood, and Nightcrawler.

Nineteen months after Cal-OSHA informed Rialto Cinemas Elmwood that employees should not change the movie titles on the marquee until a safe way to do it could be found, the letters spelling out film titles on the marquee have finally been switched out.

A contractor removed the old titles on Monday. The Art Deco-style marquee now has a much more generic message: “Berkeley’s Independently Owned Movie Theatre. Great Movies and More,” reads one portion.  … Continue reading »

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How did Berkeley wine store accrue $70M in debt?

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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John E. Fox, the embattled owner of the bankrupt wine company Premier Cru, often liked to run his business close to the edge, according to interviews with former business colleagues.

To provide coveted wine to his international clientele, Fox was constantly on the prowl for wine bargains. This led him to strike deals with people selling wine on the “gray market,” outside the channels set up by many European wine houses.

And when Fox would order wines from legitimate distributors around the country, he would delay paying for his orders as long as possible, even though California law requires wine purchases to be settled within 30 days, according to one business associate. This delaying tactic angered so many people that many were gleeful when the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced in February it was investigating whether Fox ran a Ponzi scheme.

Read more about Premier Cru on Berkeleyside.

“There were a lot of smiles on faces when they heard that he was going down,” said Jim Elder, a vice-president of marketing and operations for The Sorting Table, a Napa-based wine importer and distributor. “There were a lot of smiles in the wine industry. He had screwed a lot of people, whether he didn’t pay them or always paid them late… To me, it’s karma.” … Continue reading »

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Magoosh: Proof that Berkeley startups can flourish without Silicon Valley

Co-founder of Magoosh. Photo, taken in June 2016: Kelly Sullivan
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To tour Magoosh’s Berkeley offices is to visit the unremarkable. Nestled inside an office building on Milvia Street, the company would be easy to miss if it weren’t for the homemade logo affixed across several windows. Unlike many of Silicon Valley’s hot startups which boast multi-million dollar valuations, lavish perks such as free booze, gyms and electric scooters, Magoosh’s offices are tame — open-plan layout, app-booked conference rooms and a handful of standing desks thrown in, it’s all relatively quiet.

That’s not to say Silicon Valley’s clichés are absent: Apple products abound, there is a game room complete with a ping-pong table and the majority of the employees are young. And Magoosh has taken the Valley’s money — though nowhere near as much of it as many of its peers. And its four founders were once part of the Haas Business School at UC Berkeley, designed to manufacture entrepreneurs, much like Stanford has done historically.

Read more about Berkeley startups on Berkeleyside.

Launched in 2009, Magoosh is in the education business: it creates digital tools that prospective students use to study for standardized tests such as the GRE, GMAT and LSAT. To help students prepare for those tests, the company has built a veritable arsenal of software products that span mobile and desktops. The company touts its relatively inexpensive offerings — for example GRE prep costs $129 for one month of access, or $149 for six months — and says they are about a quarter of the price of those of its competitors. Helped by a free trial to hook prospective customers, Magoosh CEO Bhavin Parikh says the company has captured about 10% of the students who take the GRE and GMAT every year.Continue reading »

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HBO documentary puts spotlight on Seva, a Berkeley nonprofit that restores sight to the blind

Manisara with the granddaughter she has never seen. Photo: HBO Films
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At a time when so much of the world’s news seems so dark, HBO is airing a documentary featuring a Berkeley nonprofit that is literally bringing more light into the world. Open Your Eyes focuses on the work of the Seva Foundation, which helps restore sight to blind and visually-impaired people by helping fund cataract surgeries, glasses, medicine and professional training in clinics around the world. The 25-minute documentary is being aired this month as part of HBO’s summer documentary series, and is also available on HBO Go.

“In the early days our tagline was ‘compassion in action,” said Seva Executive Director Jack Blanks. “Our current tagline is ‘a solution in sight’.”

The roots of the organization go back to the ideals of the 1960s, and its original co-founders include icons such as Ram Dass, Wavy Gravy and Dr. Larry Brilliant, who was part of the World Health Organization’s team working to eradicate smallpox. Steve Jobs, who studied for a time at the same India-based ashram as Brilliant, served on the advisory board for a few months just before Apple took off, and gave Seva its very first grant. Many Berkeleyans may be familiar with Seva through the groups’ benefit concerts featuring musicians such as the Grateful Dead, David Crosby and Graham Nash, Jackson Brown and Bonnie Raitt.

The documentary subtitled “A Journey from Darkness to Sight,” doesn’t focus on Seva or its colorful Berkeley roots. Instead, it focuses on the equally compelling story of two Nepali grandparents who have been blinded by cataracts and regain their sight after a surgery funded by Seva. It was filmed by the Portland-based Irene Taylor Brodsky, who had a long-time interest in both Nepal and Seva. She asked to accompany some Seva outreach workers on their rounds doing eyesight screenings in remote mountainous area, and the story we see unfolded during that three-day journey. … Continue reading »

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The Institute of Mosaic Art in Berkeley to close Aug. 30

Ilse Cordoni, the owner of the Institute for Mosaic Arts, teaching an andamento class at IMA.  Andamento is the art of laying tiles with a sense of flow and design, rather than just putting broken pieces of glass next to each other. Since this was a one-day class, she taught the class using paper (easier to cut) rather than glass. Photo: Daphne White
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By Daphne White

The Institute of Mosaic Art (IMA), an East Bay institution that is one of the oldest and largest mosaic centers in the U.S., will close its doors on Aug. 30 unless someone steps up to take it over. The school, which has offered classes to more than 1,000 students in the past three years, is a victim of its own success, according to owner, Ilse Cordoni.

“When mosaic artist Laurel True opened IMA in 2005, there were only two mosaic schools in the U.S.: IMA, and the nonprofit Chicago Mosaic School,” said Cordoni, who purchased IMA in 2013. These two schools helped spearhead a mosaic renaissance across the country. “Now that mosaic has become very popular, there are half a dozen mosaic schools in California alone, and many more nationwide. Students no longer need to travel from all over the U.S. to take introductory mosaics in Berkeley.”

Unless a buyer can be found, the school and its associated mosaics store and gallery on Allston Way will close its doors as of Aug. 30, Cordoni said. This announcement has left the East Bay mosaic community reeling.

“IMA has been an enormous part of the mosaic renaissance in Oakland and beyond,” said professional mosaicist Rachel Rodi, whose mosaic career began at IMA when the school first opened. “IMA and its students and teachers have created community murals and public art throughout the Bay Area in places such as the Martin Luther King Middle School, Jefferson Elementary School and Mission Creek in San Francisco.” … Continue reading »

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Berkeley may soon have 6 cannabis dispensaries

Cannabis
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Two months later, the council is on the verge of approving another two new dispensaries, which means Berkeley may soon have six places to buy medical cannabis.

The rapid turnaround came in part because city council members were so impressed by the presentations made by the six finalists vying for the fourth spot, said City Councilman Kriss Worthington. He said the presentations were “compelling,” and the applications were very different from one another.

 “The council was reluctant until they saw the depth and breadth of the applications,” said Worthington.

Read complete Berkeleyside coverage of medical cannabis.

Adding another two dispensaries will also add to the city’s coffers. In 2014, the existing three dispensaries contributed $638,938 in taxes, according to a staff report. Another three dispensaries would almost certainly generate several hundred thousand dollars in taxes annually. … Continue reading »

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Shop Talk: Belli Osteria, Collector Art Shop, more

The interior of the now-shuttered Belli Osteria. A new Italian restaurant with a pizza oven will soon open in the space. Photo: Belli Osteria
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BELLI OSTERIA SHUTS DOWN After four years of serving exquisite pasta such as homemade black ravioli, pasta with clams and other Northern Italian fare, Belli Osteria, at 2016 Shattuck Ave., has shut its doors. Paul Oprescu, a Cal alum who majored in American history, opened the gem of the restaurant in Oct. 2012, right next door to the extremely popular Comal. “I had decided, some time ago, to go back to teaching and focus on my personal life, Oprescu told Berkeleyside in an email. He tacked a sign up on the front windows sending his regards to loyal customers. “Thank you for four wonderful years.” Oprescu sold the business to Steven A. Dumain, an Italian-American from New York, and Alessandro Uccelli, an Italian from the northern part of Italy. The pair will open reopen as an Italian restaurant soon with a wood-fired pizza oven, wrote Oprescu. … Continue reading »

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How Quirky is Berkeley? Lanesplitter’s action figures

Lanesplitter action figures, 2033 San Pablo. Photo: John Storey
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San Pablo Avenue has long been the funky boulevard of Berkeley — folk music clubs, punk clubs, the now-gone Twin Castle, hip breakfast spots, bars, sex-toy shop, ethnic grocery stores, liquor stores, Ohmega Salvage, automobile repair shops, rib joints, and so on. But, like all of Berkeley, San Pablo Avenue is changing. The Quirky Berkeley jury is out on what is happening on San Pablo, but it is in on Lanesplitter Pizza just south of University Avenue, and, in particular, its collection of dozens of action figures depicting past and present staff . … Continue reading »

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