The location isn’t exactly cursed. But it can be called unlucky.
In the past 14 years, there have been a total of five restaurants at 2826 Telegraph Avenue.
For 37 years, Casa de Eva ruled the roost. When it closed in 1997, Mazzini, the brainchild of Jim Maser of Café Fanny fame, came in. Lucio’s, Zax Tavern, and Maritime East followed in quick succession. Then came Locanda da Eva, which only lasted four months, shutting suddenly in November 2010.
Now two Pleasant Hill restaurateurs want to give the spot a chance, and they say that the location is actually blessed (with a lot of Berkeley history), not cursed. They believe that Francis K. Shattuck may once have owned the land under the building and praise the legendary Berkeley woodworking company Berkeley Mills for the exquisite interior.
“The building itself and the way it is set up is gorgeous,” said Trace Leighton, who runs Nibblers Eatery & Wine Bar in Pleasant Hill with her business and life partner, Daniel Clayton. “There is plenty of parking. It is an easy exit from the freeway and there are lots of people who live within walking distance. You can easily call any restaurant setting cursed if it has had a number of turnovers, but it really comes down to the people and what they do with it and how they do it.”
Leighton and Clayton plan to open Origen (which means “from the source” in Catalan Spanish) at 2826 Telegraph at Stuart in the late summer. It will be a “farm to fork” restaurant that stresses sustainability and local ingredients, said Leighton. They will open for dinner at first but hope to add lunch service after Labor Day.
Coming to Berkeley will give them the opportunity to “take our creativity to a new level,” said Leighton. Nibblers, which features small plates, can only seat 49 and has a tiny kitchen. Origen will seat 110 people and has a full-size kitchen, a wood-burning pizza oven and a full bar.
They try and use Nibblers’ size to their advantage. The tag line on their website is:
“small circles of friends & family. small communities in big cities.
small family owned farms. small artisan dairies & bakeries.
small neighborhoods. small, intimate restaurants.
and many, many small plates of irresistible food.”
While Nibblers has a devoted clientele, Leighton thinks Berkeley’s urban audience will be even more receptive to their philosophy. “Berkeley understands sustainability in a way other communities are still learning,” she said.
Leighton and Clayton visit three to four farmers’ markets each week and decide what to cook based on what they see. They visit all three of Berkeley’s farmers’ markets regularly now and are looking forward to the time when they are close by.
Leighton hopes Origen becomes a neighborhood hang-out and she intends to play close attention to the reactions of nearby residents.
“It’s definitely a location that has a solid neighborhood feel to it,” she said. “It’s Berkeley in many ways. We want to be respectful to the neighborhood. We want it to be a place that people want to come to.”
Robert Lauriston, who owned Locanda da Eva, the immediate past tenant of the space, thinks Origen has a good chance of succeeding. Although his restaurant only lasted four months, a number of others in that spot were always crowded and shut for reasons other than money, he said. Mazzini’s closed down because of the dot com bust and the partnership at Zax’s disbanded.
Locanda da Eva failed because it “didn’t match the neighborhood,” he said. It had good food and good service but somehow didn’t click with Berkeleyans.
Lauriston spent $400,000 to remodel the space. He apparently put it up for sale for $250,000, according to a number of food blogs.
Leighton and Clayton also have an advantage in that they are owner-operators, which means he will cook and she will take care of the front of the house, said Lauriston. That will keep their costs down. Lauriston only owned the restaurant and had to hire both a chef and general manager.
In addition, they have a solid track record and a core group of employees.
“They are the ideal people to be going in there,” said Lauriston. “Having looked at their place in Pleasant Hill, they have their act down. They are just stepping up to a larger stage un what should be a friendlier location. They should be in good shape.”