If you’ve been patronizing the Elmwood’s Summer Kitchen & Bake Shop since it opened last Fall, you’ll probably know that it’s already gained a loyal following.

The lunch-time line attests to its popularity — and unscientific observation suggests people are coming from far afield to order up its pulled-pork and slaw sandwiches, wood-fired broccoli and green garlic pizzas and lemon meringue cupcakes.

The Kitchen  is a beautiful spot with top-notch foodie credentials — run by husband and wife team Charlene Reis (a former Chez Panisse pastry chef) and Paul Arenstam (Hotel Vitale and Americano in San Francisco).

It was recently asked to remove some its tables because it only has the city’s OK to operate as a take-out restaurant — Elmwood having filled its quota of sit-down restaurants. This is mildly irritating for those of us who would prefer to eat from a plate and at a table rather than from a cardboard box at the Kitchen’s otherwise very lovely marble counter.

And the development lends a certain irony to the fact that the Kitchen has just been nominated for a Slow Money Award (slow money having something to do with the principles of slow food and  “bringing money back down to earth”, apparently). In our minds, slow food (and the spending of slow, or fast money, to purchase it) is best consumed from a china plate in a leisurely and convivial manner around a table.

Any Berkeley city folk like the bend the rules just this once?

Tracey Taylor

Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...

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22 Comments

  1. Talk to the ex-proprietor of Desire about why he left his store.

    My point about reducing the diversity of businesses in the Elmwood would be the same whether he was forced out or chose to leave.  If Summer Kitchen takes over another store, that is one less business that has a chance to grow in and succeed in our neighborhood.

  2. Neither Tracey Taylor nor
    Councilman Wozniak are talking about the bigger issue with Summer Kitchen.
     The Summer Kitchen is applying to take possession of the Desire
    storefront next door to their existing store in order to greatly expand their
    seating capacity.

     

    This expansion into
    another storefront is a much more serious issue than should there be a few
    tables for people to eat in the Summer Kitchen space. 

     

    I believe the open market
    will determine how many restaurants the Elmwood can actually support but
    allowing businesses to take over additional adjacent storefronts by forcing out
    long standing merchants is not good for the health of the community. If
    Summer Kitchen takes over a second storefront they are in fact limiting the
    diversity of businesses that can exist in the Elmwood shopping area.

     

    Summer Kitchen is
    currently collecting customer signatures on a petition they will present to the
    Zoning Adjustment Board to show community support.  When I looked at the
    petition, it didn’t say anything about how they had forced out the next door business.  The
    petition was just a statement of support for Summer Kitchen.

     

    The issue of expansion
    came up in 2005 when Jeremy’s was marching down the East side of College Ave.
    driving out long standing businesses.  Here’s what was said at that time
    by residents and merchants in the Elmwood about the quota system:

     

    “Jason Wayman, owner of Elements, an Elmwood District clothing
    store, said he refused to participate in crafting a new quota system out of
    frustration with the city. “In reality, there has never been a quota
    system because the city refused to enforce it, he said. “This is like
    closing the door after the cow done left.” 

     

    “Last year Wayman was one of several merchants who fought
    unsuccessfully to keep Jeremy’s from expanding its Elmwood clothing store into
    neighboring storefronts. Even though the quota for clothing stores had been
    filled, the city allowed the expansion, which Wayman said has cut into his
    bottom line. 

     

    “If Jeremy’s is going to expand to five units, then the quotas
    don’t matter,” said Desiree Alexander, owner of the Elmwood clothing store
    Dish. ”

     

    If the city won’t enforce
    the quota system then it should be repealed and this would no longer be an issue.  If the quota system is not repealed by the City Council they should
    see that it is enforced and not altered each time a merchant comes before them
    with the “signatures” to back up the desire for a variance.

     I like Summer Kitchen’s fare and wish them well – in their current location.

     

     

  3. It looks like I’m a little late to join this conversation again, but stumbling on this, I just wanted to add my two cents…

    Being the co-owner of the Elmwood Market that occupied the space prior to Summer Kitchen, a neighborhood resident at the time, and the one who infamously said, “We believe in the free market.”, I became very active in the community. I did so in part to try to help modernize the quota system, and to make my business better able to serve my customers what they were asking for. I bought the business knowing the zoning restrictions, but with the hope of helping to change them.

    While I met and became friends with many magnificent people in the Elmwood/CENA/Berkeley area, among them; neighbors, merchants and city employees, ultimately the endeavor was a huge waste of time and money for me and my partner, primarily due to the resistance of a very small minority group that didn’t even patronize the neighborhood businesses. Realizing this, we went back to San Francisco and built the “quick serve restaurant” that we hoped to transform the Elmwood Market into and have since operated a very successful business, even in the midst of a difficult economic environment.

    We have not looked back once since leaving the Elmwood, except to remind ourselves of the valuable lessons that we learned there, and to occasionally reach out to friends made. I’m not saying that a business can’t be successful in the neighborhood, but until the market is opened up more reasonably, I think that it’s going to be a struggle that may not be worth it to many worthwhile businesses. And to them I’d advise, go in accepting what you’re getting, not what you’re hoping to get, or don’t go in at all, as this issue has been ongoing for over 20 years and we’re not likely to see a fair, evenly enforced resolution in our lifetime. With any luck, the City of Berkeley will prove me wrong and give every courageous entrepreneur there a fighting chance on an even playing field.

  4. I miss the tables at Summer Kitchen, mostly because I caught an impromptu music practice by Eric & Suzy Thompson (http://www.ericandsuzy.com) there on a January evening. It was another little slice of joy in the Elmwood.

    Disclaimer: I live in the Willard neighborhood and walk to the Elmwood daily.

  5. Quick serve restaurants are establishments where the orders are taken at the front counter and customers can sit at tables or take-out. City Council just passed an amendment of the zoning code for quick serve restaurants in the downtown area. They will be permitted to serve beer and wine by obtaining an over the counter use permit (AUP) which drops any requirement for a public hearing. McDonalds, Amandas and Bongo Burger are examples of downtown area quick serve restaurants.

  6. well i guess that some things need to be clarified. as far as i know,and i have been working with the city on this for over 20 years but the way the city changes things without notice, i could be wrong, but i don’t think so, is as follows; the 3 catagories for zoning in the elmwood are, 1, full service restraunt, you may have tables and chairs, a wait stall and apply for beer and wine. 2, food service, you are allowed tables and chairs, but no wait staff and no beer or wine. 3 quick serve, no tables or chairs(you can have a few for people waiting for there orders)and it is to-go only. summer kitchen does not have any of these, they have a grocery(safeway,the old burnafords, 7-11) that was ammended (without notice) a few years ago to allow pre-made prepared food to be packaged while you wait and to be sold to-go only. there were NO seats or tables there but 2 stools to sit on while you waited. before that it was butlers health food store(grocery). the word restruant should not appear on there permit, otherwise why was there no use permit hearing. according to the city the elmwood is second only to 4th street for sales tax revenues and we are creeping up on them. vacancies in the elmwood are scarse except when the buildings in need of repair(all the buildings are very old), or in the case of the Gorden project on ashby, he is waiting untill he can put thru his 5000-3500 sq ft restruant-lounge. And by the way it wasn’t a merchant that complained to zoning it was a number of the members of the community(residents) who raised there voices, and then the merchants assoc. after many complaints from both. i agree and have for many years agreed that modification and inforcement of the law was in order. we all have worked very hard within the laws and rules of berkeley, even when it was an uphill climb, to make this heighborhood berkeley’s most vibriant, healthy and successful. if the residents and merchants of this area want to change the law, lets do it, if not, we need to inforce what we have

  7. The Elmwood Zoning issue is very complicated, and everyone who has posted on this thread has made some valid points. The problem we face is striking a balance between serving the local neighborhood and the need for businesses to reach beyond the neighborhood in order to survive.

    In the days of when I first opened my business (1976) we had a five and dime, a hardware store, multiple drug stores and a shoe repair shop. Today’s business world is so very different. Online and big box retail pose a very real and serious threat to main street small businesses. And in this world of “big box” and online, what kinds of businesses will be able to make a go of it? Can we truly afford to be so restrictive that an entrepreneur must consider such an exhaustive and expensive public hearing process that they decide NOT to locate in the Elmwood. And further, what criteria can be applied so that a new business can know CLEARLY whether or not they can fit within the guidelines of the ordinance?

    I agree with both those who support Summer Kitchen and those who want to see the zoning regulations (whatever they may be) applied fairly. What’s the point of having an ordinance, if we aren’t going to enforce it? If the consensus is that the current zoning is too restrictive, then let’s fix it, and apply the new rules fairly and EQUALLY, and not get into playing favorites. The City of Berkeley plays a big role in all of this because of their “handling” of the current ordinance. (some might say “mishandling”)

    This is a VERY tough economy and many (myself included) think that it will continue to be tough for many years to come. We need to fill these vacant stores and encourage good businesses to locate in the Elmwood. We have a GREAT neighborhood, and Summer Kitchen is a very welcome addition (love the thin crust pizza!).

    Parking IS a major issue in the Elmwood, and we must consider the parking demands of certain kinds of businesses in this discussion. Obviously, high volume businesses that rely upon street parking during the day place a strain on the limited parking in the Elmwood. There are ways to increase our “inventory”. For example, if neighbors use their driveways to park their cars and free up the space in front of their residences, we can increase the number of 2 hour spaces. People who work in the Elmwood should be encouraged to car pool or use public transit, whenever possible to free up spaces.

    In his post, Gordon Wozniak states –

    “Finally, I feel that the present quota system is an anachronism that should be repealed or modernized. However, for the Council to change the Elmwood quota system would take strong support from both the merchants and neighbors.”

    Change is “possible” but in Berkeley, it requires consensus among neighbors and merchants to effect change. Building consensus means that everyone has to “give a little”. Berkeley is often a hotbed of polarized forces and therefore, often, nothing gets done.

    I have been in business long enough in the Elmwood to remember when we had a lot of vacancies and business “wasn’t so good” …Let’s use this as an opportunity to “modernize” our zoning and make it more compatible with the economic realities of 2010 and beyond. The internet and box retail combined with the aggressive development of Emeryville have greatly changed the business landscape for all of Berkeley. It would be foolish for us to not respond intelligently.

    My disclaimer:

    I am a merchant in the Elmwood (Focal Point Opticians) and have been actively involved in zoning issues for many years, as well as the restoration of the Elmwood Theater. (please support the Theater, they show wonderful films!)

    David Salk

  8. I have no comment upon the details of this, but two thoughts:
    1. This whole thread should be moved over to the Parenthood story comments section as to how to make the show more “Berkeley.” THIS is Berkeley.
    2. I live a short half block from Solano Ave. Some years back – about 10 years I think – our Noah’s Bagel shop wanted to expand into the next door space, have tables, have a cafe and a real lunch place. There was no cafe here, no place to sit for a little nosh. The same old tired people protested and won.
    Come on over and look at Solano Ave. now – see all the vacant storefronts. then think about how much power you really want to give to the people who are trying to say no to good little eateries. It’s the economy stupid!
    Berkeley unemployment just hit 11%, your home page tells me.
    Business is better than no business.

  9. Here’s a link to an article from 2005 about the Elmwood quota issue:

    Found on http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/news/print.asp?id=13723 22 April 2010:

    Shortly after John Moriarty opened his Elmwood District jewelry shop nearly three decades ago, the two-block shopping district on College Avenue had a cobbler, pharmacy, gun store and the most restrictive business regulations in Berkeley.

    Those shops have all since closed, and now Moriarty, head of the Elmwood Merchants Association, is at the forefront of a neighborhood-merchant alliance working to undo the quota system designed to protect neighbors from losing shops they rely on and merchants from rising rents.

    “It just didn’t work,” Moriarty said. “The city has never enforced the quotas, several of the neighborhood serving shops have closed and rents have gone up.” Moriarty pays $3,500 a month for the storefront he rented for $400 in 1978.

    The Elmwood Business District Advisory Committee, comprised of merchants and leaders from surrounding neighborhood associations, has proposed scaling back the quota system from nine business categories to two: food service and beauty salons. The group also recommends barring businesses from expanding into neighboring shops as the clothing store Jeremy’s did earlier this year.

    “We believe in the free market,” said Kimberly Tinawi, owner of the Elmwood Market and the co-president of the Claremont Elmwood Neighborhood Association (CENA). “The quotas didn’t allow businesses to adapt to changing needs of customers.”

    Tonight (Tuesday) the City Council will vote whether to send the group’s recommendations to the Planning Commission for review.

    The most vocal opponent is Tad Laird, who recently bought the struggling Bolfing’s Elmwood Hardware Store. “Eliminating the quota system will force my business out,” Laird said.

    He predicted that open competition would lead to higher rents that would make a neighborhood-serving hardware store on College Avenue unfeasible. Laird, who owns the building housing his shop, also called for easing zoning restrictions so he could build condos above the store to help him underwrite the hardware business.

    “I bought this store under the premise that the community supported neighborhood-serving stores,” Laird said. “Now the feedback I get is that maybe we’re not supposed to be here anymore.”

    Laurent Dejanvry, co-president of CENA, said the notion that Elmwood stores should primarily serve local residents was “a very old view of Elmwood. I think it’s a combination of neighborhood-serving stores and a regional destination area–much like Fourth Street,” he said.

    Quotas Never Enforced

    Jason Wayman, owner of Elements, an Elmwood District clothing store, said he refused to participate in crafting a new quota system out of frustration with the city. “In reality, there has never been a quota system because the city refused to enforce it, he said. “This is like closing the door after the cow done left.”

    Last year Wayman was one of several merchants who fought unsuccessfully to keep Jeremy’s from expanding its Elmwood clothing store into neighboring storefronts. Even though the quota for clothing stores had been filled, the city allowed the expansion, which Wayman said has cut into his bottom line.

    “If Jeremy’s is going to expand to five units, then the quotas don’t matter,” said Desiree Alexander, owner of the Elmwood clothing store Dish.

    Dave Fogarty of the city’s Office of Economic Development acknowledged that “the city has misadministered quota system permits.” He said that by simplifying the system, city officials would be better able to enforce the rules.

    According to Moriarty, the district already is beyond its quota for full-service restaurants. He said restaurant owners got around quotas by opening as take-out restaurants when there were open quota slots in that category. Then, once they were established, they went to the Zoning Adjustments Board to get a variance to install tables, Moriarty said.

    Rationale of Recommendation

    The proposed system has been written primarily to prevent a repeat of Jeremy’s expansion and to close the restaurant loophole. Instead of dividing restaurants into three categories–carry-out, quick-service and full-service–the new system will have food service as a single category, in theory preventing full-service restaurants from starting out as take-out establishments. Twenty-one restaurants will be allowed in the district.

    For many Elmwood merchants, restaurants pose the biggest threat to their businesses because they typically can pay higher rent and attract patrons at night when other shops are closed.

    As an example of the lucrative restaurant business climate in the Elmwood, Tinawi said that the deli counter at her market, which features Middle Eastern products, constitutes about 80 percent of her business. “People aren’t supporting a neighborhood grocery store here,” she said. Under the new rules, Tinawi, who already has a quota slot as a carry-out restaurant, could turn the business into a full-service restaurant if the changes pass.

    Moriarty said the Elmwood committee chose to eliminate shop expansions because they feared it would lead to a few dominant retailers and the loss of diverse stores.

    “If Jeremy wanted to sell his shop, its big enough now for something like The Gap to move in,” he said. “That’s not the kind of store we want here.”

    Elmwood shops have held up fairly well during the recent economic slowdown, Fogarty said. City reports show that sales tax revenue from the district has remained virtually unchanged over the past two years. The only commercial vacancies are in a building at College and Ashby avenues being refurbished by Berkeley Real Estate Developer John Gordon.

    Why Now?

    The Elmwood committee is hoping to fast-track the changes so they are in place before Gordon rents out all of his spaces. The committee reasons that if the new quota system is in place, Gordon will probably have an easier time finding non-restaurant tenants and will have less incentive to seek variances to bring in more restaurants. Gordon has already contracted for an ice cream parlor to rent one of the spaces in the new building.

    “I think the new rules will help me get my building rented,” Gordon said. “I’ve gotten a lot of calls from clothing stores and shoe stores and I’ve had to tell them that I can’t put them in because the quota is full.”

    Councilmember Laurie Capitelli will probably have to recuse himself from the council vote tonight because he owns commercial property in the Elmwood District.

  10. While I agree with Jon that there should be a balance between food service and retail in the Elmwood, whether or not the Summer Kitchen has a few tables does not change this balance. The Elmwood quota system is an anachronism which reflects the business mix three decades ago. It is the most complicated of all the Berkeley quota systems and makes it difficult for a business to adapt to changes in the market.

    In the last decade Berkeley residents have shown a strong preference for what are called “quick-serve” restaurants, which provide food to be consumed either on site or “to go”. The Elmwood has three types of food service quotas (full serve, quick serve, and to go). Unfortunately, the quick serve category is full. It is true that an owner can ask for modification of his/her quota, but the process takes time and is costly.

    Several years ago, many Elmwood Merchants, including Jon supported combining all three food categories into a single food category. If this proposal had been accepted by the City Council, the Summer Kitchen would have been allowed to have tables, since it has a valid food service permit. Unfortunately, due to opposition from supporters of quotas, the Council did not accept the Merchants’ proposal.

    It is my understanding that the City only initiated the zoning action against the Summer Kitchen after repeated complaints from a merchant. I believe that it is unfortunate that someone would use the quota system to hurt another merchant. I don’t believe that Berkeley residents understand that there are three different food service categories or particularly care whether the Summer Kitchen is labeled “to go” or “quick serve”. What they like is that Summer Kitchen provides quality food.

    I suspect that there are other examples of zoning violations in the Elmwood. Should the City crack down and risk putting some of our local merchants out of business? In these difficult economic times, we should be supporting all local businesses, not making their lives more difficult.

    Finally, I feel that the present quota system is an anachronism that should be repealed or modernized. However, for the Council to change the Elmwood quota system would take strong support from both the merchants and neighbors.

    For complete disclosure, I serve on the Berkeley City Council and represent most of the Elmwood Business District.

  11. Yet another “Mystery of Berkeley” (http://are.berkeley.edu/~howardr/berkeley.html). I’m thinking that only Berkeley can best Berkeley. Maybe the solution is a kind of guerilla table brigade that goes around setting up unlicensed tables. Or, perhaps Summer Kitchen can institute a BYOT policy. I much prefer eating there in person too. Another solution, can SK simply have a lot of chairs without tables? It would be more like a party where everyone holds their plates on their lap.

    The good thing about this debate is that it’s probably another product of Berkeley – at least the Elmwood. There’s enough wealth for people to have time to haggle over things like table zoning when it probably doesn’t even matter. In the case of SK the food is good and people are going to keep coming regardless.

  12. It’s misleading to point to an issue like “[…] parking is being taken up by people who want to sit and eat” primarily because the majority of Elmwood parking is actually in the neighborhoods, I.E. parking is a problem regardless if people want to shop at stores, get a watch battery replaced, browse books, or get a bite to eat. I understand the importance of quotas, but Jon you seem to admit that having a place like Summer Kitchen is a boon for the area. In the difficult economics that have plagued Berkeley businesses (just drive down Shattuck and look at the empty stores) we should be looking for ways to support entrepreneur endeavors that address Berkeley spirit as well as need. And I believe Summer Kitchen does just that.

    Quota issues aside, I enjoy having Summer Kitchen, as well as the rest of the Elmwood businesses, in my backyard. I just wish that the service at S.K. was better…

  13. yes i am a retailer in the elmwood and have been here on college ave. for 32 years now. i am also the co-president of the merchant assoc. and have been on the board of directors of that assoc. for almost 24 years. my wife, lilly is on the board of the elmwood theather foundation and both of us have fought hard to make our theater and our neighborhood the place to be. remember that the theater needs all the parking that it can get when the patrons come to see a movie, but that parking is being taken up by people who want to sit and eat. there are enough places for that up here already without adding more. look, if you want our zoning laws changed then do something about it untill then it’s the law.

  14. Reminds me of:

    ZONING ADJUSTMENTS BOARD AGENDA
    THURSDAY, MAY 13, 2004
    11. 1820 SOLANO AVENUE (UNIT A)

    Request by John Gutierrez to establish “incidental” food service in a retail bakery (La Farine) thereby exceeding the quota for food service establishments in the C-SO District. Bakery is proposed in an existing 1,600 square foot commercial lease space; off-street parking will be increased from 30 to 31 spaces – UP #03-10000094 (Aaron Sage)

    Continued From: None

    Board Action: Approved – 9-0-0

    I strongly suspect the variance would be approved for Summer Kitchen as well.

  15. Tracy–talk about tongue in cheek! Did you really write this:

    “A valid question remains, however: if enough community members would like a restaurant such as Summer Kitchen to have tables, shouldn’t that be a factor…”

    Heavens no! That’s not the Berkeley way (guess I should now say the Berkeleyan’s way). Surely you’re familiar with our little burg’s cherished role as the universal home of the political/philosophical doctrine called “tyranny of the minority.”

    My god, next you’re going to suggest that the 16 people who fill all the seats on the city’s 54 commissions should stop dictating policy to the rest of the city! The mind fairly reels at the prospect of Berkeley becoming an actual democracy.

    I think I need a drink. Now, if the Elmwood only had that bar that all of MY neighbors wish we were permitted to have…

  16. well if a grocery-togo store wants to change their permit they can apply for a varience and at that hearing you and the community members that you talk about have the right to come and make your fealings heard. I personally like the summer kitchen and hope that they do well, we all hope that they do well, but again where do you draw the line. alot of people like the ashby market so should we let them become a deli because some people might want it. if we BEND for one should we BEND for everyone?

  17. Jon: I understand about the quota in the Elmwood — I mentioned it in the post. And I anticipated that there would be people such as yourself who would question my suggestion that the city “bend the rules” which was made somewhat tongue in cheek. A valid question remains, however: if enough community members would like a restaurant such as Summer Kitchen to have tables, shouldn’t that be a factor in the city’s zoning decision?

  18. how many times do you have to bend the rules. we are over the quota on restruants and food services by 4 already. they knew exactly what kind of permit that they had when they went into this, a grocery,to-go only(there are others who also want to change their grocery permit to a sit down deli, do we allow them to do so also?).
    We have this zoning quota law up here for a very good reason. we, the merchants and residents of the elmwood area, fought hard so that our 2 block area had a mixed diversity of food and retail, and we are fighting just as hard to keep it. landlords can usually charge restruants more rent so they would like to have as many of them as they can. also the permit goes with the building not with the business, so if a restruant or food service doesn’t work then a jack in the box can get an accross the counter permit and no one can say anythiny about it. and what about parking? when there are tables people sit down and take up parking spot that are already very scarce. so as you can see there are alot of reasons why we should not bend the rules as you said, maybe next time you ask to bend the rules, you might do a bit of reserch before you speak.