Origen is opening in the old Locanda da Eva location
Locanda da Eva lasted four months at 2826 Telegraph Avenue

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.”

Frances Dinkelspiel

Frances Dinkelspiel (co-founder) is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California,...

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29 Comments

  1. I completely agree. I’m 3 blocks away and I would be happy to see a no fuss restaurant with great apps, entrees, brews, and cocktails. If they hit a good price point we’ll head in 2 or 3 times a month. I don’t need fancy shmancy elitist food. I want yummy “home cooked” delicousness when I’m too tired to cook for myself.

  2. People with kids drive long distances to go to Picante because of that mix of high quality, delicious food and family friendly vibe. I’m surprised that no other restauranteur has tried to borrow that formula, since Picante is wildly successful.

  3. I want to second this. I live within a short walking distance, and a place for families would be great.

  4. Agree with your assessment re: Zax. And I think that the fact Zax was apparently succeeding before the split-up could provide an insight: I wouldn’t guess that Zax relied on neighbors or passers-by; more of a drive-to-it destination with nothing else in the neighborhood enticing them.

    Two data points in support: a couple we know also had the habit of going there every couple of weeks (though never seeing one another there), both from more than 5 miles South.So it COULD be a stretch until they build a clientele that can spread word of mouth.

  5. Love the idea of a restaurant. But please…Catalan Spanish? That’s like saying Italian French. Catalan is a language in its own right, not a variety of Spanish. (Interesting factoid: There are more native speakers of Catalan in the EU than Dutch speakers). The reason Catalan is typically not recognized has to do with power and politics, not linguistic status. OK, now let’s get back to good food! I’m all for it…

  6. This location needs a family friendly restaurant a la Picantes (doesn’t have to be mexican — just something that both grown ups and kids will like … ) the area is crawling with families … most with both parents working — if there were a place where it felt comfy and neighborly to go and hang out after work/school I would be there all the time. The high end formula just isn’t right for this location … Don’t know if it’s the current build out or some other reason ppl keep trying that format there … Simple, good food, warm responsive staff … reasonable prices …

  7. I live around the corner from this site. All prior restaurants have been missing the mark. This is a very family-oriented neighborhood. We could really use a family-oriented restaurant here – just a wholesome place we could go to for a nice dinner after work and school, close to home with no fuss. Sounds like we’re still not going to get that, but I of course wish the new restauranteurs good luck.

  8. I don’t think it would be very expensive to use a sandwich board sign announcing to passersby, like walkers and drivers, that the establishment sells food. I never got ‘food’ from the Locanda sign. And I don’t think there would be many regulatory barriers to a temporary sign that the restaurant would put out and take away daily.

    I ride up and down that patch of Telegraph almost every day. I don’t have a car, I am on the bus and always ‘looking’ and I never noticed Locanda was there or a restaurant.

  9. Yes, I ‘got’ that the sign is leftover from Locanda but it was a very weird image for Locanda. . . . originalgiantsfan18 is right: that sign looked like it is for an adult book store or a strip joint. Maybe the sign is related to Locanda’s failure.

  10. The location has always attracted the Alta Bates Hospital and local doctors crowd and residents from Elmwood and South Campus. Zaks did very well and we all miss the friendly bar. Local businesses would love a lunch time & early evening location. I think it’s a question of getting the price and food mix “just-right” whatever that may be. Suggest the new owners canvass the neighborhood …

  11. Those are two good examples. Well, sort of. The place on Solano is “Fonda” – La Fonda (or La Fawnda) was Napoleon Dynamite’s brother’s girlfriend. Anyway, that kind of small plate w/ interesting bar formula would be great. Another example is Hob Nob in Alameda.

  12. I don’t think ZAX left for financial reasons…I think it was a front/back house split. Their prices were higher than your target but they did steady business. That said…I agree – $4 drafts and wells do bring them in and make an entire meal w/ drinks more affordable.

  13. Haha! Well, to speak to the stolen bike issue….I think considering what they do there all the bikes out on the sidewalk, a couple of tables for a restaurant should be OK. Of course, with Berkeley’s notorious panhandlers…that might not be a lot of fun.

  14. Laconda failed because the owner (whom never opened a restaurant before, just criticized them) was an idiot and didn’t have enough money to cover all the restaurants expenses for a whole year. I mean seriously, who opens a business with enough money to cover you for 4 months?! Especially in an industry like restaurants that have such a high fail rate.

    Anyway, if the owners of Origen have any business sense they’ll open the place with enough money, and serve equally as delicious food. I’m sure they’ll do just fine. I must admit, their food has a lot to live up to. I can still taste the Kale and Lardo pizza.

  15. The owners should visit Cesar & La Fonda to get an idea of what would work here.

  16. If this place were on Telegraph north of say Parker, then I’d agree with you, but it’s far enough south to where it’s not all grimey and littered with trustafarians the way other parts of Telegraph closer to campus are.

  17. Good ideas, but it’s only “easy” if the city or area residents do not object to putting tables on the sidewalk and possibly impeding passage for the disabled or creating more sidewalk noise at night. But besides that, who would want to dine on a Telegraph sidewalk? Telegraph is not exactly a Champs-Élysées like bistro location…

  18. What do you mean, a no-man’s-land. Why, that block is PERFECT to have a nice meal, buy a stolen bike, praise Krishna, then pick up some film for your old-fashioned camera. You’d think 80% of Berkeley would be there all the time.

  19. Good luck, but I hope they know Pleasant Hill prices wont fly in this hood.
    $10/plate with $4 drafts and wells is what the locals want.

  20. That is probably because the front of the building is a blank wall with small windows that don’t show what is going on inside. They would probably do better if they:

    put in large front windows, so you can see people eating inside.
    put out tables in front, so everyone passing by can tell it is a restaurant.

    The first might be too expensive, but the second is easy.

  21. Oh and the Nibblers’ folks should take note that it’s a LOT harder to impress foodies on this side of the tunnel. I’ve been to Nibblers a couple of times, so ya know… They have no real competition in the WC/PG area except va de vi – here…lookout.

  22. Telegraph south of Dwight was a sort of no-man’s-land but things have been picking up. The problem for the area is that there aren’t enough bar/restaurant storefronts to make a critical mass, like Elmwood or Rockridge. Still, the right place could make a go of it. They have to appeal to the locals as well as people who would drive in. As the demographics continue to flip in that hood and people who bought houses for $20K in the 60s are replaced with people who are buying $600K+ houses, a nice place has a better chance to survive. Mazzini was great. ZAX was super, and you can get some of that flavor at Sidebar in Oakland now. I won’t say the place is cursed. The only real cursed restaurant space is @ Bancroft and Fulton where Looney’s is….for now.

  23. I have worked in this neighborhood for a couple of years now. Granted I’m only in the area during the weekday, but it’s never been obvious what was there or if it was even open. I don’t know if it’s the lack of daytime activity or that the signage was above my natural line of site, but in my experience it was much too easy to overlook. Only after reading about the previous restaurant closing did I realize there was something there.

  24. The sign in the photo is for Locanda da Eva the restaurant that closed in this space — not for the new restaurant, Origen, which is planning to open there soon.

  25. The sign makes it look like an adult book store – are they selling food or women?

  26. I wish them luck.

    However, I think if they try to go too high-end in this spot, it probably will not succeed. I think what would do best here would be a solid, mid-priced lunch spot, for all of the offices nearby. That little area just isn’t really a night-time destination.

  27. According to my “Teach Yourself Catalan” audiobook, “g — followed by e or i, shows a sound like s in English ‘measure’: germa, Girona.” So, the “s” here more approximates “zh” sound in French, but differs from it slightly.

  28. How do you pronounce the g of Origen in Catalan?

    As in Spanish: Orihen
    Or as in French: Orizhen
    Or some other way?