Crews are cleaning up and repairing the front of Chez Panisse that was damaged by fire on March 8. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Five days after iconic Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse was struck by an early-morning fire, crews of experts are working at the restaurant to clean up and rebuild the damaged front section, which includes a much-loved dining alcove.

The Alice Waters-owned restaurant, which has not taken any new reservations since the fire, is hoping work will be completed in time to re-open on April 1, which happens to be the Chez Panisse Café’s 33rd birthday. But the restaurant does not want to set up false expectations about a date, a spokesperson said, as there are still so many unknowns. “We will have more certainty by the end of the week,” a staffer said.

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Crews, including fire and water damage restoration specialists, are working on getting the restaurant back in business. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Three trucks belonging to a company that specializes in fire and water damage restoration were parked outside the restaurant at 1517 Shattuck Ave. on Wednesday morning. The area affected by the fire — the front porch elevated dining alcove — has been boarded up. An odor of smoke still pervades the restaurant.

Waters is known to have a loyal network of friends and the Chez Panisse “family” is all hands on deck to help the restaurant owner and her staff get back in business. According to Inside Scoop, the remodel of the front porch and façade is already under way, thanks to its original builder, Kip Mesirow, who has come in from the East Coast. Maitre d’ and arborist Steve Crumley is trying to save the wisteria tree in front of the restaurant that was planted in memory of Waters’ close friend Tom Guernsey.

The fire is still under investigation, but Berkeley Fire Department Interim Deputy Chief Avery Webb said its most likely cause was an electrical problem. Although the blaze caused an estimated $200,000 worth of damage, sprinklers inside the building helped prevent significant destruction.

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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...