The early morning fire on March 8 started underneath the dining alcove at the front of Chez Panisse. Two sections of the front will likely have to be demolished and rebuilt. Photo: Colleen Neff

Chez Panisse is closed indefinitely after careful scrutiny of the damage caused to the famous restaurant by an early-morning fire on March 8 revealed that it needs significant demolition and reconstruction work that will take longer than originally anticipated.

The restaurant is canceling all reservations and not taking new ones at this point.

Both the top and bottom porches on the front of the building at 1517 Shattuck Ave. need to be removed and rebuilt, and structural repairs will affect both the upstairs café and downstairs restaurant, according to Chez Panisse’s owner Alice Waters, who posted a letter on the restaurant’s website.

“All the staff is pitching in to help with the cleanup — we are cleaning and repainting every inch and working to get Chez Panisse back open as quickly as possible,” she wrote. “The opening dates for both the café and the restaurant are still to be determined.”

The Berkeley Fire Department determined that the fire, which broke out at around 3 a.m. on March 8 under the lower dining room alcove, was caused by an electrical fault.

“We are satisfied that it was was electrical,” BFD Interim Deputy Fire Chief Avery Webb said today. “Our investigation ruled that it was not criminal.” He added that insurance companies will be making their own, independent evaluations. Original estimates put the value of the damage at $200,000, although that will likely have been revised given the new assessment. Sprinklers inside the building helped prevent further destruction.

Kip Mesirow, the original artisan builder of the restaurant, flew in from Vermont shortly after the fire and is heading up a team of woodworkers to rebuild both porches and redesign the façade of the building, Waters said.

The restaurant will post new updates on its website as progress is made on the reconstruction and can also be followed on its Facebook page.

Chez Panisse rebuilds, focuses on re-opening [03.13.13]
Fire at Chez Panisse damages front of restaurant [03.08.13]

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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...