Berkeley Underground owners Lisa Holt and David Shapiro opened Build pizzeria upstairs in 2013. Photo: Natalie Orenstein
The owners of Build Pizzeria and Berkeley Underground have filed for bankruptcy. Photo: Natalie Orenstein
The owners of Build Pizzeria and Berkeley Underground have filed for bankruptcy. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

The future looks bleak for the shuttered Build Pizzeria Roma and Berkeley Underground in downtown Berkeley after it has emerged that former owners Lisa Holt and David Shapiro filed for bankruptcy earlier this month.

Berkeleyside has also learned that Holt and Shapiro sold their interest in Build’s holding company, Rustic Restaurants LLC, to the San Rafael-based Moana Restaurant Group last year. Moana operates more than 20 restaurants around the Bay Area including Redd in Napa Valley, Corner’s Tavern in Walnut Creek, and the Lark Creek, Piatti Ristorante and Yankee Pier chains.

Holt and Shapiro lost all their investment as a result of the sale, according to a source close to Rustic Restaurants who asked not to be named for legal reasons. They filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy Oct. 6. The pair, who have not been involved in the Berkeley businesses since April, had hoped Moana would continue operating Build and Berkeley Underground under the umbrella group.

However Build, which opened at 2286 Shattuck Ave. in 2013, and Berkeley Underground, the nightclub the couple opened in late 2014 beneath the restaurant, have been shuttered since April. And it has come to Berkeleyside’s attention that prospective tenants are being shown the vacant property.

The club is decorated with plush armchairs, leather booths, black-and-white prints, and a sizable disco ball. Photo: Berkeley Underground
The interior of Berkeley Underground, which opened last November. Photo: Berkeley Underground

To confuse matters, Moana has denied any involvement with the Berkeley businesses. According to the source close to Rustic Restaurants, there is a fully signed and executed agreement between Moana and Rustic Restaurants. When contacted by Berkeleyside, however, Tami von Isakovics, a spokeswoman for Moana, said the restaurant group is “not involved in BUILD at all.”

When Build closed without warning earlier this year, a sign outside the building first indicated the space was undergoing renovations. But soon all the restaurant’s windows were covered in brown paper. As weeks went by with no sign of a reopening, it became apparent there was something more serious afoot, though Shapiro reportedly told the East Bay Express that Build was bringing in new investors would one day reopen and be “better than ever.”

Berkeleyside was made aware of the bankruptcy filing as a result of being a creditor of Build. The U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of Nevada, will hold a meeting of creditors for the case Nov. 9 in Las Vegas.

Holt and Shapiro put a lot of thought and investment into Build which, when it opened in 2013, brought a welcome buzz to a previously quiet stretch of Shattuck Avenue. The 6,000-square-foot restaurant offered “make your own pizza” service, a full bar and a stylish décor. The space, in the 1906 Morse Block building, formerly housed Indian restaurant Pasand Madras. The design of Build was overseen by Holt in collaboration with Keith Morris of Berkeley’s Abueg Morris Architects.

Holt, who had lived in Rome, said at the time that her vision was for a place that served the thin, crispy-crust pizzas that are the norm there — cooked in 2 or 3 minutes in a wood-fired oven.

Berkeley Underground, which took over the space that formerly housed popular nightclub and music venue Shattuck Down Low, was envisioned by the pair as a stylish venue for live music and comedy, as well as private events such as parties and bar mitzvahs.

The couple originally said they planned to replicate the Build concept in other locations around the country, and even globally, had the Berkeley flagship, which employed around 70 staff, proved successful.

Prior to opening Build, Holt and Shapiro’s background was in hotel development. Their projects include Milliken Creek Inn & Spa and Hotel Yountville. Shapiro was also a touring jazz musician.

A city of Berkeley staffer who asked not to be named said the pair were under-capitalized, and that the investment needed to open Berkeley Underground had ultimately demanded too much of both businesses, causing them to fail.

The Rustic Restaurants source cited several reasons for the closure, including partnership difficulties and an inability to do what was necessary to become consistently profitable. The restaurant experienced a number of problems, including several sewer floods and a kitchen fire. BART strikes, student protests, minimum wage increases and local competition also contributed to mounting pressures on Build, according to the source.

News of the bankruptcy comes on the heels of the recent shuttering of another, even younger, downtown Berkeley restaurant. Perdition Smokehouse, which opened at 2050 University Ave. in June 2014, closed suddenly earlier this month. While the barbecue restaurant’s owners have not spoken about the reasons for the closure, former partner and chef Mike O’Brien had left, which was believed to have put a financial strain on the business.

New club aims to spice up downtown Berkeley nightlife (11.12.14)
Nosh on the town: Build Pizzeria in Berkeley (08.13.13)
Building a better cocktail at Build Pizzeria Roma (06.17.13)
Sneak peek: Build — Berkeley’s ambitious new pizzeria (04.05.13)

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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...