chez-panisse-photo-amanda Marsalis
A group of animal-rights protesters stormed into Chez Panisse Friday Sept. 9 and had to be removed by the police. Photo: Amanda Marsalis
A group of animal-rights protesters stormed into Chez Panisse Friday Sept. 9 and had to be removed by the police. Photo: Amanda Marsalis

Berkeley police were called to world-famous restaurant Chez Panisse on Friday night after a group of animal-rights protesters stormed into the dining room and disrupted dinner service.

About 10 people carrying flowers from the group Direct Action Everywhere walked into the downstairs portion of Chez Panisse and asked for the diners’ attentions, according to a press release issued by the group. (Update: See below for a statement issued by Chez Panisse on Monday Sept. 12.)

“I come to you today with a message of compassion,” Matt Johnson, one of the activists, told those seated at tables covered with white tablecloths. “A message on behalf on the billions of animals exploited, who are tortured and killed by humans every year. We are told a lie … that animals exist as commodities for human use… Animals are living feeling individuals. They value their lives and their freedom the same as you and I do. They experience the same pain, the same joy, the same love of life and they have it have it ripped away from them and are brutally killed for the mere crime of being different than ourselves.”

The invasion into Chez Panisse is part of DxE’s “Flowers for Animals” campaign, “which encourages activists to peacefully speak out in stores and restaurants that serve products from animals killed for food about violence against animals on farms across the United States,” according to the press release.

The incident started around 10 p.m. but Chez Panisse management didn’t call the Berkeley Police Department until 11:00 p.m., according to Lt. Alyson Hart.

A Chez Panisse employee described the animal-rights activists as busting into the restaurant “screaming and yelling.”

The group, which was 10-15 strong, according to Hart, refused to leave the restaurant, which was when the restaurant decided to call police. (Update: The group involved two 18-year-olds, a man and woman, from Pleasanton. No other information was available about its members.)

No arrests were made, although the police did detain five people, said Hart.

“Chez Panisse management just wanted them removed and admonished to not return,” she said.

However, the activists said they were “hit, shoved and shouted at” and “assaulted” when they were in the restaurant.

DxE is part of a group that has just opened the Berkeley Animal Rights Center at 2425 Channing Way. Its web page says it is the first community center for animal rights in the country.

Chez Panisse was opened by Alice Waters in 1971 at its current location — a brown-shingle house at 1517 Shattuck Ave. — and rose to become one of the most lauded, highly regarded restaurants in the world, pioneering the use of seasonal, locally grown ingredients for a Mediterranean-based Californian cuisine. The landmark restaurant suffered a fire in March 2013 and shut down for several months during which time it was renovated and enhanced. It reopened in June 2013.

Editors note: This story was updated on Sept. 12 after Berkeleyside received more information.

Update: On Monday at around 3 p.m. Chez Panisse issued a statement to Berkeleyside about Friday night’s incident. It reads: “For 45 years Chez Panisse has been committed to clean, fair, and just food systems. We support farmers, fisheries, and ranches that practice the humane and healthy raising of food. We also recognize that there are many ideas about food and that everyone has a right to express their opinion. The difficulty at our restaurant on Friday night arose when 10-12 individuals came into the dining room shouting and filming with their phones and antagonizing the guests and staff. For about 15 minutes the staff asked the group to take their protest outside to no avail. They eventually called the Berkeley Police to help resolve the situation because some guests had become upset as well. Chez Panisse declined to press charges.”

It’s back: Inside the newly reopened Chez Panisse (06.26.13)
Alice Waters: The response to the fire is the reason I want to live in Berkeley (06.24.13)
Chez Panisse sets opening date after fire (04.30.13)
Chez Panisse closed indefinitely, major rebuild needed (03.19.13)
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...