KC’s BBQ in Berkeley. Photo: Tracey Taylor
KC’s BBQ in Berkeley. Photo: Tracey Taylor

The city of Berkeley has agreed to pay for a professional mediator to resolve a dispute between KC’s BBQ in Berkeley and a group of neighbors who have complained about odor and smoke coming from the restaurant’s outdoor smoker. The mediation is scheduled for July 9.

Last December, six months after it re-opened at 1235 San Pablo Ave. after a fire closed its original location, KC’s BBQ was given a notice of violation from the city to cease and desist using its smoker. The restaurant appealed, saying it has been operating lawfully and under the guidelines of its permit, and has continued to use the smoker.

Following the appeal, Berkeley spokesman Matthai Chakko said the city and KC’s owner Kristen Davis “agreed to a process in which KC’s BBQ would take additional measures to mitigate smoke and odor from the outdoor smoker, and then the City would monitor results for a 30-day monitoring period.” Monitoring was conducted Feb. 13 to March 15. During and after this time, Berkeley planning department staff continued to receive complaints from neighbors. Although Davis added a new filter (a Phresh Inline Carbon Filter installed above the smoker’s FEC Rotisserie Flue) she hoped would mitigate the issue, according to Chakko, staff who visited the site “still saw smoke coming off the smoker.”

In March, Chakko told Nosh the city was planning to meet with KC’s BBQ on April 3 to review the measures Davis installed to lessen the smoke and odor, and from there, “make a determination on next steps regarding the Notice of Violation.”

Before this meeting, Davis was also canvassing the neighborhood, hoping to collect data to share with the city. She said she talked to neighbors in the area who either had no issues with, or could not smell, the smoke. But that same month, Nosh received an email from a neighbor who claimed the “smoke issue has only exacerbated,” and that another neighbor’s guests “had to leave because of burning eyes.”

In mid-April, the city was still reviewing evidence collected by Davis, as well as from neighbors and others “relevant to the impact of the smoker.” Chakko wrote in an email on April 15 to Nosh, “The City will be discussing the next steps with all parties.”

The next step, it turns out, will be to hire an outside mediator.

With mediation, the city “wanted to see if there was a solution to work for all parties,” Chakko told Berkeleyside last week, but added the caveat, “It wouldn’t waive the appeal, if the mediation didn’t work.”

Davis said she isn’t confident that mediation will lead to resolution, but she was “looking forward to having an opportunity to let the neighbors know what we have done to try to satisfy” them. Davis said she’s planning to put in an even bigger filter, but that she’s gone “above and beyond” what she can do while still operating the outdoor smoker. Moving the smoker indoors is not an option because “there’s no space in the kitchen. If we put the smoker in the kitchen, we wouldn’t even be able to fit in our kitchen,” she said. Still, Davis is open to finding an accord.

“I feel like we’re at the beginning now. Maybe we now will be able to move forward with the decision. The ultimate goal is to find a middle ground. What that middle ground looks like, I don’t know,” Davis said.

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Sarah Han was the editor of Nosh from 2017 to 2021. Previously, she worked as an editor at The Bold Italic, the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco Bay Guardian. In 2020, Sarah won SPJ NorCal's...