COVID-19 and its associated shelter-in-place orders has had an incalculable impact on businesses in Berkeley. So many have tried to stay afloat despite suffering plummeting revenues, and most if not all have been forced to lay off employes.
Not all have survived. Some ran out of money. Others decided the pandemic, or a landlord’s insistence on raising the rent, was the last straw and took early retirement.
Here are just 10 Berkeley food or drink establishments whose closure in 2020 caused particular disappointment.
After nearly 60 years in business, the Albatross Pub on San Pablo Avenue called it quits in November. Owner Andrew McGee said the business couldn’t weather the financial hardships of the pandemic. The storied pub, also known as “The Bird,” was a much-loved gathering place where old and young gathered to enjoy conversation, trivia nights, a few drinks and the comforting drone of music (at a reasonable volume).
Animal Place’s Vegan Republic
Animal Place’s Vegan Republic, which opened as Republic of V in February 2014 as the first grocery store in the Bay Area to offer completely vegan products, closed in July. The owners cited a substantial drop in sales due to COVID-19, but they’d been seeing declining business for more than a year which they attributed, ironically, to the “huge popularity” of veganism. In an Instagram post, Vegan Republic wrote, “Chain stores are pulling away customers with their newfound openness in carrying vegan products, and it’s a blessing and a curse.”
The 46-year-old, no-frills downtown haunt Au Coquelet, known for its late hours, affordable eats and diverse, down-to-earth clientele, closed in October. The eatery, located on the corner of University Avenue and Milvia Street, opened in 1976 and catered to a wide array of customers — from UC Berkeley students seeking a late-night study spot to neighborhood seniors who gathered in its back room for lunch and gossip.
Roscoe Skipper and Wendy Brucker closed their 12-year-old Tuscan trattoria Corso — at 1788 Shattuck Ave. — in November. (They also sold their 26-year-old restaurant Rivoli, which remains open.) The beginning of the end, they told Berkeleyside, was the first shelter-in-place order in March that shuttered restaurant dining rooms. After that, Corso began losing money at a fast clip.
“COVID-19 made the decision for us,” said Haig Krikorian who, along with Cindy Lalime Krikorian, owned 35-year-old Berkeley institution Lalime’s on Gilman Street. The indefinite moratorium on dine-in service as well as a desire to retire convinced them, in April, to close the Westbrae restaurant which was a culinary institution, known for its locally sourced, California-inspired Mediterranean cuisine.
The family-owned Chinese eatery Little Hunan, with its familiar red sign at 125 Berkeley Sq. (on Shattuck at Addison) was a friendly go-to for fast, budget-friendly dining in downtown Berkeley for an impressive 34 years. Sadly, the eatery’s quiet closure during pandemic lockdown proved permanent.
Pedro’s Brazil Cafe
The original Pedro’s Brazil Cafe ‘shack,’ known for its flavorful tri-tip sandwiches and Brazilian specialties, permanently closed in June to make way for a new 850-bed student housing project called the Gateway. The colorful, beach-like hut at the tip of University near campus was a favorite destination for students and downtown workers for 20 years.
Sacks Coffee House
Sack’s Coffee House, a popular neighborhood cafe on College Avenue in the Elmwood, closed its doors at the end of the year. With its distinctive hessian coffee sack cushions visible through the facade’s plate glass windows, the coffee shop was a favorite work and study spot for students and others for about 11 years.
Just seven short months after it opened, Tartine Bakery in the Graduate Hotel on Durant Avenue closed up shop. The hotel ended its contract with Tartine citing ‘business decline’ and ‘COVID-19,’ according to an Instagram post by tartineunion, a group of employees who have been pushing, with some success, to unionize the bakery’s 150 or so Bay Area employees. They called the news “heartbreaking.” Many loyal customers no doubt agreed.
Trattoria La Siciliana
After 23 years serving a loyal clientele in the Elmwood, the D’Alo family closed Trattoria La Siciliana on College Avenue in September due, they said, to high rent and a COVID-unfriendly dining space. The good news is that the family went all in at sister restaurant Agrodolce. Consolidating at the North Shattuck restaurant was the obvious choice because of its full bar, outdoor seating area, and — once eating indoors can resume — massive dining room.