Even during the pandemic, Rivoli, a 27-year-old Cal-Mediterannean restaurant on the Berkeley-Albany border, was doing well, founders Roscoe Skipper and Wendy Brucker told Nosh last year. Despite that, the restaurant abruptly closed in recent days, and its owner says they don’t know when it might ever reopen.
1539 Solano Ave. (near Nelson Street), Berkeley
All weekend, Nosh’s tipline was flooded by messages from concerned Rivoli patrons, all of whom noted that the restaurant’s website had been edited to say “Due to unforeseen circumstances, Rivoli is closed until further notice.” Callers to its phone line got a similar message, with a friendly voice informing them that the spot is “closed for the foreseeable future.” According to Nosh contributor Anna Mindess, who stopped by Rivoli Sunday, though “there was no note on the door” to indicate the closure, “it seemed that they had started to remove their certificates of honor” and other memorabilia from the restaurant walls.
When contacted by Nosh, owner Blake Peters said that Rivoli is “asking for privacy at this time,” and said that “The restaurant was closed due to a confluence of factors beyond our control.”
“We did not close due to COVID infections of staff or guests,” Peters said, but did not provide any additional information.
The closure, however temporary, is a surprise to Rivoli’s many passionate fans. Speaking to Nosh in November 2020, Skipper and Brucker said that even as their other restaurant, Corso, struggled during the shutdown, “Rivoli was breaking even, at times even making a little money.” The pair shuttered Corso after 12 years in business (it returned, under new ownership, as Via del Corso in June) but kept Rivoli open thanks to a loyal fan base. “Our customer base at Rivoli was very vocal and aggressive about keeping us open,” Skipper told Nosh then. “People would wait on the phone for hours to get through [to order takeout].”
Corso’s struggles had an impact on Rivoli, Skipper said. “Because of what happened at Corso, it drained our financial resources. The PPP loan came and we were doing OK once we closed Corso, but the loan period came due in October, so we couldn’t use that money anymore and we were faced with laying off our managers and operating Rivoli ourselves.”
Citing chronic health issues and their age (both were 62 as of last November), Skipper said that the pair “are too old to” run Rivoli day to day and that “we had to do something else.” So the pair made a deal with their landlord, and passed the business to Peters, who was then Rivoli’s general manager.
The news of the seamless handoff was a relief to fans in the neighborhood and beyond. While in Skipper and Brucker’s hands, the restaurant was a fixture on lists like Michelin’s (where it was awarded a Bib Gourmand) and the SF Chronicle’s Top 100 Restaurants. (“I think of it as Gary Danko on a budget,” Skipper told Nosh in 2011.) While some recent Yelp reviews complain of a decline in quality, diners who spoke to Nosh said that the restaurant has remained virtually unchanged under Peters’ ownership, which makes the sudden closure puzzling.
Also a bit of a puzzle is Peters’ strategy moving forward. “The plan is for Rivoli to return — but we do not know when,” he told Nosh. “We hope to not keep folks waiting,” he said, as “Rivoli is too important to us and to our lovely supporters and guests to be allowed to remain closed for long.”
According to Peters, folks interested in the next incarnation of Rivoli should keep an eye on the restaurant’s website or sign up for its mailing list. According to Peters, “Once we are prepared to share more information, we will do it there.”