Chez Panisse to reopen Monday after March fire

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Sean Connors/Staff

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Berkeley’s world-renowned gourmet restaurant Chez Panisse will reopen its doors Monday, almost four months after its building was damaged in a March 8 fire.

The fire, which damaged the restaurant’s electrical and plumbing systems, cost between $150,000 and $200,000 in repairs, temporarily closing the restaurant and forcing the cancellation of reservations. The fire was reported to have started under the front porch, burning the face of the restaurant.

“We had both porches taken off the building and had them rebuilt,” said general manager Jennifer Sherman. Other improvements include fire code upgrades to prevent future accidents as well as minor changes to the cafe menu, according to Sherman.

New architectural features of Chez Panisse include a gabled roof that replaced the previous flat roof and allows the upstairs cafe to look more open and connect to the downstairs dining room without steps. The building also features new stained glass windows and covers up metal supports with recycled wood.

General contractor Gene DeSmidt, who oversaw the design of the newly reconstructed Chez Panisse, calls the new style “a marriage between the (American) Craftsman style and Shinto.”

“It’s a new restaurant with the same feel inside,” DeSmidt said.

DeSmidt and Kip Mesirow, who designed the original Chez Panisse building 30 years ago, planned the new building from the ground up. DeSmidt said they worked quickly to reopen the restaurant and bring back the 120 employees who previously worked there.

“We’ve been going at lightning speed to get the new building done,” DeSmidt said. “Fifteen contractors were called in to work at one point.”

On Friday, the restaurant reopened for the day to host an annual spring fundraiser supporting The Edible Schoolyard Project, a nonprofit organization started in 1996 by Chez Panisse owner and executive chef Alice Waters. The fundraiser, which is hosted annually on the restaurant’s April anniversary, was delayed by the fire.

The Edible Schoolyard Project aims to educate children on the importance of healthy eating and environmental sustainability. It offers cooking and gardening lessons at public schools.

Prices for the fundraiser were set at $1,000 for each guest in the second-floor cafe during lunch and $2,500 for each guest in the restaurant’s main dining room during dinner, according to the Chez Panisse website. Music, dancing and wine accompanied the dining.

Contact Lydia Tuan at [email protected]

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