A local restaurant is seeking a small business loan from the city of Berkeley after more than four decades of operation.
Le Bateau Ivre, or the Drunken Boat, rallied community support through its IndieGoGo crowdfunding page starting in September. After the campaign failed to raise its $60,000 target, restaurant proprietor Arlene Giordano applied for a loan from the city to renovate the property and appliances.
The Drunken Boat has been struggling to stay in business since the sudden death of Giordano’s husband Thomas Cooper in 2008, just as the economy began to crash. Worried that the restaurant was facing closure, Giordano said she confided in friend and longtime customer Joor Baruah about the business’ financial difficulties. Baruah spearheaded the “keep our boat afloat” crowdfunding effort, but by the November deadline, the campaign had only raised about a quarter of its goal.
“People gave what they could and that made me feel good,” Giordano said. “A lot of people gave a little bit.”
A loan from the city could offer the restaurant about $35,000 for repairs and enhancements. The money would first go to replacing the restaurant’s 40-year-old stoves, Giordano said, and the walk-in refrigerator that hasn’t been updated since it was built by her husband in 1973.
Located at the intersection of Telegraph Avenue and Carleton Street since 1972, much of the property has been maintained in its original state. Old photographs of Giordano and Cooper are displayed in a glass cabinet near the entrance. In one black and white snapshot, Cooper’s beloved ‘57 Chevy is parked in front of the restaurant. The same truck sits on the side of the property today.
Giordano said she and Cooper met in a Berkeley coffee shop when she was 23 and he was 30. Cooper was working on BART construction when he hurt his back.
“So he said, ‘Do you want to start a restaurant?’” Giordano said. “And I said sure, because I just wanted to be with him.”
In March 1972 they opened as a coffee shop. Within a year they started serving lunches and dinners, with a menu inspired by the French community that populated the area at the time.
Giordano said that in her time as owner she’s seen two generations of customers grow up. Baruah said that it would be more profitable for Giordano to just sell the restaurant, but she said she didn’t want to rent it out.
“It means a lot to a lot of people,” she said. “My husband and I had no experience. We did it out of love of people and now to provide a place for people that have been coming for years.”
Giordano said she is anticipating a decision from the city by March.