2 of Berkeley’s French restaurants come to a close

Heather Feibleman/Staff

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After the recent closure of Le Petit Cochon Feb. 5, another one of Berkeley’s French restaurants — Bistro Liaison — is set to follow suit in the coming months, as first reported by Berkeleyside.

Bistro Liaison will be replaced by Les Arceaux, another French-inspired establishment, while Brazil Cafe will move into the building where Le Petit Cochon was located. Bistro Liaison is tentatively set to close in late March, and Les Arceaux is expected to open around September.

“It’s time for change,” said Todd Kniess, owner of both Bistro Liaison and Le Petit Cochon. “We had a very good run here, but it’s becoming more and more difficult to be a restaurant owner here in the Bay Area.”

Kniess said two other nearby businesses featuring French cuisineCafe Rouge on 4th Street and another restaurant in Albanyhave recently closed or been sold. In the meantime, chain restaurants such as Sweetgreen, Paris Baguette and 85°C Bakery Cafe have been moving into Berkeley.

Kniess chose to open Bistro Liaison at 1849 Shattuck Ave. 16 years ago because Berkeley was well-known for its independent restaurants.

Over time, however, the cost of doing business in Berkeley has become increasingly unsustainable, Kniess said. The bistro has had difficulties paying its very large service staff while maintaining  prices at a rate that is a “good value for the customer, ” he added.

“It’s a tragedy — it’s the only restaurant of its kind in East (Bay),” said David Wilson, a South Berkeley resident who frequents Bistro Liaison.

Wilson said he finds that a lot of French restaurants can be snobby, but he believed this not to be the case with Bistro Liaison.

Rena Ramirez, publicist for Les Arceaux, said the new restaurant will be colorful and airy and its menu will feature organic vegetables and fresh produce. Wilson said he is willing to try out Les Arceaux when it arrives.

“Le Petit Cochon and Bistro Liaison are part of a whole industry trend,” said Arlene Giordano, owner of Le Bateau Ivre, a French restaurant on Telegraph Avenue. Rising rent and prices have been driving other East Bay restaurants out of business as well, according to Giordano.

Russell Bass, management associate of Le Bateau Ivre, said one of the reasons the restaurant has stayed in business is because they own the building in which it is located. He noted that he does not think the restaurant could stay in business if they had to pay rent.

Kniess said the city should start listening to restaurant owners before they lose more independent restaurants.

Berkeley is going to see many of their great restaurants close in the next five years,” Kniess said. “I hope that the City Council and mayor will finally open up their eyes and see what they’re doing to their community. … I doubt they will.”

Contact Jessíca Jiménez at [email protected].

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  • Robbin Noir

    Real estate pimping is theft. It is theft from the community, blocking people who actually provide products and services from being able to pay living wages to employees, offer the highest quality of product and service to their customers – all so that a landlord can profit enormously. Most often this landlord is an absentee landlord and/or corporation. It is not just restaurants, it is many businesses. So glad to finally see this being discussed, as it is firmly attached to inflated housing costs. Notice that there have never been tenants in the retail spaces under the newer apartment complexes with their $2400+ tiny one bedrooms? Everything is overpriced in real estate, especially for what businesses or residents get for the price. We need vacancy penalties, just for a start.

  • justiceplease

    I’m glad this article highlights that the problem is rent. There is a kneejerk tendency to blame workers for needing a living wage (hey,the workers have to pay rent, too!) and the expansion of benefits like health care and sick leave. I believe if a business can’t sustain the livelihood of its workers, it shouldn’t exist at all. The fair and humane treatment of human beings should be our concern before our access to French food.

    That said, I believe Chez Panisse only survived because they owned their own building. It seems like ownership stabilizes communities, while rent destroys them. Perhaps there should be policies to help both businesses and residents to aim for property ownership…? I think even the most market-obsessed libertarians realize why we take certain necessities like water and energy out of the free market. We need to start considering housing as a necessity and create a stable environment for small businesses and nonprofits. The free market is a game, and we don’t want to play a game with human lives.

    • flashsteve

      You didn’t read the article, did you? The owner said he had increasing problems paying his staff….code words for government imposed minimum wage hikes…as long as politicians and bureaucrats insert themselves into the work of entrepreneurs, workers will suffer.

      • justiceplease

        That was the restaurant owner trying to talk in code, not the overall tone of the article.

        The reply to this sort of code should always be then why do *you* deserve to have enough income to live on, to have health benefits, to take off days when you’re sick, etc. There is an amazing presumption of inequality in this country: not just meritocracy, but outright aristocracy where some people think they deserve to be inserted at a higher level just because they are their sparkling shiny selves.

        • flashsteve

          I suspect, by the tone of your reply, that you and I have a basic disagreement on economics. I believe in essentially free market capitalism, with government controls on safety, pollution, abuse of employees, etc. It is not a perfect system, but I believe it does the best job of maintaining a healthy economy. There are ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ in such an economy, meaning some people make more money than others. My experience as a small business owner where I had to lay off marginal employees (not so productive), when minimum wage went too high, leads me to dislike imposed, economically unrealistic minimum wages. Those people were just not ‘worth’ $15 an hour. They were worth $12; now they are unemployed.

          • justiceplease

            We do agree on the basics, though I have one point to make about the unemployed person. They may have been working marginally if $12 wasn’t enough for them to get by, yet they had mixed feelings about quitting. For employees in the Bay Area, there may be no technical difference between $12 and $15 if they can’t make rent with either.
            I once quit a job that involved mailing items: I was paid out of a percentage of the sales. Wrapping boxes took me a while, and when I worked it out, I was being paid $1/hour. When I told the person who “hired” me that I would do that anymore, he informed me that $1 was better than nothing, and at least it was work rather than being unemployed. But no matter how poor you are, you might find some dignity in deciding you’re time is worth more than $1/hr.
            Politically, I support a “mincome”. I don’t believe the “losers” of capitalism should be deprived of all resources for survival, and our need-based social services model is bureaucratically cumbersome and torture for the recipients.

          • flashsteve

            One assumption that I disagree with is that the minimum wage should also be a family wage, capable of supporting one than one person. I earned minimum wage in Berkeley, but I also had three roommates. I didn’t get my own place until my income went up significantly. And, I would never have considered having kids until either I earned much bigger money, or was married to someone who also worked above minimum wage.

          • justiceplease

            I agree with your point on family wages, though my reasoning is different. I believe women should have an independent livelihood, and “family wages” tend to go to men. Also there are better social services (“survivable” social services) for families: this is not-so-subtle pressure for single women to shack up instead of finding a way to support themselves. I believe resources should be maximized toward empowering single women, so they don’t have to get married if they don’t want to.

            This is probably the least popular opinion I have. You don’t want to oppose unified moms! XD. I’ll make up for it by saying Berkeley needs to produce more family housing.

          • Robbin Noir

            Flashsteve- the majority of jobs now are minimum wage. Back when you were a wee one, things were different – and rents were far, far lower in relationship to people’s wages. I had a friend who rented a studio in Montclair in the 1980’s for $150 a month. How does that look in more recent terms?

          • Robbin Noir

            Flashsteve- overhead is the Basics 101 of running a business. And yet you manage to exclude rent in your equation. Why should the landlord- who does not do squat (build the building with his/her own hands, maintain & clean it, etc) get top tier in the money flow, but the people who make the business run, do the work, make it lively & attractive – are supposed to sup at hind nipple?

          • flashsteve

            You clearly gave never been a landlord. I used to manage eight single-family houses. Constant repair and maintenance, dealing with flake/criminal tenants, and the realities of a down market, when real estate went down nearly 50%, as did rents. It is the nature of capitalism, and the risk therein.

      • Robbin Noir

        Flashsteve– Duh- if he was not getting reamed on rent, perhaps he could pay the employees without going over budget– ya think?

  • Adam Klyce

    I’m not a landlord so I can’t really understand their POV, but who is going to take these vacant spots all over the place? Why increase rent if you end up with a vacant space as a result?

    • Robbin Noir

      Tax write offs & money laundering.