‘It’s all worth it’: A look into family-owned businesses in Berkeley

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David Rodriguez/Staff

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Despite rising rent costs and widening income gaps, Berkeley is home to many family-owned businesses.

These businesses may be family-owned restaurants spanning across generations or shops that originated from the owners’ interests — all of the businesses have their own unique stories to tell.

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Dandelion Harris and her husband, Jerry Harris, own two stores in Berkeley: skate shop 510 Skateboarding and contemporary lifestyle store Bows and Arrows, which features sneakers, clothing and obscure streetwear.

510 Skateboarding was founded in 1998. Dandelion Harris said she believed Telegraph Avenue was a central location for skateboarders. She added that while the store has been remodeled and new brands have been added, the core idea of the business as a skateboard shop has not changed.

“(510 Skateboarding is) a place that’s a community hub for skateboarders,” Dandelion Harris said. “It’s more than a store, honestly — it’s a meetup place for all skateboarders.”

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Arlene Giordano has called Berkeley home for her business, Le Bateau Ivre, or the Drunken Boat, for many years. She and her late husband, Thomas Cooper, opened Le Bateau Ivre in 1972. According to Giordano, Le Bateau Ivre is a French-Mediterranean and “French-Californian” restaurant.

For 46 years, the restaurant has remained mostly the same, Giordano said. She added that Le Bateau Ivre started as a place where people could gather and her husband could play the music he likes.

When asked what she liked most about the city, Giordano said, “The diversity of the people. It’s not a sterile monoculture — Berkeley’s got a nice range of everything.”

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Other businesses have long histories spanning multiple generations. One such business is KC’s BBQ, a family-owned Southern barbecue restaurant. In 1968, KC’s Bar-B-Que was opened by the grandfather of Kristen Davis, the current owner.

Davis said her grandfather wanted to create an opportunity to support his family, and has instilled the idea of entrepreneurship in the Davis family ever since. She added that her grandfather grew up in the city — having attended Berkeley High School — and is currently 85 years old.

In February 2017, a fire burned down the original location, where the business spent more than 49 years, according to Kristen Davis — she added that her family spent the rest of 2017 looking for a location. The restaurant reopened in June.

“We are super excited to still be a part of the Berkeley community,” Kristen Davis said. “We hope to remain here for the next 50 years and even more.”

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Deepak Singh opened the first Kathmandu Imports in 1985 and has since expanded the Kathmandu brand to four locations. Daryn Singh, Deepak Singh’s son, has taken over for his father and runs the chain with his brother, Daniel Singh, so the chain remains a family-run business. Originally from Nepal, Deepak Singh said he had always wanted to own a business. He added that Berkeley is “diversity city” and he wanted to show Berkeley his culture, food and art.

Deepak Singh later opened Kathmandu Restaurant in Albany in 1994. According to Daryn Singh, the restaurant features homestyle Nepalese food and family recipes. The restaurant will celebrate its 25th anniversary in April 2019.

“Growing up, I’ve always been passionate about this business,” Daryn Singh said. “I am glad I have the opportunity to share my culture, especially in Berkeley, where people are willing to learn and are open-minded. I think that’s what makes Berkeley special.”

Although their businesses have run for decades, Kristen Davis, Dandelion Harris and Giordano all noted several financial challenges to keeping a business running in Berkeley.

According to Kristen Davis, the biggest challenge for KC’s BBQ was finding a location that was affordable and fit the needs of a barbecue restaurant.

Giordano noted that high payroll costs, taxes and various regulations make it hard for people to run small businesses.

Regardless, these business owners consider Berkeley the home of their respective businesses.

“Overhead is very high, rent is expensive, payroll is expensive — (but) there are a lot of pros,” Harris said. “We love Berkeley and the people, so it’s all worth it.”

Contact Suryan Bhatia at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @BhatiaSuryan.