Reconstruction slow for popular restaurants destroyed by fire

Yuqing Jiang/File

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Students and community members who have waited 10 months for the reopening of two of Telegraph Avenue’s most popular eateries may have to wait a little longer.

Since Cafe Intermezzo and Raleigh’s Bar & Grill were lost in the Nov. 18 fire that consumed the 39-unit apartment building at 2441 Haste St., plans for reconstruction have been presented and abandoned, including a never-realized proposal in February to establish temporary tent structures at the now-empty site.

Mary Lynn Kirk, the daughter of Kenneth and sister of Gregory Ent — the owners of the empty lot where the building once stood — asked the Berkeley City Council at its Tuesday meeting to keep the city’s affordable housing mitigation fee from applying to the site’s future reconstruction, fearing that the fee would expand the cost of rebuilding for the Ents. The council is scheduled to vote on the fee on Oct. 16.

“(The family is) not deep pocket developers,” Kirk said at the meeting. “It’s not new construction, it’s replacement.”

Kirk said her family wants to move forward with rebuilding “as soon as possible,” but the fee issue is part of what is holding up the process.

Kenneth and Gregory Ent could not be reached directly for comment.

City spokesperson Mary Kay Clunies-Ross said property owners Kenneth and Greg Ent have not brought forth plans or sought permits since a temporary tent structure was proposed on the lot last spring.

“From the very beginning, after the fire, we’ve had our building and safety folks working with them,” Clunies-Ross said. “They’ve put forward a couple of ideas, and we talked through those ideas. We approved permits for one possible idea and they decided to go a different direction.”

Economic Development Project Coordinator Dave Fogarty, who has been in contact with the Ents throughout their planning stages, said the decision to stall construction was not the city’s but the owners.

“After they thought about doing temporary restaurants, they decided it would be better to accelerate the planning on a replacement building and not spend the money on the tents,” he said.

But for many loyal customers, reconstruction of the restaurants cannot come fast enough.

“(Cafe Intermezzo) was something I would go out of my way for,” said UC Berkeley junior Polly Chen. “It just had a taste to it that was really unique. The portions were always so huge that you just had to share with someone, and it was always so packed.”

Though the restaurants are missed, Telegraph Avenue continues to produce new and familiar offerings for students — a welcoming change considering the economic slump many businesses in the area experienced following the fire.

After months of being shut down, Thai Noodle II reopened its doors last Friday after suffering damages to the front of the building during the November fire.

“The building was ruined over the years and (the owner) did a full seismic upgrade,” said Kirk Peterson, the architect who helped reconstruct the restaurant.

Michael Caplan, the city’s Economic Development Manager, said the city is currently working to support businesses who are struggling in the area.

“With a little TLC, the district could be one of the most vital districts around,” Caplan said. “There’s no reason that it can’t be a great urban neighborhood that attracts a lot of people.”

Contact Ally Rondoni at [email protected]