Restaurant owners voice concerns over relaxing quotas

Kore Chan/Staff

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After hearing numerous concerns from local restaurant owners at its meeting Tuesday night, the Berkeley City Council decided to defer voting on a contentious item that would expand the number of restaurants that can operate on Telegraph Avenue.

Restaurant owners voiced concerns that if the quota were relaxed, other restaurants would enter an already competitive environment, which would hurt their businesses. Multiple restaurant owners, including those of Gypsy’s Trattoria Italiana and Pappy’s Grill and Sports Bar, spoke at the meeting in opposition to removing the system.

“I strongly disagree with the proposal,” said Jahanshah Jowharchi, owner of Gypsy’s. “Our restaurant has suffered tremendously in the last two years … Many of us are going out of business due to overpopulation of restaurants.”

Currently, the city has quotas limiting the number of businesses, such as restaurants, barber shops and gift shops, that operate in the Telegraph commercial area. The proposal, if approved, would relax the restaurant quota system for the next three years.

Alex Popov, manager of Pappy’s, initiated a petition against removing the quota system. He also created the Telegraph Restaurant Association last week to voice the sentiments of local restaurant owners.

Thai Basil, CREAM and La Burrita are among 34 local restaurants that have signed the petition in favor of keeping the quotas.

“When I explained to (business owners) the issue, especially to those who are mom and pops, they said, ‘How are we going to survive if this passes?’” Popov said. “(Even) talking to nonfood businesses — they are concerned.”

Yet other business owners, such as Craig Becker of Caffe Mediterraneum — who is also president of the Telegraph Business Improvement District — think the quotas have done more harm than good.

“I think the government has a big role in making any commercial district successful, but I just don’t think that the quotas are the right way to go about it,” Becker said.

Due to time constraints, the council did not debate the restaurant quota matter and decided not to approve it at this time.

“If they would have taken a vote last night, we would have prevailed,” Popov said. “The fact that we didn’t get everything done in one meeting is not that big of a deal, but as long as we’re continuing to have Telegraph in the spotlight … It might take a long time, but as long as we’re looking at ways to improve the business district.”

The City Council voted, in one motion, to adopt of a number of the other items pertaining to Telegraph, such as looking into the financial impact of converting Bancroft Way and Durant Avenue into two-way streets and of creating parklets.

Gladys Rosario covers academics and administration. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @gladysrosario93.