History has a tendency to repeat itself in Berkeley. Imagine if Telegraph Avenue did the same thing on a microcosmic level: We could have two vacant lots positioned opposite one another (each with little hope for new construction) along with two age-old record stores (both experiencing waning business over the last decade) just one block apart. And we could take it further: We could build two ice cream shops directly across from each other at the intersection of Telegraph and Channing Way. This vision could be the future if Rasputin Music and Blondie’s Pizza owner Ken Sarachan gets his Dream.
Sarachan has submitted an application to the city to build an organic ice cream shop called Dream, which will be housed inside of Rasputin. The store, which would have a takeout window opening out into Channing Way, would sit directly across the intersection from existing ice cream and cookie sandwich shop C.R.E.A.M.
Luckily, on May 21, Berkeley City Council decided to postpone approving Sarachan’s application and instead hold a public hearing to receive public input on the matter. The decision came after C.R.E.A.M. put in an appeal, impeding Sarachan’s grand plans. The council made the right decision.
“It is a very confrontational place,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington at the meeting. “If it was in another place, there might not have been issues.”
Sarachan set himself up for confrontation by putting in an application to build his shop across from C.R.E.A.M. Accordingly, C.R.E.A.M. raised a number of concerns with Sarachan’s application, among them that the shop would decrease ADA accessibility and increase the amount of traffic on Channing Way as a result of a takeout window being installed for Dream. Though the Zoning Adjustments Board ultimately found no indication that these concerns would come to fruition, the board only takes into account that a food establishment will be built when making its decision — not the specific kind of food that is to be sold.
In fact, just west of Telegraph, down Durant Avenue, Michelle’s Yogurt and Sweets advertises ice cream sandwiches for $1.50 — $0.50 less than C.R.E.A.M.’s sandwiches. Just across the street from Michelle’s, Yogurt Park advertises daily frozen yogurt flavors with a takeout window open late into the night. Another block over on Telegraph and Bancroft Way, Yogurtland has a variety of flavors and toppings available at affordable prices based on weight. And, two blocks down on Telegraph and Channing, Honeyberry boasts tart frozen yogurt flavors, tapioca drinks and baked goods.
Which is all to say that another ice cream shop in such close proximity to C.R.E.A.M. and its cohorts isn’t just ridiculous — it has little to no chance of succeeding.
“Calling your ice cream takeout ‘Dream’ is very provocative,” said Councilmember Susan Wengraf at the meeting. “You could have named it anything. The motivation for doing that is questionable.”
Provocative, indeed — instead of going for an ordinary name like Sarachan’s Ice Cream or even Rasputin Ice Cream, Sarachan has purposefully chosen a name that rhymes with the one his shop will sit right across from. Competition is one thing, but having a business selling almost the exact same thing with a rhyming name? That’s just too much. Like Wengraf, we also have to wonder what Sarachan is thinking.
At the meeting, Sarachan argued that C.R.E.A.M. has a monopoly on the ice cream business in Berkeley and that he needs the ice cream shop because Rasputin is ailing. Yet by building an almost identical business across the street, Sarachan will encounter the very problem he is trying to escape — another ailing business harmed by the overcompetition of identical stores in close proximity. Why not build the ice cream business in the Blondie’s Pizza building, which Sarachan also owns? Why not build it a block down from Rasputin on his vacant lot at Telegraph Avenue and Haste Street, which has sat empty since a hotel fire in 1990?
“I fear the impact it will have on existing business … (it) does not meet purposes of the district,” said Councilmember Jesse Arreguin at the meeting.
Arreguin’s apprehension rings true. Though the city shouldn’t block Sarachan’s final application, it should make him rethink his business location and name; Southside already has enough takeout ice cream shops. Furthermore, by doing nothing with his existing vacant lot, Sarachan has failed to prove himself to the city. If this new ice cream business fails, what’s to say we won’t have another vacant storefront for another 20 years?