Increased rent, expenditures lead Smart Alec’s to close after over 20 years

Priyanka Karthikeyan/Staff

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After serving healthy fast food to the Berkeley community for more than two decades, Smart Alec’s Intelligent Food on the corner of Durant and Telegraph avenues permanently shut its doors Monday.

A popular eatery among UC Berkeley students for its inexpensive healthy options, casual atmosphere and proximity to campus, the restaurant put up signs on its windows informing the community of its closure, reading, “Thank you Berkeley for the many good years. Regretfully, we are out of business.”

Smart Alec’s founder Alex Popov ran the restaurant for almost 15 years before selling his business in 2010. He later started his third venture Pappy’s Grill and Sports Bar in the same building in 2011.

“It actually is very sad personally to see Smart Alec’s close because it was my first restaurant in Berkeley, but we are continuing many of the wonderful things about Smart Alec’s at Pappy’s,” Popov said. “In some ways, Smart Alec’s still lives on but just in a different form and a different location.”

Because the lease for Smart Alec’s is set to expire soon, Popov said the owner decided to close the restaurant because of increased rent, excess competition and increasing restaurant expenditures.

“We are struggling as well. The rent is way too high, they increase the minimum wages, all the expenses are over the line and the (campus) … keep everything inside of their school and they don’t promote our business outside,” said Danilo Bosio, owner of nearby Julie’s Café on Bancroft Way.

Julie’s Café may need to move out of its current location in the future, Bosio said, because the building was recently sold to build a mixed-use complex.

“It’s sad to see any long-term establishment of Berkeley go,” said Sharad Singh, assistant manager at Cafe Durant. “Something new might come up that’s fancy, flashier … but I think people in Berkeley see beyond a flashy logo or a global chain.”

The closing down of Smart Alec’s has already compelled UC Berkeley students to hunt for a similar replacement close to campus.

“I was absolutely shocked and saddened when I saw that Smart Alec’s was shutting down,” said campus senior Alven Wang. “I probably went there around three to four times a month and regularly ordered the sesame chicken salad.”

Wang was initially drawn to Smart Alec’s because of its wide TV screen that always played sports and its large glass windows with views of the street activity.

“I would get veggie burgers or clam chowder with corn bread for less than $5,” said campus junior Sooji Yang. “And they gave free fries for As on exams.”

Popov’s fourth venture is a beer garden and restaurant called Cornerstone that will open at the end of this year at 2367 Shattuck Ave.

Contact Parth Vohra at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @ParthVohra622.

A previous version of this article failed to disclose that Sooji Yang and the author, Parth Vohra, are members of the same professional fraternity.