Famous Bao to ‘build a local brand,’ open 2nd location in Downtown Berkeley

Zahira Chaudhry/Staff

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More than a year after opening, Famous Bao, a Chinese restaurant on Durant Avenue, has seen an overwhelming amount of business and is planning to open a second location in Downtown Berkeley on Feb. 25.

UC Berkeley alumnus and Famous Bao owner Francis Sun opened the first Famous Bao location June 1, 2016 in Sather Lane. After considerable growth during the restaurant’s first year, Sun wanted to expand his business to the Downtown Berkeley area. The new location will take over the space previously occupied by Matt & Izzy’s, a sports bar that closed recently.

“After the first year of Famous Bao, our popularity was growing and we were serving more and more people,” Sun said. “Compared to this time last year, we’re serving about 15 to 20 percent more people.”

Sun said the reason for Famous Bao’s expansion is that the current location’s space is no longer sufficient to accommodate the number of customers. According to Sun, the new downtown location is bigger — about 70 to 80 square feet.

Berkeley Law student Rujie Zhou, who was eating lunch at Famous Bao, said, however, that she feels that the new location is not as convenient as the original.

“Maybe I will not go to (the new downtown location) because it’s a little far, and (the Sather Lane location) is close to the law school, so I will come here instead,” Zhou said.

The second location’s menu will feature popular items from the Sather Lane location, but it will also include several new additions, such as hot pot and Chinese barbecue, according to Sun. The downtown location will also serve alcohol, he added.

“We will be offering about three very authentic hot pot dishes: one of them is a spicy hot pot using peppercorns from Sichuan shipped directly for us,” Sun said. “We will also be serving a Beijing-style lamb stew hot pot; you may not find it anywhere else in the Bay Area.”

Additionally, Sun said he wants to make Famous Bao a local, rather than franchised, brand. Though Berkeley has traditionally been highly anti-franchise, more franchised brands are pouring into the city, Sun added.

“As a UC Berkeley graduate, as a Berkeley local, it’s sad when you see those companies are all by franchise,” Sun said. “We want to build a local brand and compete with those franchised locations.”

Sun added that he wants to make Famous Bao more student-oriented besides just being known as a local brand. He is currently looking for spaces in Palo Alto and Davis, which are near Stanford University and UC Davis, respectively, for future Famous Bao locations.

“We will be building a brand that’s recognizable among students,” Sun said. “So wherever there’s a student network, I want them to see a Famous Bao.”

Contact Amanda Yao at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @AmandaJYao.