Elmwood restaurant La Méditerranée goes on sale after 36 years of operation

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The Berkeley location of La Méditerranée, or Cafe La Med, a Middle Eastern and Mediterranean-style restaurant in the Elmwood neighborhood, is for sale after 36 years of business.

Cousins Garbis Baghdassarian and Levon Der Bedrossian opened the 2936 College Ave. location in 1982, according to the Cafe La Med website. The chain has two other restaurants in San Francisco, as well as a catering business.

Baghdassarian, who manages the Berkeley location and is in his 70s, said he is selling the restaurant because he wants to retire, but he hopes it continues to be a Middle Eastern and Mediterranean restaurant.

“I need to retire,” he said. Of course it’s bittersweet. …. I have a lot of other projects. I want to travel.”

Baghdassarian said he values Elmwood having a diverse food scene and wants to ensure it still has a Middle Eastern presence, adding that they have a customer base that expects Middle Eastern food from the location.

“Whenever a restaurant came and duplicated something, I was unhappy because I wanted something new in Elmwood,” Baghdassarian said.

Both customers and employees said they were sad about the sale of the business, which is a well-loved spot in the Elmwood area.

Allen Flemming, a Cafe La Med customer for 25 years who said he wrote his graduate school thesis at a table in the restaurant, said La Med is the “loving soul” of Berkeley.

“I understand why he’s selling it, but it’s sad. I hope the person that buys it will continue the history of this place,” Flemming said. “It’s got this peace in here that you don’t really get on the rest of the avenue.”

Baghdassarian said the staff is “like family” — many of the employees have worked there for over a decade — and he hopes the new owner will employ some of the current staff.

Hugo Lastra, a server who has worked at the restaurant for eight years, said he loves working at the restaurant and will really miss the customers.

“I know almost all the customers, and the customers know me,” Lastra said. “The people make my day everyday.”

Several employees said Baghdassarian created a community at Cafe La Med. Assistant manager Beatriz Muñez started working at the restaurant 20 years ago when she was 16.

“The owner makes you feel like you’re at home,” Muñez said. “When you work, you feel like you’re part of the team. It makes me feel really comfortable.”

Muñez added that she is sad, but that “it’s time for a change” for her too. Lastra said Baghdassarian is someone you can talk to about anything and “really count” on as a friend.

“It’s hard for us,” Lastra said. “All of us are really, really sad.”

Contact Ronit Sholkoff at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @RonitSholkoff.