‘A bedrock in the community’: KC’s BBQ disputes notice of violation for outdoor smoker

Red building with a white sign that reads "KC's BBW".
Matthew Gibson /File

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KC’s BBQ is fighting a notice of violation from the city of Berkeley to cease and desist from using their outdoor smoker, an order that was issued after the city conducted several inspections in response to complaints from neighbors about the smoke.

Kristen Davis, the owner of the restaurant, filed an appeal against the city’s notice, which was issued Dec. 7, 2018, and said she hopes to continue using a smoker on the premises.

“Our entire business deal with the restaurant that was previously in this space was contingent on the city approving the smoker,” Davis said. “A few neighbors have said that KC’s BBQ is outputting this toxic smoke, and I feel like we are being somewhat attacked because we are an easy target.”

The restaurant, which was opened by Davis’s grandfather more than 50 years ago, reopened in June 2018 after a fire damaged the original building in West Berkeley. The new location at 1235 San Pablo Ave. encountered neighbor objections at its outset.

On Jan. 12, 2018, neighbor Paul Mansdorf sent a letter to the City of Berkeley objecting to KC’s BBQ’s new location for many reasons, including the “strong odors” that the smoker would cause. Mansdorf also wrote that the neighborhood already had enough restaurants, alleging that additional food odors would prove to be a nuisance.

KC’s BBQ received its first complaint regarding the smoker about three and a half weeks after opening its new location, according to Davis. Between June 2018 and August 2018, about five neighbors complained.

In response to the complaints, KC’s BBQ was inspected frequently between August 2018 and October 2018 by several city departments, including health, fire and environmental departments.

“We had several visits from numerous departments in the city of Berkeley and never once got a violation. We were never told there could be an issue with the smoke,” Davis said. “We took it upon ourselves to add an additional fan and filtration system and a taller smoke stack to decrease the output of smoke.”

City spokesperson Matthai Chakko could not be reached for comment as of press time.

In response to the city’s notice, Black Women Organized for Political Action, or BWOPA, an organization that advocates for Black women in politics, created a petition to urge the city to rescind the notice of violation. The online petition has garnered 7,348 signatures as of press time.

“It’s a business that’s been a bedrock in the community for so long and we (have to) let the city council know that we care about this business,” said LaNiece Jones, executive director of BWOPA. “We definitely want the small business to be able to feel comfortable so that they can get back to doing business and their livelihood.”

Jones emphasized that part of the impetus behind fighting the cease and desist notice is standing up for a local, Black-owned business. Many of the comments on the petition frame the complaints and notice as part of a larger pattern of gentrification adversely impacting many similar longtime establishments. The petition’s description alleges that barring KC’s from using their smoker would effectively “shut down their business, (as) the smoker is essentially their only way to BBQ.”

Billy Singh, owner of Narain’s Outdoor Sewing and Repairs next door to KC’s, attested to the minimal amounts of smoke he observes coming from KC’s smoker. Singh said that though he leaves his shop’s doors open, smoke odor “isn’t a big issue” and he disagrees with the notice of violation.

“It’s a food place,” Singh said. “There’s going to be a smell here and there.”

Davis said the notice of violation has been hard on her small business, especially in light of the recent fire, which prompted the restaurant to move.

“This restaurant is our livelihood, and our legacy has been in Berkeley for 50 years,” Davis said. “We want to continue to be open to the neighborhood.”

Contact Brandon Yung and Maya Akkaraju at [email protected].