Berkeley burger joint The Smokehouse to remain closed for at least 6 months after fire

Outside view of the closed Smokehouse restaurant
Daniela Cervantes/Staff

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Update 2/25/19: This article has been updated to reflect additional information from city spokesperon Matthai Chakko.

Historic Berkeley burger restaurant The Smokehouse is projected to remain closed for at least another six months after a fire that damaged the restaurant’s kitchen area.

The restaurant’s flue caught fire Feb. 14 about 5:30 p.m., initially unnoticed by customers and employees. A passer-by walking his dog reported the fire to Berkeley Fire Department, which arrived on the scene four minutes later.

“It went down the best way that it could,” said Smokehouse general manager Shakaib Shaghasi.

BFD spokesperson Keith May said in an email that the fire was contained to the flue and duct system, adding that the “roof was intact” during the initial investigation. Commenting on the specific repairs that will be needed because of the fire, May said the flue system will need to be either replaced or repaired and inspected before The Smokehouse can reopen.

Given that the fire was quickly contained, Shaghasi said his biggest concern now is the potentially lengthy process of reopening. Construction is projected to take only two months, but according to Shaghasi, the business must first resubmit city permits for “everything,” including the floor plan. Permitting is estimated to take four months, which means the restaurant is slated to open in six months, at best.

According to city spokesperson Matthai Chakko, in the event of a fire, BFD sends a “fire incident report” to the city Building and Safety division, which then inspects the building and sends a report to the owner specifying which documents need to be provided to in order to receive certain permits.

At that point, it’s up to the owner to submit the required documents,” Chakko said. “Once they do submit, we make an effort to prioritize the checking of those documents.”

He added that once the documents are approved, the owner may begin repairs on the structure.

The Smokehouse dates back to 1951, when it was founded by Jean Kistner before being sold to Shaghasi’s mother in 1999. The restaurant has remained under the management of his family since then.

Shaghasi voiced his optimism regarding the reconstruction. Business started picking up in 2015, he said, which means the space often gets crowded. He added with a smile that the owners intend to “take advantage of the remodel.”

“(We) might as well redesign the kitchen and make it last another 60 years,” Shaghasi said.

The biggest delay at this point could be the permit process, Shaghasi said. In 2017, private consulting group Zucker Systems evaluated the city Department of Planning and Development and identified more than a hundred recommendations to streamline permitting and application processes, but the recommendations have yet to be fully implemented.

“We fear the city will take a long time,” Shaghasi said.

The city released a survey Jan. 16 soliciting feedback from community members regarding the efficiency of the permit process, whether it be online or in person. The survey will collect anonymous responses to be reported and used in the city Department of Planning and Development and presented to Berkeley City Council.

Shaghasi described The Smokehouse’s reopening as in the best interest of both the restaurant and the city, adding that the quicker The Smokehouse reopens, the sooner the city will be able to generate more revenue from the restaurant.

“When there’s a natural disaster or a fire, our interest is in helping those property owners get back on their feet as quickly as possible,” Chakko said.

Contact Sasha Langholz at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @LangholzSasha‏.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the city released a survey Feb. 19 to solicit feedback from community members regarding the efficiency of the permit process. In fact, the city released the survey Jan. 16.