After months of trying to forestall the inevitable — of negotiations with Alameda County health inspectors, aborted architectural plans, and last-ditch fundraising campaigns — Jodie's Restaurant (902 Masonic Ave., Albany) has announced that its last day of business will be Saturday, June 14.
The decision comes on the heels of a health department ultimatum that the restaurant install a new hood ventilation system by June 16 or shut down. Lacking the funds for the new system, the owners said they have no choice but to close the restaurant. They'll now begin the search for a new location.
The tiny, family-owned spot has served one of the best greasy-spoon breakfasts in the Bay Area since it first opened at its current location, tucked under a BART overpass in Albany, 25 years ago. As I wrote in my review of Jodie's last year, owner Jodie Royston and his grandson, Charles Garrison, excel at inspired, but unpretentious, riffs on traditional American fare: crispy hash browns, drool-worthy Eggs Benedict, and English muffins grilled to a perfect golden-brown.
But the business has faced serious challenges for the past several years, starting with a 2011 health department ruling that Jodie's could no longer serve fried chicken — the restaurant's most popular item — because there wasn't room in the kitchen to prep the meat on site. (It turned out that Royston had been the prepping the chicken at home.)
Sherrylyn Larkins, Royston's daughter, said that while the business has remained viable without the chicken, it hasn't been nearly as profitable. Meanwhile, the health department began pressuring the restaurant to complete a series of other repairs and building upgrades — a process that prompted various "Save Jodie's" campaigns, but that culminated with last week's ultimatum from the health department.
While the restaurant could, in theory, still be saved if the owners came up with the money to install the hood, Larkins explained that the renovation project would also trigger health department mandates for a number of other upgrades, including the installation of a hand-washing sink and a handicapped-accessible bathroom. Given how old and beat-up the building is, it's hard to know what other problems they would find once they started looking. It would be like a "multiple-car crash," Larkins said.
The situation is also complicated by the fact that the Roystons don't have a long-term lease, so they fear they could put in tens of thousands of dollars into a major renovation project only to find out months later that they have to leave the building anyway.
And so, the search for a new location now begins. Larkins told Berkeleyside Nosh that the family is also open to the idea of converting Jodie's into a food truck. But much of the restaurant's charm is tied to the tight confines of its six-stool counter, where young and old sit shoulder to shoulder, eating up the tasty, unpretentious food and Royston's steady patter of small talk and corny jokes. It has always been an easy place to make a new friend.
Suffice it to say that I'm hoping that Jodie's finds a new home sooner rather than later — preferably one with a kitchen hood already installed. In the meantime, donors, prospective investors, and anyone with a lead on a promising location can reach the owners of Jodie's at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Grab-and-Go Taiwanese Coming to Uptown
Uptown Oakland is getting a Taiwanese restaurant after all: Just months after Allison Chen, the owner of Pi Dan Noodle House (412 22nd St.), died unexpectedly, bringing an end to her dream of opening a Taiwanese noodle shop in Oakland, new owners have taken over the half-finished space. They plan to open it as a fast-casual restaurant called Taiwan Bento.
The project is the brainchild of Stacy Tang, a former tech worker and a longtime home cook, and her husband, Willy Wang. Tang, the chef, has never worked in a professional kitchen before, but cooking has always been, in her words, "the simplest way I can share my love and my heart with my friends."
While Pi Dan was conceived as more of a sit-down restaurant, Taiwan Bento will be loosely modeled after the kind of inexpensive lunchbox, or bian dang, shop that you can find on almost every street corner in Taipei, where Tang lived until she moved to the US just two years ago. But Tang said that Taiwan Bento will serve healthier, less greasy versions of popular lunchbox staples.
To start out, the restaurant will be open for lunch only, and will have a streamlined menu with just four options. The showpiece dish will be Tang's take on Taiwanese noodle soup — an intriguing version that features fermented bean curd and an assortment of Chinese herbs. She'll also serve lu rou fan (braised minced pork over rice), a marinated and roasted chicken leg over rice, and, for vegetarians, a salad with a choice of different house-made dressings.
Prices will be moderate — $7 to $9 for a full meal that will include an entrée and side dishes, Wang said. There will also be an emphasis on speed, as the lunchboxes will either be prepared every morning or quickly packed up to order. That's an aspect of the business that the owners are betting will be a big draw for nearby office workers, especially since even sandwich shops in the area often take ten minutes or longer to fill an order.
Tang and Wang hope to open the restaurant by late July. Until then, Tang is getting a crash course on the restaurant biz: She's been interning two nights a week at nearby Picán, under chef Sophina Uong's tutelage, and will continue to do so until Taiwan Bento opens.