Pioneer 'Nuevo Latino' Cafe to Close With Recession

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Hit hard by the shaky economy like many restaurants across the country, Cafe de la Paz, the East Bay's original tapas and 'Nuevo Latino' cafe, will serve its last meal on Jan. 4, ending a 15-year presence in North Berkeley.

Located on the corner of Shattuck Avenue and Cedar Street in the Gourmet Ghetto, the restaurant posted a closing notice on its window and informed customers and friends last Sunday, said owner and CEO Russell Bass.

"The decision just sort of unfolded in the last week or so; we ran out of money and it was not feasible to continue," Bass said. "It was the recession that did us in."

Heather Hensley, executive director of the North Shattuck Association, said that Bass first appealed to investors for a potential partnership and also looked into refinancing, but decided that it "wasn't going to pan out."

"It was somewhat of a shock, but in these times, it doesn't take long for things to go awry in ... restaurants where there's perishable food and you've got staff," Hensley said. "I'm hoping that we won't have others closing in the neighborhood."

The restaurant had modest beginnings, operating for two years in a space at the La Pena Cultural Center in South Berkeley before moving to its current, more upscale location. It was one of the pioneers of tapas and Nuevo Latino cuisine, taking traditional Latin American recipes and adapting them to the California palette.

"Now there's lots of places all over the country that do this, but when we started it, we were the first in the East Bay," Bass said.

Lisah Horner, executive director of the ACCI Gallery Arts and Crafts Cooperative less than a block away, said that the restaurant will be missed for more than its food.

"Cafe de la Paz has been a fixture on Shattuck Avenue and (Bass) has ... been a really good neighbor, a generous neighbor. The food has been excellent that he has always provided us," she said. "It's going to be very sad for his loyal patrons during these unfortunate economic times."

Earlier this year, Cafe de la Paz created Country Joe's Espresso Cafe & Music Hall, adding a theme to its first floor featuring Joe McDonald, a rock and roll and folk artist who lives in the restaurant's neighborhood and is best known for performing at the Woodstock Festival in 1969 and singing an anti-Vietnam War song that was incorporated into the Woodstock movie.

"It seemed like that was a promising turn, there would be more of a nightlife and it was a great addition to the district," Hensley said. "It's really a loss, because it was starting to be a place where people could go later at night and hear live music, (making it) even more of a gathering spot."

Although a catering service will still be available through the current phone listing, Bass said he is "still working out the details" of where the business will operate from. A resurfacing of some form of the restaurant is not likely in the near future.

"We don't have any plans at this time, we're just trying to wind things down right now and take a break," he said.

Proceeds from a final benefit performance by McDonald on Jan. 3 and cafe recipe booklet sales will go toward an employee transition fund to pay some severance benefits to help the staff transition to other jobs.

The restaurant will be open for weekday breakfast and lunch by reservation and weekend brunch and dinner through Jan. 4, when it is scheduled to have its open house, goodbye party and garage sale.

"I feel very privileged to have been able to serve our North Berkeley and East Bay communities for the last 15 years-its really one of the special places on Earth," Bass said. "We have some great customers. I've been very moved by the tremendous outpouring of appreciation and affection that has come out of our announcement, it's made me feel much better about the situation."


Jessica Kwong is the city news editor. Contact her at [email protected]

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