Rising Costs Force Sufficient Grounds to Close

Photo: Sara Cutuli, a Sufficient Grounds employee and UC Berkeley senior, puts up a sign in the window of the local cafe informing customers of its impending closure on April 20.
Skyler Reid/Staff
Sara Cutuli, a Sufficient Grounds employee and UC Berkeley senior, puts up a sign in the window of the local cafe informing customers of its impending closure on April 20.

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After almost 30 years serving one-of-a-kind bread from its location in Sather Lane, the Sufficient Grounds sandwich shop and cafe is set to close April 20.

Owner Anthony Tasoulinh said a poor relationship with his landlord, unreasonably priced rent and fewer student purchases all contributed to his decision to close the shop.

"The rent is ridiculously high," he said. "I can't put myself personally in debt."

Tasoulinh said that despite meeting with potential buyers last year, he was unable to sell the business to another owner because the property owner's "strict restrictions" require that a buyer have assets worth $1 million and be purchasing their second business.

The owner of the property could not be reached for comment Thursday.

The cafe was voted as having the "Best Sandwich" by readers of The Daily Californian in the Best of Berkeley awards in 2001, 2009 and again this year.

The shop receives most of its business from UC Berkeley students, according to Tasoulinh.

The convenient location is why 18-month customer and sophomore Gabriela Michel said she started coming to the shop.

"I lived in Unit 3 my first year, so I'd come here all the time," she said. "I don't understand why they would need to close or want to close."

The shop's property owners confronted Tasoulinh recently about lowering the $7,500 per month rent, but Tasoulinh said he denied the offers.

"I've already made plans," he said. "For the landlord to come in three weeks before I close and offer a new lease is ridiculous."

Tasoulinh said students' financial situations have had a significant impact on the store's closing.

"(Because) financial aid has decreased and budget cuts have been made, it has lowered our gross sales overall," he said.

The cafe had a 60 percent drop in gross revenue from 2008 to 2009, and an additional 35 percent drop from 2009 to 2010, according to Tasoulinh.

"Mom and pop businesses like mine don't have corporate backing, so that money has to come from our own pockets," he said.

Customers said the cafe's acclaimed bread recipe, which has been passed down from owner to owner, is what they will miss most about the shop.

"I'm going to look around for another sandwich place and see if their bread compares," said sophomore Tatiana Serrano and a new customer at the cafe.

Tasoulinh said he plans to maintain ownership of the bread recipe for the time being and will consider selling it in the future at a "heavy price."

He added that he hopes to reopen the shop in Berkeley or Southern California in the future, but said his "unorthodox" methods are difficult to maintain within the city's limits.

"I can't really see anyone else doing what I do," he said. "I have traditional, old-school, friendly values and that's what's led to my success and my love from the community."

Tasoulinh said that if he reopens elsewhere, he would like to own the building at his new location.

"For me to buy my own commercial space will be a long, arduous process," he said. "I'm humbled to receive the love and admiration I've had through the community."


Contact Hailey Parish at [email protected]

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