Personal Shopper: Caffé Italia: ‘We’re still cooking!’

By From page A4 | January 19, 2014

There’s a sold sign on my street.

The news is about as warm as a polar vortex, but if you believe this story is only about my little pocket of town, think again.

Our neighbors are Kevin and Shar Katz, owners of Caffé Italia. Their cornerstone restaurant has operated in Davis for 32 years— no small accomplishment in our “easygoing” community.

Their destination? Yuba City, where they also own the Dancing Tomato Caffé — a safer bet because, as owners of the building, they aren’t subject to the whims of a landlord or a city with lopsided priorities.

Yes, those are fightin’ words.

Ironically, when I sat down recently with Shar for a neighborly glass of wine, she’d just completed another long day — this time catering the State of the City luncheon. I thought she was joking.

As far as I’m concerned, the state of the city is disordered if it continues to turn a blind eye to the potential loss of another beloved business. And while topics discussed by the mayor are important, there’s more worthy of our attention.

As we all know, history is often repetitive and, in this case, city leaders have lived up to the reputation so eloquently articulated by a former councilman (i.e., “spanking machine”).

It’s no secret: Caffé Italia’s landlord had other plans for the site that forced the restaurant to search for a new home. In 2009, the Katzes identified a viable alternative on Chiles Road. They crafted a high-concept proposal for a winning resolution, supported by private investors and tens of thousands of their own dollars.

Even though the city would break ground with the Richards Boulevard landlord to achieve his desired hotel conference center (ignoring a lease and making Caffé Italia homeless), under the Katzes’ creativity, the restaurant would expand and reach its full potential. An embarrassing South Davis blight also would be purged at the same time. Sounds ideal, right?

Unfortunately, the good news must have disoriented decision-makers.

In a nutshell, while the Katzes are well-known for giving away countless free lunches (and breakfasts and dinners), they don’t have an endless supply, especially in pursuit of what had become an endless process. The South Davis project ultimately was abandoned and the property remains an embarrassing mess to those of us who live nearby. It also speaks volumes to drivers on Interstate 80.

Which brings us to today.

Caffé Italia’s lease expires on Halloween, Oct. 31, 2015. (No, I’m not making this up.) Thanks to a laundry list of tricks, there’ll be no more treats.

Unless …

Despite everything, Shar is shockingly upbeat and graceful. Hopefully, her unmistakable message will put contrary rumors to rest, once and for all: “We’re still cooking!”

In fact, they hope to be cooking in Davis for a long time to come, but they can’t go it alone any longer. It’s up to us, the community, to ensure that they find a permanent home.

Just as Caffé Italia supports our schools, nonprofit fundraisers and green strategies (to name a few), it’s our turn to pump up the patronage. Tell them how much they’re appreciated and wanted.

And tell your city leaders.

Most importantly, do it soon. Obtaining a feasible space capable of serving their customer base and allowing enough time for any needed modifications means Caffé Italia must have a firm plan by the end of 2014. There’s really no time to waste.

I write this column to endorse great Davis businesses, and for Caffé Italia, my backing is a no-brainer. But today’s pen is more urgent.

My family and I may have lost some of the best neighbors we’ve ever had, but transparency is everything (right, City Hall?). I’ll be damned if I stay silent and let Davis lose the epitome of Mom and Pop.

After all, they’re your neighbors, too.

— Heidy Kellison lives and shops in Davis. Her column publishes monthly. Reach her at [email protected]

Heidy Kellison

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