By Tracey Taylor | Berkeleyside.com
A Berkeley couple who own the vacant lot on the corner of Gilman and Curtis streets in West Berkeley has applied to open a beer garden and food truck market there, tentatively called the Westbrae Food Garden, or the Gilman Biergarten.
Linda and Carl Lasagna, whose family founded Westbrae Nursery next door to the lot but are no longer owners, envision 3,400 sq ft of outdoor dining space with picnic-style seating served by a on-site food trailer, in the style of an Airstream, as well as up to three food trucks or trailers. The application to Berkeley’s planning department was filed on March 29.
Dietmar Lorenz, an architect at DSA Architects who is working with the Lasagnas on the project, said the idea for the small-scale outdoor dining spot — which he describes as not dissimilar to the Hayes Valley Biergarten on Octavia St. in San Francisco, but in a more verdant setting — has so far been well-received in the neighborhood.
DSA has collected 60 signatures in favor of the project from local residents and businesses. The application did not require this action, as it is for a straightforward administrative use permit on a lot zoned for commercial use (and therefore will not need to go before the Zoning Adjustments Board), but, Lorenz said, the applicants were keen to present the concept locally.
He said the hope is that the garden can open soon, “with spring knocking on the door,” and that part of the thinking is tied to the reopening of the Ohlone Path and the new West Street Pathway, which is having its grand opening on Earth Day on April 20.
“We’re excited that we might coincide with the reopening of the pathway,” he said. “The concept is that the garden will be very accessible to cyclists and bike-friendly.”
Talks have already begun with potential food trucks, including rotisserie specialists Roti Roti and Vietnamese noodle spot The Pho Bar, as well as local bike shop Blue Heron — the idea of food deliveries by bike has been floated — but nothing is set in stone, according to Lorenz. Opening hours may be between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. on weekdays, with Fridays and Saturdays until 10 p.m.
The corner lot has hosted a number of tenants over the past few years. Most recently it was an outdoor yard sale-type event that included tents. Before that it was a pottery outlet, and for a long period it was rented by outdoor sculpture gallery A New Leaf, before they moved to Sonoma.
Until the end of last year, Berkeley had two food truck markets, both operated by San Francisco’s Off The Grid. The market on Shattuck Avenue in the Gourmet Ghetto was abruptly closed in December, while the newer one, on Telegraph Avenue at Haste, continues to operate every Thursday evening. The closure was partly provoked by restaurants in the Gourmet Ghetto complaining that the food trucks were unfair competition and their business was hurting as a result. There are far fewer restaurants in this part of West Berkeley. The closest are probably Lalime’s and Kikusushi.
There’s been a veritable beer resurgence in Berkeley recently, and in West Berkeley in particular, with news of new ventures from the likes of sour beer makers The Rare Barrel, The Mead Kitchen, Moxy Beer Garden, and Sierra Nevada joining established operations such as Trumer Pils and Pyramid Breweries. See Berkeleyside Nosh’s interactive “Drinking in Berkeley” map for a comprehensive review.
Lorenz said they are hoping for approval from the city in time for a May opening. “This great neighborhood is underserved [for informal eating options],” he said. “We need to wake this sleeping beauty.”