Upstart Crow Lives, but Only in San Diego

Times Staff Writer

Upstart Crow and Co. in downtown Seaport Village, a popular coffeehouse and bookstore, has become the only one of nine restaurants in a Berkeley-based chain to survive the company's abrupt bankruptcy last week.

The Upstart Crow at University Towne Center, the chain's other San Diego outlet, was not as fortunate--or evidently as profitable--and did not outlast the cut.

Former employees at the University Towne Center coffeehouse could not be reached for comment Monday and personnel at Seaport Village largely declined comment.

"No one is sure what's open and why," said Rick Rinaldi, bookstore manager at the Seaport Village outlet. Marie Heacock, the restaurant manager, said that "there are no plans to close" the Seaport Village eatery but denied knowing anything else about the company's plans.

An Orange County source, however, said that the Seaport Village restaurant and the outlet at Santa Ana's South Coast Plaza Village were the only two that were profitable in the chain.

Buyers Not Identified

According to one source, the Seaport Village coffeehouse has been purchased by an unidentified group of buyers. Those buyers last week also began talking with Orange County developer C.J. Segerstrom about purchasing the Santa Ana Upstart Crow, Joanne Sullivan, former manager of the Santa Ana unit, said.

Upstart Crow and Co., the partnership that owned the eateries, had been trying for about a year to rescue the chain from fiscal disaster. The chain fell on hard times last year, filing for protection from creditors and reorganization under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy code.

The company had since been trying to get the chain back in the black but the ax fell last week when the company filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy liquidation in federal court San Francisco.

The popularity of the three Southern California outlets stemmed from their informal atmosphere, combining an eatery with a social gathering place that also featured live entertainment.

Impact at South Coast

The impact of the Upstart Crow & Co. closure was clearer in Orange County, where South Coast Plaza Village has suffered what some merchants say will be a blow to the remaining businesses at the struggling specialty center.

The 42-store Santa Ana village is located directly across a busy intersection from South Coast Plaza, C.J. Segerstrom & Sons' successful shopping center with sales among the highest in the nation.

Ironically, the Orange County restaurant--which closed its doors Thursday morning--reportedly had not only been profitable but one of the biggest customer draws at the Santa Ana center, also owned by Segerstrom.

On Monday, other retailers at South Coast Village said they feared the closure will have a ripple effect, leaving them scrabbling for customers in a center that already looks virtually deserted most weekdays.

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