Chez Panisse rebuilds after fire, to reopen on summer solstice

A 2010 photo shows Chez Panisse before its recent fire.
A 2010 photo shows Chez Panisse before its recent fire.
(Robert Durell / For the Times)

Chez Panisse in Berkeley is set to reopen June 21, more than three months after a fire destroyed much of the electrical systems and plumbing of the 42-year-old restaurant. It isn’t the first time the famous Berkeley restaurant has burned. Thirty years before, almost the entire place was destroyed in an electrical fire. This one wasn’t nearly as severe, but it’s taken time to rebuild the front porch and facade lost when a fire broke out in the middle of the night on March 8.

The restaurant’s original builder and designer, Kip Mesirow, came back to restore the Craftsman-style interior and wooden facade. Alice Waters and a group of friends opened Chez Panisse in an old wooden house in 1971; that house, now nearly a hundred years old, had been altered and added onto over the years. Mesirow has been working with a crew of master craftsmen to bring it all back—the cozy enclosed porches, the copper lanterns, and the Japanese and Craftsman-style details that made the restaurant where California cuisine was launched so special.

As she did for the restaurant’s 40th anniversary, Waters is taking the opportunity to celebrate the reopening with a grande soirée to raise money for her Edible Schoolyard Project. It will take place June 21, the day of the summer solstice. There is just one seating upstairs in the cafe, and one downstairs in the restaurant. The cost is $1,000 upstairs, $2,500 downstairs. Not for the faint of heart or light of pocket. Yet somehow, Waters always manages to find enough Chez Panisse fans to fill the seats, even at these kinds of prices, ensuring that the Edible Schoolyard Project has the funds to continue its programs.


This has been a project close to Waters’ heart ever since she approached Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley in 1995 with the idea of starting a teaching garden for the kids there. Today the one-acre organic garden and kitchen classroom is a model for similar endeavors across the country.

For information and reservations for the solstice celebration at Chez Panisse, call (510) 843-3811. Reservation phone lines for dinner will open on Monday, May 27th—and (who knew?), reservations on the restaurant’s website and through OpenTable will begin the following day, on Tuesday, May 28th.


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