$10 MILLION IN UPGRADES ...
Ten million bucks. That's the price tag to transform the dilapidated Casa Olga in downtown Palo Alto into a boutique hotel. A major California hotel chain, Joie de Vivre, which owns 31 properties, will take over the eight-story Casa Olga at 180 Hamilton Ave.
"We'll be doing modest changes to the exterior, but the bones of the building will stay," Joie de Vivre founder Chip Conley said. Upwards of $10 million will be spent to upgrade the interior of the 48-year-old structure, which will turn it into a four-star, upscale, luxury hotel, slated to open in early 2013, Conley said. It was the corner location at Hamilton Avenue and Emerson Street that attracted Conley to the site.
"It's a dynamite location. A lot of people would rather stay downtown than somewhere on El Camino," he said. And Conley should know. He attended Stanford University as both an undergrad and an MBA student. "My parents also went to Stanford. I have a strong connection with this city," he said.
The new hotel will have a distinct Northern California flavor throughout, including a 50-seat restaurant with a sidewalk cafe. "The restaurant will be a farm-to-table kind of place," he said. The hotel could benefit Palo Alto's nonprofit organizations. "Joie De Vivre has a reputation for reaching out into the community, and we're actively involved in community giving," said Conley, who is also estimating $1 million in annual tax revenues for the city.
"What's interesting is in the past 10 years, two high-end hotels were created in this area -- Four Seasons and Rosewood -- and neither one is located in the city of Palo Alto. So even though people are staying at those properties to be in or near Palo Alto, there are no hotel taxes coming from those properties to this city," he said.
This development may be the final hotel for Conley. "This could be my last hurrah. I've been doing this for 25 years, and I'm looking forward to spending more time speaking and writing," said Conley, who has authored several motivational and leadership books. His current book, "Emotional Equations," was a New York Times bestseller.
The name of the new hotel? "Don't know yet. We're surveying the community about this, and we're open to suggestions," he said.
TAQUERIA TO OPEN IN MIDTOWN ...
Restaurateur Adam Torres is poised to open his third Sancho's Taqueria restaurant at 2723 Middlefield Road. Vacant for several years after University Florists moved out, the renovated site will comfortably hold 50 diners, with additional patio seating in both the front and back of the Mexican eatery.
"This is my biggest restaurant," Torres said, who owns two other Sancho's -- one on Lytton Avenue, the other in Redwood City's Emerald Shores. Torres will have an extended menu with vegetarian options for the Midtown location.
"I wasn't familiar with this area. I didn't even know Palo Alto had a Midtown. But I'm excited to be here. It's a great location. Lots of dog walkers and baby strollers and families walking by," he said. Sancho's is scheduled to open in mid-April.
ARTISAN INDIAN RESTAURANT OPENS ...
A massive, 10,000-square-foot restaurant quietly opened last month, serving organic Indian cuisine in a totally renovated setting. Simply called, The Menu, it is this area's newest dining spot, located at 2700 W. El Camino Real, Mountain View, where Palo Alto, Mountain View and Los Altos meet.
"When I came in here, it was a dump. The place was dark and dingy. We tore down the walls; we painted; we replaced the floors. And now it's light and airy," The Menu owner PrakashAswani said. The site, across the street from Lozano's Brushless Car Wash, had been vacant for about two years and was home to a string of Indian restaurants throughout the years.
"This one is different. We are organic. We use locally produced fresh food and no pesticides, no MSG, and no artificial flavors. I've put my heart and soul behind this," Aswani said, who is a retired CEO of several high-tech companies. Starting this restaurant became a labor of love for Aswani. "It was the last thing in my mind to open a restaurant, but now I'm having the best time of my life," he said.
LYFE KITCHEN EXPANDS ...
LYFE Kitchen has arrived at Costco. The healthy, fast-casual restaurant at 167 Hamilton Ave. has branched out to test a line of six refrigerated foods in several Costco's in Northern California.
"This is huge. We've been wildly successful in the six months that we've been open so now we're getting into retail," LYFE founder Steve Sidwell said. Among the refrigerated items offered in the Costco aisle is the restaurant's corn chowder soup. The five other choices were designed specifically for retail groceries.
"If this is successful, we'll take it into other grocers," said Sidwell, who also predicted two to four additional LYFE Kitchen restaurants would be open by the end of 2013.