ALSO GONE: BLUE CHALK ... This month's big surprise was the closing of Blue Chalk Cafe. A mainstay at 630 Ramona St. in Palo Alto for 17 years, the cafe has now left the two-story Birge Clark building gated and dark. Word on the street is that Blue Chalk was no match for the new Old Pro less than a block away. "Old Pro's got better food, a better vibe and more TVs," said a Lytton Avenue resident who made the Old Pro his preferred hangout after a major renovation in 2003.
FOOD HOPSCOTCH ... Meanwhile, a few new restaurants are descending on downtown Palo Alto. The first newcomer is Crepevine, set to open March 9 in the former spot of Madison & Fifth at 367 University Ave. "We love the space. It's beautiful," Crepevine co-owner Maher Fakhouri said of the existing restaurant. So much will stay the same in the 2,600-square-foot space, including the furniture.
Fahkouri owns seven other Crepevines, all in the Bay Area. "We're a family business. We own and operate. It's three brothers and 500 cousins," he said. Fakhouri believes what sets his business apart are the prices and portions. "Nobody has ever finished a salad at Crepevine. We serve big portions," he said. Madison & Fifth closed in December after a three-year run.
Also, Cafe Baklava is taking over the former Bistro d'Asie at 455 Emerson St. The Mediterranean restaurant, which has been a popular Castro Street destination in Mountain View, will unveil its second restaurant for a scheduled March opening.
And Walgreens is scheduled to open in March, with the hope that it will bring new life to the restaurants and boutiques on Bryant Street and along University Avenue.
ANOTHER STEP FOR VANS ... Vans will be the newest shoe store on University Avenue. It plans to take over the storefront at 222 University Ave., the former location of Wolf Camera. But this is more than just a shoe store coming to Palo Alto, according to Susan Barnes, Palo Alto's economic development manager. "It's a hopeful sign. Retail is coming back to the downtown area and we're seeing a younger demographic. Look at Black Diamond, American Apparel and the upcoming move of Gamestop," she said.
NEW BOUTIQUE HOTEL ... A new 43-room boutique hotel is taking shape at 425 High St. in Palo Alto, following a renovation. The location of Hotel Keen is the former low-income residential Palo Alto Hotel. Keen owner Perry Patel is trying to capture the 25- to 45-year-old traveler. "The clean, upscale design targets that customer. We've designed a young, hip boutique that's fun," Patel said. "Before you make that proposal to a VC, you might want to write something down. So we've included whiteboards in every room." Patel also owns the Cabana Hotel on El Camino Real in Palo Alto. The anticipated opening is May 2010. And the answer was a simple "No" when asked if the hotel was named after Palo Alto City Manager Jim Keene.
WHEN TIMES ARE TOUGH ... It pays to be resourceful. Take Rick's Rather Rich ice cream parlor in Palo Alto's Charleston Shopping Center, the home of the "hot milk shake." Even in the best of times, sales are traditionally slow during winter months for most ice cream shops. "That's why we have the hot milkshake," said Rick's manager, Alfredo Alves. Served in a 12-ounce coffee cup, it's the only hot drink Rick's serves and was invented by a former employee of the ice cream shop. The most-ordered flavors? Eggnog and pumpkin during the holidays; chocolate and coffee at other times.
Another resourceful entrepreneur is Ron Linsangan. The Rojoz wraps owner, who moved to Palo Alto's Charleston Plaza from Town & Country Shopping Center last November, is offering the $6 weekend breakfast, cooked outside and made to order. For the price, customers get a build-your-own-omelet with sausage links on the side. It's not a money-maker, he says, but it gets him outside to talk to people and "do PR."