News

Shop Talk: Grocer Miki Werness may make a comeback

Palo Alto business openings, closings and more

Four new hotels scheduled to open, grocer Miki Werness is part of College Terrace Centre deal and the Nike store reopens.

FOUR NEW HOTELS ON HORIZON... Palo Alto is looking extremely tourist-friendly, with a total of four, four-story hotels poised to open. The two that will open first are both Hiltons. Hilton Homewood Suites is an 111,000-square-foot structure at 4329 El Camino, while the Hilton Garden Inn is a 105,000-square-foot hotel less than two blocks north at 4214 El Camino. Homewood Suites is an upscale, extended-stay hotel built on the former site of Palo Alto Bowl. It will have 138 rooms, each with a full kitchen. The hotel will also have a rooftop fitness room and courtyard with pool. Scheduled for a January 2015 opening, it sits directly across from Marriott's Residence Inn. The Hilton Garden Inn is located near Arastradero Road, close to Hobee's Restaurant. The hotel will have 174 guest rooms and two levels of underground parking. Referring to the close proximity of the two hotels, Homewood Suites General Manager Matt Dolan said, "Hilton evaluates the markets and brand availability in any specific area before approving hotel projects. It may seem notable due to the timing of the projects, but the demand for Hilton brands is greater than supply." Also in the planning stage and going through the preliminary approval process is The Clement, a smaller, boutique-style hotel to be built at 711 El Camino, immediately south of The Westin Palo Alto. Initial plans, which were submitted to the city in December 2013, call for 23 hotel rooms, a rooftop pool and nearly 7,000 square-feet of commercial space. Staybridge Suites is also on tap for Palo Alto, taking over the site of Ming's Restaurant at 1700 Embarcadero Road. Ming's will remain open until all the plans are approved by the city. Then the current building will be demolished. A 147-room hotel with kitchens in every room will take its place. A new, smaller Chinese restaurant will also be built on the site.

MIKI'S MARKET MAY REINVENT ITSELF ... Miki's Farm Fresh Produce, the grocery store that opened and closed within six months, may be returning to Palo Alto, but with a new name. Tentatively called College Terrace Market, the store could be the replacement for the former JJ&F Market. "I don't want to put my name on anything ever again," said Miki Werness, who opened his grocery store at Alma Village in October 2012. The market went out of business in April 2013. The proposed new store, located at the corner of El Camino Real and College Avenue, will take up the first floor of the planned two-story College Terrace Centre building. Reflecting on his short-lived Alma Village market, Werness said, "It's not that I failed. I just tried something that didn't work. It was an inferior site. And the store faced the wrong way," Werness said, admitting that mistakes were made. "You would think that 3,000 cars a day going down Alma would be a plus. It wasn't," he said. But things are different this time, Werness says. He is collaborating with the developers of the College Terrace site: Patrick Smailey and his son, James. "I've been working with the Smaileys and they are doing everything they possibly can to make the new grocery store a success," Werness said. The store will be smaller than the original one, according to Werness -- between 9,000 and 10,000 square feet. "The location is much better than Alma Village," he added. "First of all, the store will face out, onto El Camino. That's important. And it's close to Stanford. Plus, it's in a neighborhood with a lot of foot traffic." Current plans for the market include a small bakery and a deli. And as far as funding the venture, "I have more financial backing than I ever had at Miki's," Werness said, adding that he is now, "just sitting and waiting. We still need approval from the Planning Commission before we can move forward. If it's meant to be, it will happen."

NIKE REOPENS AT STANFORD ... The Nike Running Store reopened at Stanford Shopping Center this month, after closing in July. The sports store resurfaced on Oct. 9 after a complete redo of the space, which gave it an additional 1,000 square feet. Also new are reclaimed wood floors, wall murals and a focus on women's sports.

Heard a rumor about your favorite store or business moving out or in, down the block or across town? Daryl Savage will check it out. Email shoptalk@paweekly.com.

Comments

3 people like this
Posted by Sea REDDY
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 31, 2014 at 10:38 am

Great news.

It is a great idea to have a business that we know want to reinvent and open again!

I would support that any day.

Palo Alto COllege Terrace citizens? What do you think?


4 people like this
Posted by grandmakk
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 31, 2014 at 10:56 am

I loved the original JJ&F when I lived in College Terrace and after.
I loved Miki's.
I hope this works out for everyone.


2 people like this
Posted by casey
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 31, 2014 at 11:15 am

casey is a registered user.

Hopefully, Miki can bring back whoever made the baked goods at Miki's. The cakes were remarkable.


1 person likes this
Posted by Advice
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 31, 2014 at 11:17 am

[Post removed.]


6 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 31, 2014 at 11:39 am

Warness is a nice fellow .. but he showed poor judgement in the Alma Plaza store. Perhaps the location could be blamed, but his belief that there were enough totally upmarket customers in Palo Alto, and nearby, turned out to be flawed. He did put together a very nice selection of very expensive merchandise--but there just weren't enough people willing to visit that location to make the store work.

If he can make a go of it in the College Terrace location, more power to him. But he should come to realize that not everyone in Palo Alto is a billionaire!


2 people like this
Posted by Eva
a resident of Ventura
on Oct 31, 2014 at 1:13 pm

We loved Miki's market and shopped there for it's incredible cheeses, baked goods, deli, produce, and wines. They had professionals working in each department. I think the biggest problem was that the store was too big and the entire middle section was unnecessary. I think a smaller boutique market is a great idea and will do well. Also Alma Plaza may have worked out if it didn't look like a prison on the outside--very intimidating to enter.

Good luck Miki. Looking forward to the reopening.


3 people like this
Posted by Carol Gilbert
a resident of University South
on Oct 31, 2014 at 1:15 pm

Hooray for you, Miki! Wish you every success after being burned.


2 people like this
Posted by Cheryl Lilienstein
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 31, 2014 at 2:38 pm

I'm thrilled, I loved Miki's market, and hope the College Terrace, Southgate and Evergreen Park residents help make this new market a success. Is the entrance inviting? I hope so. Is there enough parking for a business to be successful? We'll see, I guess. I'm hoping for the best.


4 people like this
Posted by cheeselover
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 31, 2014 at 2:41 pm

If Werness opens another store, I do hope he will bring back his fantastic cheese department. It's unbelievable that this area can't support a real cheese department, one that doesn't primarily sell pre-cut, plastic wrapped cheese.


8 people like this
Posted by Skeptic
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 31, 2014 at 3:29 pm

I loved Miki's Farm Fresh -- but I am skeptical about the dynamics at play. My hunch is that he was used by the previous developer to get approval for the condo project that Miki's Farm Fresh was attached to. Miki's market was doomed from the start -- 6mos later the grocery was gone, and the developer laughs all the way to the bank.
[Portion removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of Southgate
on Oct 31, 2014 at 4:11 pm

[Post removed.]


6 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 31, 2014 at 9:49 pm

That Hilton Garden in is ugly, ugly, ugly -- I don't know why I thought it was 22,000 sq ft, it's 105,000 sq f?!! It replaced 3500 sq ft of business. [Portion removed.]


5 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 1, 2014 at 3:53 am

I drove down to Hobee's last Tuesday for a nice breakfast at 7am when they open, confident I would gain some knowledge of rush-hour traffic which I normally avoid. Got out at 8:00 onto El Camino southbound, no other option, and took the first U-turn opportunity, at the Dinah's Court signal. At that point northbound El Camino was a 3-lane parking lot. A hundred forlorn residents of the Rickey's developments sat abjectly at their stopsigns in resignation. In all the entertainment, I'm sorry I neglected to time how long it took to get across Arastradero.

Future morning traffic from the new Hilton Garden Inn or Homewood attempting to head into Palo Alto will face this gridlock. The "obvious" solution will be dedicated bus lanes, right?


3 people like this
Posted by Sea REDDY
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 1, 2014 at 5:34 am


Let us sign a petition to get 'Miki's Market' to be the top candidate for this deal!

I am ready to sign the petition!

Good to get a good number of residents that can agree.

Respectfully


2 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 3, 2014 at 11:07 am

Miki will get used, again, by this developer.


3 people like this
Posted by Terrance
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 3, 2014 at 11:16 am

[Portion removed.]

Miki or whoever would be running the store will do well, and if the project failed due to political squabbling, the megadeveloper who takes over the project would easily force in more ugly condos making everyone feel it's a disappointing abhorrence. [Portion removed.]


4 people like this
Posted by Neighbors Helping Neighbors
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 3, 2014 at 4:04 pm

Hooray, we do hope Miki will come back.
Neighbors Helping Neighbors enjoyed working with Miki and his staff during the Food Drive 2013 they held to feed the households that rely on our monthly grocery program.
And we were very glad to offer our programs and services to some of the employees who needed help when Miki's Market closed.
Cheers,
Neighbors Helping Neighbors
NeighborsHelpingNeighbors2013@gmail.com
Phone: 650-283-0270 (No Texting, please)
P.O. BOX 113
Palo Alto, CA 94302
FACEBOOK: Web Link


4 people like this
Posted by Robert Smith
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 4, 2014 at 9:31 am

The developer, Mr. Smiley, has shown an impressive ability to play to public opinion and get his supporters to the City Council meetings. "Only I can save JJ&F" he once said.

Given the reception that his plan to install his son as the proprietor had, Smiley has once again adapted and brought in someone with some knowledge of groceries if little business sense. By all accounts, Mr. Werness was well thought of by community even though they didn't support him in serious numbers.

Of course, we would be better off to just cancel this PC development and go back to the former zoning. That is however not possible. Mr. Smiley did his public relations homework and got his zoning override, and will fight any attempt to deny him his huge building or cancel the override. The City Council may talk a good show but we cannot much from them. They will settle.

At the end of the day, having Mr. Werness involved in this project is about the best that we can expect. It may indicate some willingness on the part of Mr. Smiley to actually run a grocery store.

We all should be aware that people talk like they want beautiful grocery stores with the highest quality foods. In practice, the people is in this community are pretty thrifty and want good value. Mr. Smiley and Mr. Werness have a difficult job competing with other grocery stores in the area.


5 people like this
Posted by The Problem Miki's Had (Has)
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 4, 2014 at 11:28 am

A grocery store typically runs on very thin profit once established. It requires years, at least two years, for customers to learn about the value a new grocery store offers them and adjust to buying the things that make sense for them at that store.

Since the original Miki's on Alma did not even last a year, there is a major problem with the business plan. A grocery store needs enough initial investment to last years before being profitable.

If this developer is meeting a requirement to offset his zoning change by putting forth a plan that can not last at least the two years necessary to become profitable on a steady basis, in my opinion, he is not meeting that requirement. He is throwing a trial balloon to see if it will work.


3 people like this
Posted by I am confused
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 4, 2014 at 11:49 am

The problem with Miki's first venture is that he was running a small, boutique grocery store selling $30/lb cheese and other high priced foods. What Palo Alto needs is a full service grocery store that people can go to for everyday shopping. Unfortunately we will never see one in Palo Alto for reasons that are quite obvious. So, the solution is to drive to Menlo Park or Mountain View for shopping.
Not sure why people think that Miki will succeed in CT when his previous venture was a disaster.


6 people like this
Posted by Good Luck to Miki
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 4, 2014 at 3:45 pm

Let's hope that Miki will have a budget for advertising. It might have helped last time. I say "might" because the location had so very manynegative factors working against it.

I understand Miki may have used his life savings on the last hapless venture, but I hope he set something aside. Advertising may well save the next store he operates.

Good luck to him.


2 people like this
Posted by Cheese Lover
a resident of Southgate
on Nov 4, 2014 at 8:05 pm

Bring back the cheese lady! I'll follow her anywhere.


1 person likes this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 5, 2014 at 3:29 am

Addressing some of the comments here:

-- Skeptic said: My hunch is that he was used by the previous developer to get approval for the condo project that Miki's Farm Fresh was attached to. Miki's market was doomed from the start -- 6mos later the grocery was gone, and the developer laughs all the way to the bank.

I'd like to know if this was true ... it sure seemed like there was something fishy in the way this placed closed so fast without making the effort to survive. There were comments here about the City giving this space rent free or breaks on taxes and what not ... what is the story ... or is it hidden and private to keep snoopy democratic citizens of the city from being able to see how their city is functioning?


-- The Problem Miki's Had (Has) said: A grocery store typically runs on very thin profit once established. It requires years, at least two years, for customers to learn about the value a new grocery store offers them and adjust to buying the things that make sense for them at that store.

That makes sense. It took me about 4 months to even take the time to go in and check this place out. It seemed OK, but there were some odd things that I think could have been fixed. It was dark was one thing. Of course a bit hard to get to, but that would not have stopped me if I would have seen value there to get to come back. I checked back periodically to see if they were getting better until they closed their doors.


-- Joe said: Perhaps the location could be blamed, but his belief that there were enough totally upmarket customers in Palo Alto, and nearby, turned out to be flawed.

This seems bit off-base. We have now Whole Foods ... talk about upscale, Piazzis ... way upscale ... and Fresh market which is pretty upscale as well. I think there are plenty of upscale consumers, of consumers that settle for upscale because they do not want to drive really far and go to a giant Menlo Park or Mountain View Safeways. I often go to the Palo Alto alternatives because I want to avoid going to the dingy Palo Alto Safeway.

I have not gone to the new economy market ... forget the name ... very much, but I do go regularly because they have some very inexpensive stuff that I do buy and can use, and I am willing to keep an eye on them to see if they improve. I don't really like the parking situation, but it is not terrible, and other parking situations, i.e. Whole Earth are the same or worse.

Something about Palo Altans these days that they just cannot seem to park without taking up two parking spaces or drive without taking up two lanes.


1 person likes this
Posted by MJ
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 5, 2014 at 10:01 am

When Miki opened at Alma Plaza I have been told that he was fronted by the developer. Occupancy of the Alma Plaza PC was conditional on the market being open first. Nothing about how long it had to stay in business after occupancy.

Miki is quoted as saying he has financial backing to open the new Miki in the new "College Terrace Centre." I have been told that this money is coming from the developer. Occupancy of this PC is also dependent on the market being open first.

John Garcia of JJ&F said it would cost him about $1.5 million to open JJ&F at the new location. Because he had no backer(s) he would have to take on all the risk and borrow all the money himself, which he decided in the end he couldn't he couldn't do that to his family.


1 person likes this
Posted by How about?
a resident of Stanford
on Nov 5, 2014 at 10:50 am

Since this is not simply asking the developer to put in a good faith effort to start a grocery, but rather is a demand the city makes of the developer as a condition for rezoning the property, perhaps the condition should be structured as follows:

- Determine an amount in dollars that the city will accept as a condition of rezoning. Presumably this is so large that the development would not be profitable if it is paid.
- Calculate amortization of that over 10 or 20 years, including interest, which could be fixed or variable
- Define what a "grocery" is very carefully (must carry x, bring in y revenue with z products, not carry such-and-such, etc.)
- Charge the owner of the property the monthly amount calculated above for every month that the the grocery is not meeting its definition.

In this way, the cost to the owner will be known when they buy from the developer, and the developer will have to structure a sale which allows it profitability only when the grocery survives. Include developer liability for payments to the city if the buyer (owner) declares bankruptcy. Adjust for the situation where the developer keeps the property.


1 person likes this
Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 6, 2014 at 10:18 am

Fred Balin is a registered user.

Miki's is definitely NOT in the College Terrace Centre mix; but Uriel Chavez is. That came out at a neighborhood association meeting last night which included a presentation from Jim Baer, now working on behalf of the property owner; and joined by James Smailey, market owner, and Uriel Chavez of Chavez and other Markets slated to be market operator.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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