News

The Counter plans to close Palo Alto site after 15 years

Owner of the franchise looks toward cloud kitchen to stave off high overhead costs prone to the area

Cooks at The Counter serve up mini burgers with asiago cheese, scallions, peanut sauce carrots and sprouts with a side of sweet potato fries at the California Avenue location in Palo Alto on May 27, 2014. Photo by Veronica Weber.

After serving up custom-made gourmet burgers in Palo Alto for 15 years, The Counter is closing its doors at 369 California Ave.

Peter Katz, a managing partner at Counter Intelligence, which owns the northern California franchise of The Counter, told this news organization on Monday that the Palo Alto site will shutter by the end of this month.

The business experienced a lot of hardship after being limited to takeout and delivery service during much of 2020, Katz said.

When it came time to renew the California Avenue lease with Premier Properties, Counter Intelligence initially declined, given the high overhead costs and challenges of the moment, Katz said.

"There was a lot of uncertainty," Katz said. "We were unable to make that commitment at the time."

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As business stabilized, Counter Intelligence tried to renew the lease for the 2,675-square-foot restaurant, according to Katz, but the landlord had already found a new tenant. (Katz could not disclose further information about the new tenant.)

The Counter's Palo Alto site was the second to open and the first franchise after the restaurant was founded in Santa Monica by Jeffrey Weinstein and Craig Albert in 2003.

The Counter Burger has all-natural ground beef, provolone, lettuce, tomato, fried onion, sautéed mushrooms and sun-dried tomato vinaigrette. Embarcadero Media file photo by Norbert von der Groeben.

Katz, who was a sales and marketing executive looking to reroute his career at the time, was introduced to Weinstein. Katz said he saw potential in a restaurant that emphasized customer choice and premium quality burgers.

"I got introduced to Jeff, had a burger at the Santa Monica restaurant with him and his partner, and we did a deal on the back of a napkin," Katz said. "At that point, they hadn't even received the approval to franchise."

Katz attained the rights to build out franchises throughout northern California, creating Counter Intelligence in 2005 and later opening The Counter's first franchise location in Palo Alto in August 2006.

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"There were lines up and down the block," Katz said about the restaurant's opening.

Katz's firm eventually expanded the restaurant into seven locations and one subfranchise in Fremont. (Currently, The Counter's website lists five locations in the Bay Area and one opening soon.)

Inside the Counter on California Avenue in Palo Alto on Oct. 27, 2006. Photo by Norbert von der Groeben.

Katz said his firm has already signed a lease in San Francisco to open a cloud kitchen, also known as a "ghost kitchen" version of the restaurant — a growing trend that allows restaurants to operate as an online delivery-only service while avoiding the high overhead costs of a traditional brick-and-mortar location.

Katz said he hasn't given up on opening another indoor-dining location for The Counter. In the meantime, The Counter's closest location to Palo Alto is at 2580 W. El Camino Real in Mountain View.

"Our preference would be more brick and mortar, but the economics have to be right," Katz said.

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The Counter plans to close Palo Alto site after 15 years

Owner of the franchise looks toward cloud kitchen to stave off high overhead costs prone to the area

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Tue, Jul 13, 2021, 9:33 am

After serving up custom-made gourmet burgers in Palo Alto for 15 years, The Counter is closing its doors at 369 California Ave.

Peter Katz, a managing partner at Counter Intelligence, which owns the northern California franchise of The Counter, told this news organization on Monday that the Palo Alto site will shutter by the end of this month.

The business experienced a lot of hardship after being limited to takeout and delivery service during much of 2020, Katz said.

When it came time to renew the California Avenue lease with Premier Properties, Counter Intelligence initially declined, given the high overhead costs and challenges of the moment, Katz said.

"There was a lot of uncertainty," Katz said. "We were unable to make that commitment at the time."

As business stabilized, Counter Intelligence tried to renew the lease for the 2,675-square-foot restaurant, according to Katz, but the landlord had already found a new tenant. (Katz could not disclose further information about the new tenant.)

The Counter's Palo Alto site was the second to open and the first franchise after the restaurant was founded in Santa Monica by Jeffrey Weinstein and Craig Albert in 2003.

Katz, who was a sales and marketing executive looking to reroute his career at the time, was introduced to Weinstein. Katz said he saw potential in a restaurant that emphasized customer choice and premium quality burgers.

"I got introduced to Jeff, had a burger at the Santa Monica restaurant with him and his partner, and we did a deal on the back of a napkin," Katz said. "At that point, they hadn't even received the approval to franchise."

Katz attained the rights to build out franchises throughout northern California, creating Counter Intelligence in 2005 and later opening The Counter's first franchise location in Palo Alto in August 2006.

"There were lines up and down the block," Katz said about the restaurant's opening.

Katz's firm eventually expanded the restaurant into seven locations and one subfranchise in Fremont. (Currently, The Counter's website lists five locations in the Bay Area and one opening soon.)

Katz said his firm has already signed a lease in San Francisco to open a cloud kitchen, also known as a "ghost kitchen" version of the restaurant — a growing trend that allows restaurants to operate as an online delivery-only service while avoiding the high overhead costs of a traditional brick-and-mortar location.

Katz said he hasn't given up on opening another indoor-dining location for The Counter. In the meantime, The Counter's closest location to Palo Alto is at 2580 W. El Camino Real in Mountain View.

"Our preference would be more brick and mortar, but the economics have to be right," Katz said.

Comments

Claudette
Registered user
Woodside
on Jul 13, 2021 at 10:36 am
Claudette, Woodside
Registered user
on Jul 13, 2021 at 10:36 am

It’s a shame....the counter is so family friendly, quick and easy before games at Stanford, walkable for many , and lots of choices......it’s always about money. Never community.


Consider Your Options.
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 13, 2021 at 10:50 am
Consider Your Options. , Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Jul 13, 2021 at 10:50 am
Nayeli
Registered user
Midtown
on Jul 13, 2021 at 11:22 am
Nayeli, Midtown
Registered user
on Jul 13, 2021 at 11:22 am

It's a shame that California Avenue has lost so much of what made it great. Between the previous lengthy closure (to redesign the sidewalks and streets) to COVID, the street has lost some fantastic stops. My husband and I used to enjoy visiting No Knew Books, lunch at The Counter and picking up dessert from the Palo Alto Baking Company. With the closure of The Counter, this is all gone now.

There are still some great spots on California Avenue and the adjoining streets in Palo Alto's "second downtown." However, the vibe has changed now. How many restaurants have failed or closed in this area now?

Not only is the cost of rent high, but the City comes up with incredibly bad ideas that hurt the ability of a business to succeed. The $25/day parking garage (replacing FREE parking) certainly didn't help.


Laurian Cannon
Registered user
Menlo Park
on Jul 13, 2021 at 11:33 am
Laurian Cannon, Menlo Park
Registered user
on Jul 13, 2021 at 11:33 am

No big loss as foo-foo burgers are just another way of overcharging for a relatively mundane offering.

The losses of The Boardwalk in Los Altos and The Oasis in Menlo Park will be far more missed than this place.


TorreyaMan
Registered user
Palo Verde
on Jul 13, 2021 at 11:35 am
TorreyaMan, Palo Verde
Registered user
on Jul 13, 2021 at 11:35 am

It seems that Premier Properties merely sought a new tenant when the current one declined to renew its lease. As to the monthly and other terms, we can't comment because that information is not public. As to the franchise closing, we too will miss it although we have actually preferred the one in Mountain View.


Joe Harper
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Jul 13, 2021 at 11:52 am
Joe Harper, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Jul 13, 2021 at 11:52 am

>The losses of The Boardwalk in Los Altos and The Oasis in Menlo Park will be far more missed than this place.

No, no they won't. I'm not saying PA version of the counter was good. But neither was the Oassis--bored, uncaring staff....no thanks. And Boardwalk? Their most recent reviews on yelp before shutting down said it all, screaming kids running completely apesh-- through the restaurant... more than a few reviewers cited this.

I do agree though, the MV version of The Counter did seem better. Even though one night they clearly forgot our food. I posted a picture of an empty table next to us and captioned it "Empty tables all around and yet 45 mins and still no food." About 3 minutes later a manager and server showed up and comped us everything. Pretty good. I paid for the beers and since we had those...let him comp the rest

As for "lines down the street" when opening. Maybe. On day 1. I remember the Counter in PA for the staff. At first, FOH was all young females. Then I suppose after the owners figured out high school kids have better things to do than show up for work, you got to see the usual mix of people who are servers and hosts...Including males!


fred
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 13, 2021 at 12:31 pm
fred, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Jul 13, 2021 at 12:31 pm

I’d say that their next door neighbor out competed them.


James
Registered user
Midtown
on Jul 13, 2021 at 12:47 pm
James, Midtown
Registered user
on Jul 13, 2021 at 12:47 pm

Could it be the Zareen next door expanding? Its business is going gangbusters, easily the most popular restaurant on California.


Lei Ping
Registered user
Charleston Meadows
on Jul 13, 2021 at 1:18 pm
Lei Ping, Charleston Meadows
Registered user
on Jul 13, 2021 at 1:18 pm

Maybe open a cafeteria-style Chinese restaurant instead?

Everyone likes Chinese food and the current Palo Alto demographics suggest an emerging Mandarin sphere of influence in many neighborhoods.

You can get a decent hamburger just about anywhere but finding good Chinese food is always a hit and miss prospect.


side splitting
Registered user
Midtown
on Jul 13, 2021 at 1:18 pm
side splitting, Midtown
Registered user
on Jul 13, 2021 at 1:18 pm


Most in town don't even know what there once was in the name of great burgers on California Ave, or PA in general.
The last great burger on California Ave was Kirks!.....unfortunately the grease on grill the new Kirk's location in T&C isn't nearly as flavorful.


jhskrh
Registered user
Mountain View
on Jul 13, 2021 at 1:58 pm
jhskrh, Mountain View
Registered user
on Jul 13, 2021 at 1:58 pm

Franchise restaurants are cookie cutter business opportunities, no unique identity. Mountain View’s Clarke’s Charcoal Broiler closed for good after 75 years, family owned Mario’s Italiano closed after 35+ Years. We will miss both but a closed Peet’s, Panera, Jamba Juice, Cheesecake Factor, Starbuck’s etc? No loss there. They will just be replaced with another franchise.


Bill Ross
Registered user
College Terrace
on Jul 13, 2021 at 3:35 pm
Bill Ross, College Terrace
Registered user
on Jul 13, 2021 at 3:35 pm

Agree with Joe Harper. However, given the Owner one could conclude that they believe they can get a “higher class” tenant. Time will tell. Certainly won’t be replaced with retail.


Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 13, 2021 at 4:27 pm
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Jul 13, 2021 at 4:27 pm

It is impossible to get the choice of toppings, the choice of bread, or sauces anywhere other than the Counter. Where else will you find grilled pineapple, grilled onions and wholewheat buns???? I will definitely miss all their flavorful offerings. Fortunately there is another location which will be getting my business.

Otherwise it is back to the carbon copy, bland burgers without any real innovations. Sigh.


PA Community Advocate
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 13, 2021 at 7:41 pm
PA Community Advocate, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Jul 13, 2021 at 7:41 pm

Great to see another bland, soulless chain restaurant leaving Palo Alto. Hopefully a great ethnic local favorite emerges.


Larry Delgado
Registered user
Ventura
on Jul 14, 2021 at 9:17 am
Larry Delgado, Ventura
Registered user
on Jul 14, 2021 at 9:17 am

>>Hopefully a great ethnic local favorite emerges.

Rather than be held hostage by greedy landlords, struggling restaurants should consider investing in food trucks and situate them all over Palo Alto...a mobile food court offering a variety of exclusive restaurant specialties.


Mike
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 14, 2021 at 9:31 am
Mike, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Jul 14, 2021 at 9:31 am

I liked their burgers


Evergreen Park
Registered user
Evergreen Park
on Jul 14, 2021 at 12:06 pm
Evergreen Park, Evergreen Park
Registered user
on Jul 14, 2021 at 12:06 pm

There is no $25 a day parking in the new Sherman Ave parking garage. Since it was opened last winter, it and all other parking spaces in the California Ave commercial area are free with no time limits.

Those interested in dining at restaurants on California Ave have always been parking to park for free for 2 or 3 hours, depending on the location. The $25 charge only kicks in for all day parking, and is intended to encourage employees to purchase a parking permit which is equivalent to about $2 - $3 a day, depending on the number of days one goes to work there. In addition, lower-wage workers can purchase a discounted parking permit for much less. Parking is not an issue in the California Ave area, although I do agree that it was not helpful for the City and businesses to close the street to traffic, extend dining to the street, and thus eliminate between 75 - 100 parking spaces, depending if you count spaces now reserved for short-term parking for picking up take-out and side street parklets.


Paly mom
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Jul 14, 2021 at 2:48 pm
Paly mom, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Jul 14, 2021 at 2:48 pm

Our family like In-N-Out burgers among The Counter, Shake Shack and Gott's. Never interested in Wahlburgers.

It's so expensive eating out in Palo Alto now. But food is not particular good with high price.


YentaThe Renter
Registered user
College Terrace
on Jul 14, 2021 at 3:49 pm
YentaThe Renter, College Terrace
Registered user
on Jul 14, 2021 at 3:49 pm

What cal Ave needs is a Dive Bar…hold the sushi and bring back Anotonio’s! That would be smart thinking…but then…


YentaThe Renter
Registered user
College Terrace
on Jul 14, 2021 at 3:50 pm
YentaThe Renter, College Terrace
Registered user
on Jul 14, 2021 at 3:50 pm

What cal Ave needs is a Dive Bar…hold the sushi and bring back Antonio’s! That would be smart thinking…but then…


Terrace Antelope
Registered user
College Terrace
on Jul 14, 2021 at 4:52 pm
Terrace Antelope, College Terrace
Registered user
on Jul 14, 2021 at 4:52 pm

I liked their burgers, but not their service. Surival of the fittest will hopefuly works its ways into a better (and not franchised) new eatery.


Open Range
Registered user
another community
on Jul 15, 2021 at 11:53 am
Open Range, another community
Registered user
on Jul 15, 2021 at 11:53 am

The Counter = a highly overated SoCal chain with overpriced & overated burgers.

Anyone can make a hamburger at home and anyone who pays $15.00+ for one needs to get their head examined.


[email protected]
Registered user
Menlo Park
on Jul 15, 2021 at 12:40 pm
[email protected], Menlo Park
Registered user
on Jul 15, 2021 at 12:40 pm

To The Counter Management:
Open a new brick and mortar restaurant in downtown Menlo Park.
Santa Cruz Ave needs more dining establishments, and there are many vacancies to choose from.
Plus, It's halfway between your Mtn View and San Mateo locations.


Aric Chopra
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 15, 2021 at 5:16 pm
Aric Chopra, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Jul 15, 2021 at 5:16 pm

I like In&Out Burger...very reasonable and cooked while you wait + they offer the not so secret 'secret menu'.

Being East Indian from a devout Hindu family, I have to sneak-out every now and then to have a cheeseburger.

It beats being vegan.


larryncelia
Registered user
Palo Verde
on Jul 18, 2021 at 11:57 am
larryncelia, Palo Verde
Registered user
on Jul 18, 2021 at 11:57 am

The counter had a great run, 15 years in one location is pretty darn good! But also cool to see over time that other places have kept Cal Ave a great destination with fresh new choices. And the next Counter is only a few minutes down the road.


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