Restaurant planned for Caffe Verona site | August 25, 2006 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - August 25, 2006

Restaurant planned for Caffe Verona site

At long last, a new tenant for former Hamilton Avenue meeting spot?

by Molly Tanenbaum

Since Caffe Verona closed three years ago, the vacant site has caused skeptical Verona loyalists and passersby to doubt anything would ever replace the popular coffee shop.

Those doubts will soon be quelled, as property owner Banatao Heritage Trust is on the verge of bringing an unnamed "mom and pop" restaurant to the Hamilton Avenue spot.

Close to firming up a lease with a new tenant, real-estate company Cornish and Carey Commercial said three restaurant businesses have made offers on the Hamilton Avenue spot.

One is a national chain, one a small, regional chain, and one a local "mom and pop" restaurant, according to Sean O'Carroll, Cornish and Carey's vice president with retail services, speaking on behalf of entrepreneur Diosdado Banatao. He would not reveal their names.

But he said the owner is leaning toward the mom and pop. George Pavlov, general partner at Tallwood Venture Capital -- where Banatao is managing partner -- was not available for comment on the project earlier this week.

"They're very experienced," O'Carroll said of the restaurateur. "He understands Palo Alto and has a lot of experience in this area."

"Those chain restaurant deals," he added, "are not always as well received in a community like Palo Alto."

He would not say if the restaurant would be upscale or moderately priced.

Other interested parties looked at the site, but there was a catch.

"The landlord would prefer to lease the entire ground floor," O'Carroll said. The bottom level of the building is 5,000 square feet -- larger than another downtown restaurant, La Strada, but smaller than Gordon Biersch -- and Verona had only used half.

"It was chopped up," he said. "You had an office space behind a restaurant, so it made it difficult as far as deliveries and access for the office spaces."

The vacant space wasn't always planned to become a restaurant. A few months ago, Caffe Verona almost became the purveyor of all things fleece: a Patagonia retail store. But O'Carroll said that possibility "fell through" two months ago, and the challenge became finding a restaurant who would be willing to lease all 5,000 square feet of ground floor. The outdoor-clothing company is still looking around downtown Palo Alto for retail space, according to a Patagonia spokesperson.

When Caffe Verona shut its doors three years ago after being put on a month-to-month lease, Banatao Heritage Trust purchased the site from Gatley Properties in May 2004. Tallwood had plans to build its four-story headquarters there with a restaurant or coffee shop on the ground floor. But recently, the firm relocated to offices further down Hamilton Avenue instead of rebuilding the Verona site.

The coffee shop's loyalists used to praise the coffee shop for its tasty paninis, reasonable prices and, more importantly, its friendly feel.

Project architect Tony Carrasco hopes the future tenant will be able to preserve the latter, as well pay tribute to the original uses of the spot. The building used to be a drive-through fuel and feed store.

"We want to capture that old feel back again," Carrasco said. "When you drove through that space, you could see the tresses and sense the entire space."

He added that the potential new tenant might add some covered, outdoor seating in the area that used to be part of the driveway.

Carrasco said he would ideally like to include a mezzanine in the project, to preserve the high-ceilinged openness of Caffe Verona.

Plans for the site do not include major additions at this point, and the future use of the second-floor office area is still an unknown.

"We haven't really determined what we're going to do with the space at that point," O'Carroll said.

Staff Writer Molly Tanenbaum can be e-mailed


Posted by jjostinato, a resident of University South
on Sep 10, 2007 at 10:01 pm

"The coffee shop's loyalists used to praise the coffee shop for its tasty paninis"

The Italian word, "Panini" is plural; it means, "sandwiches".

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 10, 2007 at 10:28 pm

Thanks JJ. What's Italian for "pedantic"?

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 10, 2007 at 10:33 pm

In fact, showing what a pedant I am, here's from the Wiki on Panino (the singular form):

The word "panino" [pa'ni:no] is Italian (literally meaning small bread roll), with the plural panini. "Panini" is often used in a singular sense by speakers of languages that borrow the word, including English and French, and pluralised when necessary into "paninis".

So props to Molly Tanenbaum, the article's author, for using it in its properly Americanized (or Franco-nized) form!

Posted by Sandwich lover, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 11, 2007 at 9:12 am

I would just love to find a sandwich shop that tried some new varieties.

How about, smoked salmon and avocado, shrimp and mango, cheese and apple, lamb and apricot (or even lamb and anything).

Every sandwich shop, even those that make what you ask for, seem to have the same list of boring ingredients.

Posted by Finger Sandwich Lover, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 11, 2007 at 12:10 pm

Sanwich lover,

I love finger sandwiches. But now that I've had my ten, I can't seem to hold another. Can you grasp that?

Kidding aside, why not suggest this to your fav sandwich shop?

Posted by chris, a resident of University South
on Sep 11, 2007 at 2:48 pm

How about some current news on this site, not a 1-year-old story?

Posted by Disgusted Taxpayer, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 3, 2008 at 9:52 pm

How about some current news about the Cafe Verona site? And maybe someone could explain the rush to kick out a much-loved cafe to leave it vacant all these years? Guess Palo Alto doesn't need the tax revenue.

Can't wait to see how the expensive Destination Palo Alto consultants spin all the empty storefronts.

Posted by just thinking, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 7, 2008 at 11:30 am

Was it the city that controlled the closing of Cafe Verona?

Posted by Peter, a resident of another community
on Mar 7, 2008 at 1:07 pm

The city had nothing to do with the closing of Cafe Verona. As I recall, the restaurant simply failed; the owners tried to make a go of it with a sharing arrangement with another restaurant but that didn't work out.

Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 8, 2008 at 12:44 am

"As I recall, the restaurant simply failed; the owners tried to make a go of it with a sharing arrangement with another restaurant but that didn't work out.'

The landlord raised the rent, and/or cancelled the Cafe Verona lease. the tenents tried to make it elsewhere, through a sharing arrangement, and failed.

The landlord in this case is/was just plain greedy, with no sense of public responsibility.

Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 8, 2008 at 12:51 am

Here are some facts in the case.
Web Link

Yet another irresponsible absentee landlord, who didn't have to live with the adverse consequences of the Cafe Verona owners, or the slumlord-like facade that this vacant piece of trash has emanated for years. I think we should create code that controls owners like this with *serious* fines. $10K per month (as a fine, after one year of vacancy) would have gotten someone like Gatley to get off his high horse and get that place rented.