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The travesty of Caffe Verona

Original post made by Danny, Crescent Park, on Aug 8, 2006

The empty husk of a building that used to be Caffe Verona frightens me. I walk by and expect bats to fly out of the doorway, or the sound of rattling chains to be heard echoing from the frigid oven. I miss their quiche, their warmth, their music. And now all that remains of a once boisterous enery is faded signs and wind-blown trash.

What I wouldn't give for a new deal. For a landlord that could negotiate and a company that could succeed. For a way to turn that place back into something worthwhile.

Either that, or coax tourists by claiming it a legitimate haunting.

Personally, I'd rather be able to shop or eat there. I've never really been one for ghosts.

Comments (21)

Posted by Jimmy
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 10, 2006 at 12:39 am

The empty building that was Verona Cafe is a bit depressing, but it also holds hope. Hope that maybe other restaurants will take note, and no restaurant which does not actually cook the food we order, when we actually order it, will occupy the space on Hamilton. I am sorry, but in my humble opinion, Verona Cafe epitomized the very antithesis of what a restaurant should be. The food, including the quiche, lasagna, sandwiches, etc. were mostly made the morning before (sometimes even the day before) and microwaved for your dining pleasure. The first (and only) time I ate there the staff even microwaved my soup... can you believe that?

For me, Cafe Verona was a microcosm of everything that should not be in life: A place where our dinner is pre-made or bought from a factory, then nuked for our dining pleasure (this is not a restaurant); Customers who are blissfully ignorant and do not even know, do not care enough about what they eat to know to ask, cannot even tell while eating it, or worse yet, they do know, but do not care... that their food is pre-prepared (often from a factory or contract caterer) then microwaved; Proprietors who do not at all care about quality or the integrity of what they are serving us, but instead wrap it in a pseudo-trendy atmosphere with open mic nights and artist showings -- All flash no substance; People who care more about the "hipness" of a restaurant than the quality of what they are feeding their children; That some of us went to this place ignoring establishments that actually care about what they serve us and make everything from scratch; Exemplifying mass ignorance local newspapers wrote reviews and called it good food, even stated it had an "international crowd"... give me a break, this is Palo Alto, what restaurant does not have an international crowd?

We have so many excellent restaurants in the downtown area, which really do care about the quality their food and provide meals which are fresh, made then and there, slow cooked, and using quality ingredients. From the reasonably priced -- Pluto, Andale, Zao, The Creamery, etc. The moderately priced -- St. Michael's Alley, Siam Royal, University Coffee Cafe, La Morenita, etc. To the upscale casual-- Three Season's, Mandarin Gourmet, Empire Grill, NOLA, etc. Finer dining -- Mantra, Maddalena's/Cafe Fino, Spago, Evvia, etc. Amazing coffee houses -- Cafe del Doge, The Prolific Oven, Coupa, Peet's, etc. And even organic - The Bay Leaf Cafe, Whole Foods Market Cafe, etc. With all these great choices, I cannot bring myself to mourn the loss of a "microwave" restaurant. Sorry if I left some other great restaurants out, only so much space and time.

The travesty of Cafe Verona is that they got away with pushing low quality junk for as long as they did. The travesty is that while they served food prepared the same way you can get it at a 7/11, they still managed to have a customer base, and many great quality restaurants in our downtown have left us over the last several years. Let us not forget our fallen friends: The Good Earth, Higashi West, L'Amie Donia, Perry's, STOA, etc.

Apparently enough people realized Cafe Verona to be what it was, and sales was not strong enough to support the business. This is life in a free market economy. My hope is that we keep weeding out the undesirables and maintain a base of good quality restaurants owned and run by people who actually care as much or more the integrity and substance of what they serve as they do about the flash. My hope is we support the existing fantastic restaurants in our downtown area, which have given so much back to the community over the years, and not worry about bringing in new venues.

Maybe the city, instead of bringing up the loss of Cafe Verona in council meetings, can discuss potential positive uses for the space and possibly lease it from the owner. Seems it would be a great location for a visitor's center type facility. Perhaps an information desk, or even a police "box" similar to other cities internationally, or a combination of both, and some large public washrooms which the downtown area is sorely lacking.

Just food for thought, and my own, humble opinion.

Posted by J. L.
a resident of Ventura
on Aug 10, 2006 at 1:35 am

Not everyone agrees with your assessment - here'a a link to the Weekly's "Best of Palo Alto, 2003"

Verona won "Best Solo Dining Experience"
Web Link

sometimes a place offers more than food - like heart, community, soul, comfort, companionship, cameraderie, Joie de vive, urban respite, atmosphere, and so on. Sure, there are good restaurants all over Palo Alto, but we lost a great 'place' when Cafe Verona went away.

The current property owner of the space that used to house Cafe Verona should fined heavily by the city for letting that space become a nuisance and drag on the neighborhood from sheer neglect. It's a disgrace, and reflects poorly on current landlord's sense of civic responsibility.

here's the text from the Weekly - - -

"Solo Dining
Caffe Verona
To read, sit and think, or just enjoy some alone time, Palo Alto residents have loved hanging out at Caffe Verona. Socialites and loners alike trickle in to sip coffee ordered from a full espresso bar or eat Italian dishes. The expansive windows facing the street are perfect for people-watching, and the outside eating area is a great place to start friendly conversations. Unfortunately, this Weekly winner will be closing its doors Aug. 31 after 19 years in business. The funky Zao Noodle Bar placed second. CaffÈ Verona, 236 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto, CA 94301 (650) 326-9942.
Staff pick: Caffe Verona"

Posted by Danny
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 10, 2006 at 10:40 am

Jimmy: I couldn't disagree with you more. Personally, I loved the food, the coffee and the music. I never once got ill off of Verona's supposedly microwaved food (say, do you have a microwave in your kitchen? Most people do. Does that make you better, worse, or the same as the proprietors of Verona...?). I've enjoyed many great lunches there, and the owners were always nothing but kind and generous. There are far too many restaurants in Palo Alto now, as your lengthy list demonstrates. I'm more than a little distressed to hear you complaining that food was prepared "the morning before" or "the day before". How spoiled are we in this country? And you only ate there once? Hardly gives your point much backing. I ate there more than 100 times, and enjoyed every meal.

But I'm getting off point. I've accepted the loss of Verona, and did so many moons ago. I also mourned the loss of Vicolo when it closed so long ago, but at least they transformed that building into something worthwhile. Verona has stood stagnant for far too long.

Perhaps, someday, the empty husk of Verona can be transformed into a restaurant everyone can enjoy. Hopefully soon. Maybe the landlord has a requirement that the new establishment can't bring in any microwaves...

Posted by jf
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 10, 2006 at 11:56 am

When Cafe Verona closed, the proprietors were quoted in the local press as saying that they were forced out because the landlord had raised the rent and was going to bring in a tenant who would pay more. Predictably, the anti-business/pro-government crowd on council and in the community pounded their chests about evil landlords.

Now that the space has sat empty this long, you've got to wonder where is that tenant the landlord wanted to occupy the space?

It is obvious that the proprietors were lying. Blaming the landlord is a way for a person who has failed in business to blame somebody else. Harmony Bakery did the same thing when they were lost their lease on Middlefield for non-payment.

Next time some small business person runs to the press claiming his rent has been raised and he will be forced to close, remember what happened with Caffe Verona.

Posted by J. L.
a resident of Ventura
on Aug 10, 2006 at 12:23 pm

That space is prime commercial space. Why hasn't it been rented, in years? The word "greed" comes to mind.

Also, why has the landlord left that space to degrade to an insightly (and unsafe) nuisance? This is a breach of civic responsibility.

Any commercial real estate agent who has been around the block a few times will tell you that there are commercial landlords in Palo Alto who hare willing to sit on vacant property for years, if necessary, until they "get their price". That's their right. But when a landlord lets a property like the one we're discussing degrade to its current level, something should be done by the city to enforce community standard requirements.

Why did Cafe Verona try to continue their business - unsuccessfully - located inside another restaurant a few block away? It seems that Cafe Verona wanted to continue doing business, which puts in doubt your theory about the veracity of Cafe Verona's claims.

Why are you comparing Cafe Verona's situation with Harmony Bakery's situation? They're different businesses that closed for different reasons.

Posted by Carol K
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Aug 10, 2006 at 2:00 pm

"That space is prime commercial space. Why hasn't it been rented, in years? The word "greed" comes to mind."

Um, how does a "greedy" landlord make money from an empty space? That doesn't make sense. I think you're making j.f.'s point for him in a backward way.

Posted by Danny
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 10, 2006 at 2:00 pm

jf: You say "It is obvious that the proprietors were lying. "

You should be careful when throwing around such nasty allegations. Calling someone a liar without knowing all of the facts is rude, dishonorable and thoughtless. If the proprietors were "lying", as you so slanderously claim, why is the place still unrented? If the rent was affordable, and the owners were just irresponsible, there should have been another tenant in there long ago.

My guess is the renting price is too unreasonable for any takers. Whether or not the proprietors were forced out because of high rent or their own financial issues doesn't explain why the place is still vacant, and has been for a very long time.

Posted by J.L.
a resident of Ventura
on Aug 10, 2006 at 2:16 pm

Looks like Carol K. can use a lesson in commercial property economics.

Many landlords have multiuple properties, or an asset and income base sufficiently robust to ellow them to write losses off on vacant properties, thus saving themselves tax revenue.
There are aslo other tax-based incentives that permit commercial property owners to let their properties lie fallow, and still make a profit.

The landlord for that property has neglected it, period. It's an eyesore and a drag on the neighborhood. It reduces the value of other properties adjacent to it. In sum, whoever owns that property is showing insensitivity to their neighbors, and not meeting the maintenence standards that are the norm for downtown Palo Alto.

If there is anything in our civil code that permits our city to fine this landlord, it should be done. If there is no such code, we should create one. It's high time that those few landlords who show this kind of neglect pay a penalty for doing so - keeping in mind that the vast majority of landlords in Palo Alto do a great job in keeping their property in good shape.

Posted by Dramatic
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 11, 2006 at 9:20 am

I miss it, too, but your post was overly dramatic. Save it for real tragedy and travesty.

Posted by J.L.
a resident of Ventura
on Aug 11, 2006 at 1:42 pm

That's quite a dramatic statement, all in itself, being as travesty and tragedy are in the eye of the beholder.

Posted by Liesbeth
a resident of another community
on Aug 11, 2006 at 2:42 pm

Danny, I disagree with you. We have been loyal customers of Verona for many, many years and enjoyed numerous great breakfasts,lunches and dinners. Just loved being there drinking a cup of coffee ( still one of the best espresso I have tasted), meeting friends or going to the "open- mike" on Thursday. Do you really think that all the restaurants you are mentioning not use a microwave to heat their food! Don't get me wrong, we love Zao, Siam Royal etc too. It's a same that Verona had to leave and that the building is still empty after all this time!

Posted by Chester
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 11, 2006 at 8:32 pm

Typical Palo Alto.... Hundreds of thousands are dying of genocide in Darfur, and we're arguing over the loss of "microwaved food" and whether a landlord should beautify his empty space in our downtown. Enjoy your espressos, everyone.

Posted by Chester's Guardian Angel
a resident of another community
on Aug 11, 2006 at 9:30 pm

Typical bleeding heart guilt-monger, sitting comfortably in front of a computer, well-fed, while taking potshots at people he doesn't even know, some of whom have given money and other kinds of support to help those suffering in Darfur, and other places.

Peace, brother.

Posted by Ken
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 12, 2006 at 6:35 pm

Looks like J.L. could use a lesson in the tax code. Most of the type of tax breaks he mentions were eliminated back in the 1980s. As for J.L.'s comment about how a vacant property brings down the values of neighboring properties ... you're correct, but take it a step further. It's likely that the landlord for the Caffe Verona space is also the owner of the neighboring spaces. And a vacant space that big makes it hard to increase neighboring rents. The vacancy gives tenants a powerful tool to negotiate decreases in their rent.

Posted by J.L.
a resident of Ventura
on Aug 12, 2006 at 7:23 pm

A few things:

There are still many new, and past, tax code details that permit property to lie fallow and be used as a tax break against total revenue claimed by a landlord. You admit to that yourself when you say "Most of the type of tax breaks he mentions were eliminated". Go ask a tax attorney, you might learn a few things.

It also looks like Ken might want to take a look into what has happened to downtown retail rents _in spite of_ the location of adjacent derelict properties. In case you haven't noticed, Ken, rents, all rents, have gone UP. That's right...UP. So, there goes your second argument. To put it mildly, the landlord who owns that property is NOT taking a loss, not by a long shot.

Another thing to consider is that I have yet to see ANY residential or commercial landlord commit action or non-action on a property that is against that LANDLORD's best fiscal interests. Do you know any? Is this landlord the exception to that rule, just letting the property go derelict out of some altruistic motive?

To repeat: that property is an eyesore, and a drag on the DEMEANOR of the neighborhood (a commercial neighborhood). It adversely effects the commercial "look" of the street, and is a health hazard. The landlord who owns that property should be fined, appropriately, for letting that property degrade to the condition it's currently in.

Further, I wish the Weekly or Daily would print the names of landlords who let their properties degrade to a point where they're in such disgraceful condition. It's about time that the _few_ landlords around here who want to ruin street demeanor for the rest of us pay some price for that - social, and financial. It's time to own up to their municipal responsibility.

Posted by Ken
a resident of Ventura
on Aug 13, 2006 at 10:06 am

J.L., please name one of the tax code sections you're talking about.

Posted by J.L.
a resident of Ventura
on Aug 13, 2006 at 12:58 pm

in this case, it's appropriate that you begin here:
Web Link

Take the Cafe Verona space and think about how a creative tax attorney could spin combinations and permutations from above that to a client's advantage using just some of what's in the article above. Then, go see a creative tax attorney, and ask a few questions.

For instance, the landlord in that property could be waiting until that space gets so rin down that it will take an amount to repair it sufficient to save substantially on taxes in future years, through the normal repair deduction code. I know landlords who have done this.

It's also possible to deduct the cost of actively trying to rent a space (because you can't deduct rent that isn't received - that's off the books). This is a moderately sized loophole.

There are others, believe me.

I think you know more than you're letting on, because you said _most_ of the kinds of things that permitted certain kinds of deduction were eliminated in the 80's. If you're accurate, you'll know which one's _weren't_. What are they? Or, were you just guessing, or repeating something you heard at the landlord's last dinner party?

Again, is the current landlord of that space LOSING money by letting that property run down and lie fallow? Answer: NO

Thus, fine the landlord for letting the property go derelict. That property is a disgrace to the neighborhood.

Posted by cafe verona fan
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 20, 2006 at 9:56 pm

someone in this chain said that cafe verona's food was like a 7/11, etc. and was generally critical of it.

I thought they had the best panini's in town at any price. No one was close. cafe verona rocked for a sandwich on the weekend for lunch. the prices were Reasonable. the food was good.

This was a great spot for a sandwich on the weekend for lunch.

the whole issue was a fued between the landlord and the restaurant owner .. I think. looks like everyone lost on this one. us & them.

Posted by J.Johnson
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 21, 2006 at 6:37 am

Has anyone considered that the property simply CANNOT be rented to a new tenant? If there is a bankruptcy involved or the lease is being disputed, then it's very possible the landlord CAN'T rent it to a new tenant yet.

Posted by John
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 22, 2008 at 12:41 am

I spent many an evening in Verona, sipping espresso (occasionally con Vov), eating a cesar salad or muffaleta, or occasionally a soup or pasta dish. I loved it. Met many interesting folks there. [Portion removed.]

Posted by Miss the Verona
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 7, 2008 at 5:43 pm

Last I read about Caffe Verona over a year ago was this:
Rob Fischer, owner of the Peninsula Fountain & Grill (The Creamery), has signed a lease to open a restaurant at 236 Hamilton Ave., architect Tony Carrasco said this week.
Maybe one of those people knows what is going on.

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