Chez Panisse reopens legendary dining room in Berkeley for the first time in two years

Berkeley’s world-famous restaurant Chez Panisse welcomed guests to its dining room on Tuesday for the first time in two years. With Covid-19 numbers continuing to drop in the Bay Area, the restaurant decided the time was right to reopen for on-site dining.

“It’s very emotional,” said owner Alice Waters, known around the world as a pioneer of California cuisine and the farm-to-table movement. know, working with a group of people and creating something that is greater than the sum of the parts every night is very exciting.”

At 5:30 p.m. sharp, lifelong customer David Shanks was the first customer to be seated.

“I happened to see the mention that the reservation system opens at a certain time, on a certain day, so yes, clicking furiously,” Shanks said.

Almost every aspect of the evening was a return to normal for Chez Panisse devotees, save for a protest outside the restaurant’s front door by staff and patrons of neighboring restaurant Cesar.

“All of this here is just a response from our customers who are really, really upset that someone is going to force us out. Cesar is a beloved part of this community,” said
James Mellgren, bartender at Cesar’s restaurant.

A year ago, Chez Panisse made the decision not to renew the Cesar’s lease. Waters noted on Tuesday that the space had been leased to multiple businesses over the years and the landlords were given a year’s notice. Chez Panisse has also offered to hire all affected staff. The restaurant plans to use the space to create a bar that aligns with its mission to offer farm-to-table cuisine. Everything on the Chez Panisse menu is locally sourced and organic.

“We do orange duck breast and the ducks come from Sonoma County Poultry,” Chez Panisse chef Amy Dencler said Tuesday night.

That food eventually made its way to the table of 94-year-old Esther Alder, a former regular, whose family flew her in from New Jersey for the special night.

“It means good food, good vibes and friendship,” Alder said.

Alice Waters says it’s people like Esther, nights like this, and food of course that keeps her going.

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