For over six years now, Cafe Aquarius has delighted us with their sunny-patio, friendly staff, “Greenway” specials and dog-friendly amenities. Their pastries have been heralded (their blueberry pinwheel is my personal favorite) and they’ve even been featured on KQED’s “Check Please” local TV show. They’re a favorite of local corporations including Clif Bar, AAA & Leapfrog. All of this may sadly be coming to an end as it was revealed over the weekend that the landlord has decided to not renew their “good faith” year-to-year lease. If an agreement cannot be reached by the end of today, this will be the end of their run as an E’ville original and send the friendly staff of 15 to the unemployment line just weeks before Christmas (many have already left). So why would a restaurant with a loyal following and 4-star Yelp review suddenly shutter its doors? The answer seems to profoundly be: GREED.
Cafe Aquarius has been a labor of love for Patrick Feehan and his mother. They’ve poured countless hours and their own money into improving a previously decrepit space and establishing a neighborhood destination. “We have been proud to be leaders in this community, and have done our best to enrich the experience of Emeryville residents and workers alike by provided wonderful, reasonably priced food in a pleasant environment.” Patrick commented in a recent article “My investor and I took a great chance in 2004 by sinking a pile of money in an old, ugly building with the vision of creating a beautiful spot that the neighborhood could be proud of. After 2 1/2 years of planning and building, we opened our doors in 2007. It has not been easy, but we are committed to this project and this community. All our chips are in, so to speak.”
Those that are familiar with the economics of restauranteering, know of the thin margin they operate under and long hours that it requires. Any deviation in costs can make or break an eating establishment where there is a notorious rate of failure. Restaurants carry a terrific deal of overhead as roughly 2/3 of each dollar earned is allocated to food, beverages and labor according to the National Restaurant Association. Throw in the added expense of rent, utilities and the numerous regulations they need to comply with and you wonder why anyone would pursue opening one. The landlords unrealistic 25% annual increase in rent would push Aquarius beyond its operating budget. They have not been amenable to negotiations thus far.
There’s still a glimmer of hope that the landlords will “do the right thing” and preserve this vital community gathering spot as the lease officially expires on December 31st. Discussions are already underway by community activists (AND this blog) of a boycott of any business that is opened up and any services offered by the realtor and property manager. They seem to be operating under the notion that they’ll have no problem attracting another tenant (Talk to the Park Ave District committee who have been trying to lure a restaurant to their neighborhood for over a decade!). Patrick is exploring his legal options but didn’t sound optimistic. “I just don’t have the wherewithal to fight for my legal rights”.