E’ville Biz: Farley’s Cafe among three more Post-MWO Small Business owners parting ways with Emeryville

3 mins read

Two more Emeryville small business owners have announced their departure from our city and a third is in limbo. The popular Farley’s Cafe on 65th is the latest on a growing list of establishments to announce its decision to part ways with our city since the adoption of our experimental Minimum Wage Ordinance (MWO). Emeryville, despite our council’s view of itself and density, differs dramatically from our more pedestrian-trafficked, transit hub neighboring cities that can support a robust and thriving small business culture. Getting Businesses owners to speak on the personal impacts of the ordinance to their business remains a challenge (particularly those looking to sell their businesses) but personal conversations are revealing of the deepening resentment between them and our council. I’m personally aware of at least one more small business owner looking to unload their business and another that might just flat-out retire.

Emeryville had a well-established reputation as a business supportive city but this has dramatically shifted since the 2014 election of the Martinez/Donahue slate. After enacting an experimental version of a minimum wage increase, they are now looking to fast-track another EBASE-initiated scheduling ordinance being marketed as Fair Work Week. Some business owners have to be contemplating what Martinez and EBASE have in store for them next. Some of these policies can be offset through city incentives, credits and other creative policies but the city has yet to initiate the small business forum that it first indicated back in April. The question remains for me how much more small business “bloodletting” will occur before our council responds.

Farley’s on 65th

Farley’s listed their establishment for sale back in May and made the official announcement of the sale on August 11th. “It is with joy and sadness that we announce the closure of Farley’s on 65th.” announced Owner Chris Hillyard of his decision to sell his Emeryville Business after opening six years ago. “We have been running three Farley’s locations for six years now and it is more work than we can do to maintain the standards that all Farley’s cafes deserve.”

Farley’s was a gem of the area with an open atmosphere and dog-friendly patio seating. Hillyard and his wife Amy were impassioned community supporters organizing and donating to events. They were early supporters of this news site and had been working on bringing Emeryville its first Parklet through a city program.

Hillyard, like many business owners, was supportive of Oakland’s measure FF wage increase and advocated for a regional minimum wage approach with our council citing competition with chains like Starbucks and the complexity of administering three unique models in three different cities. Councilmembers Martinez, Asher and Donahue spoke in behalf of this regional approach prior to the 2014 election before shifting their stance without explanation.

Farley’s will reboot under new ownership as “Dee Spot Cafe” beginning Tuesday August 23rd. Hillyard will maintain ownership and operation of his original San Francisco and Oakland Uptown locations.


Ebbett’s Good to Go

Photo: K. Policy via Berkeleyside

Ebbett’s owners Suzanne Schafer & Shari Washburn recently alerted us that she had sold her food truck that has been in operation since 2009. Ebbett’s has been a fixture of Emeryville where they were founded.


Washburn was active in the fight to defend small business and, like most, advocated for a regional model [1:52:47]. “We’ve always believed in paying our employees a decent wage, a living wage in order to attract and retain employees.” Washburn noted that based on her businesses margins, the scheduled $14.44 would cause her to close her business and her 10 employees would lose their jobs.

“We started in Emeryville and were based there so really think of it as ‘home’ ” noted Washburn through email. “We will miss all of our customers at 64th & Hollis.” The food truck business was sold to a friend who plans to continue to operate it as Ebbett’s and are optimistic of a seamless transition.


Estelle Restaurant

In June we reported that the shuttered Basic Cafe at 5000 Adeline would reboot as “Estelle Restaurant” with a plan to open by the end of the year. One reader has reported that the “Coming Soon” sign has been removed and we have confirmed through the owner George LaFrance that they have pulled out of the space. He noted that he’s not completely giving up on Emeryville though and will be looking at a few larger spots around our area that “would be suitable for the new concept.”

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Rob Arias

is a third generation Californian and East Bay native who lived in Emeryville from 2003 to 2021. Rob founded The E'ville Eye in 2011 after being robbed at gunpoint and lamenting the lack of local news coverage. Rob's "day job" is as a creative professional.


  1. here’s the thing: if a small business isn’t actually doing enough business to pay their employees a living wage, then maybe they shouldn’t be in business. this idea that business owners come first is bullshit. yeah it sucks that it means there are less cool places in emeryville, but employees deserve to have a life they can afford as well.

    the constant ‘oh no poor us we have to pay a living wage!’ sentiment from business owners drives me nuts. ESPECIALLY when they include some note at their counter or on their menus about ‘regretfully’ having to raise prices because they’re being ‘forced’ to pay their staff more, or give their staff more sick days, or provide their staff halfway decent health insurance.

    fuck that noise.

    • Thanks Ruby. I’ve heard this argument before. I personally don’t think that reducing employment is going to give employees more leverage. I think your thoughts are that new businesses will always just sprout up in their place. The reason people currently can’t live off of minimum wage is the sudden spike in rents (they’ve literally doubled over the last 5 years it seams, right?). Wages just aren’t elastic enough to keep up with our Housing Crisis unless we the consumer are willing to shoulder the burden. Fix housing first (easier said than done obviously).

    • “Living wage” is a nonsense term. No one was dying. The “living wage” idea is that every person who takes a job should instantly have a middle class, middle aged lifestyle. The young person who needs his first job does not need enough money to immediately move into his own apartment, have a car, and get full medical and dental. He needs some money to go to prom.

      Students, entry level workers, young people, people looking for flexibility, people with low skills had CHOSEN these jobs because these job were RIGHT FOR THEM. They wanted these jobs. They needed these jobs. They wanted to work, to have flexibility, to build experience, and to learn skills. They had the right to choose jobs that benefitted them. And they did. From the millions of jobs in the Bay Area to choose from, they picked those jobs. They had the right to self-determination.

      And people like you took away that right. People took away their right to be self-sufficient, their right to have flexibility, their right to work for a small business owner who would train them, their right to make $50K a year in tips, their right to get a first job in high school, their right to work and study at the same time, their right to choose a path to a career over a dead-end job, their right to have an internship, their right to grow into something bigger because they were given a place to start.

      Emeryville is not about giving workers’ rights. It’s about taking them away.

  2. It’s a triple hit. Higher labor costs+higher rent = thinner (or nonexistent) margins while much of your customer base may be pinched by those same higher rents and costs of living in California and have less money to spend, especially when retail prices are raised to cover those increased costs.

  3. Rob, your anti-worker editorializing reaches new levels of absurdity in this post. The headline and the framing argue that the minimum wage is responsible for the demise of beloved small businesses in Emeryville, but buried in the 6th paragraph and below are the facts — that the businesses are not closing but simply changing hands. One of them is getting a new name. The horror.

    You raise the specter of workers losing their jobs because of the $14.44 minimum wage, but you know very well that the business you’re referring to is subject to the small-business minimum wage, which is currently $13.00 — identical to San Francisco and only 45 cents higher than Oakland. Not to mention the fact that the new owner expects a “seamless transition,” which presumably does not involve laying off all of the employees.

    The third business you mention, the one that’s “in limbo,” opened in April 2015, when everyone knew the minimum wage was in the works, and it still wasn’t even clear there would be a lower tier for small businesses. That hardly suggests the minimum wage has a chilling effect on small business. As you report, now the owner is now looking for a *larger* space in Emeryville.

    If you can’t find any actual examples of businesses shutting down because of the minimum wage, maybe you should talk to some minimum wage workers and find out what it’s like to live on low wages, and how a higher minimum wage has changed their lives. That could be an interesting post.

    Since you’re interested in this sort of thing, here’s some more evidence of East Bay minimum wage armageddon: http://www.berkeleyside.com/2016/07/21/30-new-east-bay-restaurants-bars-for-you-to-try-now/

    • Ty, you clearly haven’t talked to any of the businesses in Emeryville. You clearly don’t know the owner of Farley’s (Rob does). You clearly don’t understand how businesses market their exit from the community to avoid alienating customers. And you clearly don’t understand that businesses don’t make decisions in a vacuum or based on the moment (unlike Emeryville’s City Council).

      They actually and obviously know what the minimum wage will be in a year, in two and they plan for that. And they know that if they don’t sell now while they are still barely getting by and still have credit, they won’t be able to once the minimum wage is $16 per hour.

      Like any market crash, the smart exit early.

      Pottery Barn: closed
      Bucci’s: closed
      Teacake Bakeshop: closed
      Farley’s: sold out
      Crepes a la Carte: listed for sale
      Coco Delice: closed
      The Bread Project: moved
      Elephant Bar: closed
      Pier 1 imports: closed
      Francesca’s: closed
      Commonwealth Pub: closed
      Scend’s: trying to sell
      Jamba Juice: moving to Texas (400 jobs)
      AAA: moving to Walnut Creek (100 jobs)
      Bacano Bakery: closed
      Bucci’s Café: closed

      Those are just the consumer facing businesses that you’ve heard of and those that have succeeded in exiting completely. The list of businesses that you haven’t heard about and those that have cut staff and reduced hours is 10 times longer.

      The idea that because some businesses are opening means there aren’t problems is also foolish on its face.

      Ask the unemployed whether 10 new businesses plus 10 old businesses is better than 10 new businesses minus 10 old businesses. They’ll know the answer even if you don’t.

      • Anonymous,

        There’s a difference between having the credential of knowing or talking to business owners, and providing evidence that the minimum wage is causing businesses to close. The article clearly did not do the latter, and neither do you.

        A few comments on your scary-looking list of closed businesses:

        1. It looks like you’ve listed 4 Bay Street businesses that have closed. The Bay Street website currently lists 63 open businesses. That is hardly a mass exodus.

        2. As you noted yourself, businesses know where the minimum wage is headed in the next few years, and people bought Farley’s and Ebbett’s anyway.

        3. Coco Delice and the Bread Project were described in this very blog as closing due in part to exorbitant rent increases. Why would you rather put the blame on low-wage workers than on parasitic property owners? (By the way, increasing commercial rents are hardly an indication that the business climate is suffering.)

        4. This blog also reported that Bacano Bakery was replaced by a new ramen shop within 2 months, which was the second ramen shop to open in Emeryville in 2016.

        5. Pier 1 Imports announced last year it was going to close 100 stores nationwide.

        6. As I’m sure you know, a huge percentage of restaurants close within the first couple of years. Commonwealth’s closing is not evidence of the minimum wage having a negative impact, especially since they are going to continue to employ people in the kitchen there.

        7. How many of the corporate jobs at AAA and Jamba Juice headquarters were affected by the minimum wage increase?

      • No one puts the blame on low wage workers. They are the ones losing their jobs. How could they be to blame?

        Parasitic union lobbyists are the problem. Rather than state outright they are trying to use a backdoor path to organize workers who have consistently rejected the union’s desire to leech off their salaries to fund their dying enterprise, they come to a small city and manipulate the system to represent them rather than the residents and local workers.

        Just state outright “I’m Ty. I work for a union. I am paid to post comments to help grow union revenue. My goal is to unionize fast food and retail nationally, and I’m using Emeryville to do it.”

        If it’s a noble goal, speak up and let people know.

    • Ty, you seem like a nice enough guy and I’d be more than willing to chat with you face-to-face over a beer at one of the few existing Emeryville Small businesses left. I wish you’d disclose your ambitions here though. You are a Union Operative who’s ambition it to push legislation through Emeryville where its much easier to orchestrate so you can leverage this against larger neighboring cities, right? This is your job that you’re getting paid to do. My ambition is (was) to advocate for a compromise that fairly allowed businesses to thrive (AKA, the ill-fated “regional” approach that 3 of our council people initially supported but then ultimately lied about.) while allowing employees to keep their jobs. My ambition is to advocate for the few small businesses our city has and that are vital to the vibrancy and uniqueness of our town and loved by our residents. All along urging council to attack the root of the problem which is spiraling housing, healthcare & daycare costs.

      I also wish you’d stop with the lie that Emeryville’s wage is identical to our neighbors. Emeryville’s small business wage will reach $15 in TWO years. Oakland’s won’t until 2022. Emeryville’s untethered wage will reach an estimated $17.23 in 2022 and continue to surge up almost $.50 per year. Oakland’s might not even reach $15 in 2022 if our state pulls the handbrake in the event of an economic recession (likely to happen based on the typical 7 year economic cycle that we’re overdue for). Please reference my handy-dandy little chart if you need clarification:

      Yes, as I accurately reported, new owners will tweak their model and hope they can hang in there (I wish them luck). Some of the previous owners clearly think now is a good time to exit Emeryville. I wonder if the former employees of places like Elephant Bar and Commonwealth and all the other places that have reduced staff would consider you “Pro-worker” or “Anti-Worker?

      • Rob,

        I plead guilty to having an agenda that includes raising the wages of low-wage workers.

        I am aware of the facts in your chart, and I commend the City of Emeryville’s leadership.

        You continue to blame the minimum wage (and, now, me personally) for the closure of a few restaurants and lower staffing levels at unspecified (possibly imaginary) businesses, but you still haven’t provided any evidence businesses are closing because of the minimum wage.


      • You’re a paid lobbyist bruh (how altruistic of you!). If you choose to live in denial that three small businesses that actively opposed Emeryville’s radical version of the MWO (Farley’s, Bucci’s & Ebbet’s) and a fourth that expressed concern (Commonwealth) all left Emeryville within a year after its passing and this is merely coincidence, I can’t help you. I personally know of at least two more that are on the market and a few others that are hanging by a thread. Ignorance must be bliss!

  4. Not much is accomplished by bickering my friends. The bottom line is that people need to earn enough to live and businesses need to earn enough to survive as a going concern. I’m sorry to see that businesses are closing/moving. If it is because of the minimum wage increase (is there date proving this is the case?) then the concern may not be getting enough customers and just hanging on–I don’t know. Other restaurants in Emeryville seem to be thriving. Ruby s is always busy. If they can’t make money off the amounts they charge that is pretty bad since their pricing is up there.

    Change always creates havoc at first but then smooths out, hopefully with positive results. If people make more they can frequent these places and bring more business.

    My bottom line is that infighting accomplishes nothing. It is hard enough to figure out how to make this work for everyone. No proprietor wants to increase their labor costs but is the answer to keep wages low?

    • Thanks Charles, I’m glad more people see both sides of the story. There is no data because Council opted to go into this without a local study and has pushed off the promised 1 year study so they can railroad through “Fair Work Week”.

      I’ll never understand the callousness that some people have toward our small businesses. That if they can’t adapt to experimental legislation, “maybe you shouldn’t be in business!”. How they get blamed for creating poverty some how. They are not the 1%. The ideologues that are pushing this through aren’t the ones that are being impacted. It’s the entrepreneurs who have poured their lives into their dreams and the low-wage earners themselves. They are all just collateral damage to our council’s cause.

      It also puzzles me why government transparency isn’t an issue with more people. Three council people (Martinez, Donahue and Asher) ALL advocated for a regional compromise before the election and then lied about it. Some don’t care if politicians lie apparently if it’s something they support.

  5. Small business owners take major risks in opening up businesses. They can easily lose money like my brother did trying to open a small business overseas and many of these people are very far from the 1%. Once the risk/reward for opening up a small business is not in favoring of opening up that business, a lot of people lose. Emeryville isn’t San Francisco so I suspect lots of businesses that realistically can’t automate their way out of the new salaries will close down. A store like Trader Joe’s does such high volume given its location that after adding a few self checkouts, they may be ok with the higher wages but many of the mom and pop businesses that make Emeryville unique will close down.

  6. Why are paid union lobbyists trolling Emeryville’s little local community blog? What the hell is that about.

  7. Does the city offer any type of paid assistance for small businesses negatively impacted by the MWO and Fair Workweek who are trying to get out of Emeryville?

  8. It’s kind of funny how all these small businesses like Bucci’s and Farley’s got up at city council and said that the MWO would put them out of business. And the union reps said they were bluffing.

    Then the MWO went into effect and the exact same owners who had been around for decades go out of business.

    And so now the union lobbyists claim the minimum wage had no part in putting all these employees out of work.

    How many stages of denial are there and which one are we on now?

    • Decades? I see the “just a few years” kind, the amount of time they usually fail anyway.

      If increasing the MW harms business, then why not lower it? The business owners need more money for rent! Maybe pass the hat among the workers to keep it afloat?

  9. Bummed to see Farley’s 65th and Ebbett’s bite the dust. I live and work in Emeryville, and those were faves of mine. It doesn’t make sense as to why a city as small as Emeryville would fast track the minimum wage increase so out-of-proportion with the surrounding areas. But I’m a chemist, not an economist.

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