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Fire burns away facade of Berkeley's Chez Panisse

March 08, 2013|By Betty Hallock
  • A fire broke out at the famed Chez Panisse in Berkeley early Friday morning.
A fire broke out at the famed Chez Panisse in Berkeley early Friday morning. (Justin Sullivan / AFP/Getty…)

Bay Area television stations reported that a fire broke out just after 3 a.m. on Friday morning at Chez Panisse, damaging the facade of the famed Berkeley restaurant, founded in 1971 by pioneers of the local food movement including chef Alice Waters.

Waters, speaking from her home in Berkeley, told the New York Times that no one was injured and an investigation by fire officials was underway.

Waters said that the fire, which started under the porch, burned away the facade of the restaurant. "We were very lucky that it happened in the middle of the night and that no one was there," she told the New York Times. "But it’s gone. The beautiful woodwork is gone.”

The building started as "an obscure, dingy, two-story apartment building, converted from an old house, in an ignored part of Berkeley," according to a story in the Los Angeles Times upon the restaurant's 40th anniversary in 2011. Much of the restaurant was built by a handful of "hippie" carpenters, founding member Paul Aratow said, a "tear-out-and-design-as-you-go project." 

Part of the dining area in the front of the restaurant was damaged, according to one San Francisco TV station.

Reports say that a sprinkler system saved the structure of the building, pouring water on the porch and keeping the fire from spreading, and that fire officials say the restaurant can reopen with an OK from the health department. Waters told the New York Times that she expects to reopen within the week. 

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