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Old Pro owner takes over University Cafe, plans revamp

Uploaded: Sep 5, 2014
Downtown Palo Alto's University Café will be closing this Sunday, Sept. 7, for brief renovations, the first step in a larger revamp planned by new ownership. Steve Sinchek, owner of popular sports bar Old Pro, took over the café/restaurant from previous owners Lynn and Kenny Kuo this Monday.

Sinchek has big plans for the space at 271 University Ave., but he's starting small with new chairs, tables, paint job and espresso machine that will come in next week. He said the restaurant will close Sunday night and hopefully reopen within a week.

But in January or February, University Café as Palo Altans know it will cease to exist. Sinchek will fully close the restaurant and begin work on Local Union 271, a locally focused breakfast, lunch and dinner restaurant with a full bar.

"The whole idea is to unite as many local ranchers and farms and dairies form the area, wine and beer as well, and be as local as possible," Sinchek said Thursday. "It's a play on a union thing."

To run the kitchen, Sinchek is bringing in local chef Michael Ellis, whose resume includes three years at the Old Pro as well as Michelin-starred Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg, Penthouse Club & Steakhouse in San Francisco and Hult's Restaurant in Los Gatos.

Sinchek said he and Ellis plan to sit down next week to redo the entire menu. They already started by making it leaner and improving the quality of food (Sinchek said some canned food was being used; now it's all fresh).

With a full bar, he also hopes to "improve the nighttime business."

University Cafe opened as University Coffee Cafe in the mid-1990s.

"It kind of needs some fine tuning and spit shine," Sinchek said. "That's the plan ? keep it University Cafe until the winter; at that point do a major remodel then and change the inside, structure, put in a full bar, redo the kitchen and really, really get it up to speed."

He also wants to keep on all University Cafe staff, so they'll stay until the restaurant closes next year and then work at Old Pro, if they want to, during the remodel.
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 +   2 people like this
Posted by andrew rich, a resident of Woodland Ave. area (East Palo Alto),
on Sep 5, 2014 at 2:05 pm

andrew rich is a registered user.

Cheers to Sincheck for keeping the University Cafe staff employed during the remodel and closure. Looking forward to the new place.

 +  Like this comment
Posted by tina, a resident of Barron Park,
on Sep 8, 2014 at 10:27 am

+1 andrew rich...perfect concept for palo alto, and more of what university needs --- locally owned business that is committed to locally raised/grown ingredients.

Looking forward to this new venue, thank you Steve!

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Dave, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Sep 8, 2014 at 11:10 am

Will miss University Cafe but sounds like it will be nice. Keep the brioche french toast on the menu please.

And I hope the Union place will be comfortable enough to take my kids to breakfast, since there is almost nowhere left downtown besides the creamery.

 +  Like this comment
Posted by Savannah, a resident of Downtown North,
on Sep 8, 2014 at 11:17 am

When Michael Ellis puts his mastery on this we will have another awesome place on University Avenue! Great news!

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by and spit shine, a resident of another community,
on Sep 8, 2014 at 12:17 pm

The PR folk need to hide Sincheck from the public, at least until he retires phrases like "spit shine" in the public eatery world....

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Hermia, a resident of Triple El,
on Sep 8, 2014 at 3:31 pm

University Cafe has been in need of a new palate for some time. We'd go by every six months or so, but it hasn't really offered desirable food for years. I'm glad to see the change.

 +  Like this comment
Posted by Julie Armitano, a resident of University South,
on Sep 9, 2014 at 10:56 am

I am really happy for the change.
When My fiance comes to visit we can go there.
Thanks Steve.

 +   2 people like this
Posted by NorthUnivRegular, a resident of another community,
on Sep 9, 2014 at 12:26 pm

...not too sure if three years? chef experience at Old Pro is a good recommendation...

 +  Like this comment
Posted by whatever, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Sep 10, 2014 at 1:41 pm

With that name, Local Union 271, can we take for granted that all employees will belong to the local restaurant employees union and that all remodeling/construction work will be done by US citizen or Green Card union employees?

 +   3 people like this
Posted by Desmo, a resident of Southgate,
on Sep 11, 2014 at 11:19 am

Old Pro is known for poor service and below average food. A logical move to expand such below average fare.

 +  Like this comment
Posted by Sylvia, a resident of Midtown,
on Sep 11, 2014 at 11:38 am

This sounds great! I only ate at University Café a couple of times and the food was extremely mediocre. A place for breakfast with good food sounds terrific.

 +  Like this comment
Posted by Kathy, a resident of Portola Valley,
on Sep 22, 2014 at 1:04 pm

Great Blog! Have you heard anything about the local CSA winery in Portola Valley? Portola Vineyards? Great Pinot Noir and Rose of Pinot. I am a member of their wine club.

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