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About this blog: I am a perpetually hungry twenty-something journalist, born and raised in Menlo Park and currently working at the Palo Alto Weekly as education and youth staff writer. I graduated from USC with a major in Spanish and a minor in jo...  (More)

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Calafia closes in Palo Alto: 'The costs were greater than the take'

Uploaded: Aug 26, 2018
Google's first-ever chef, Charlie Ayers, closed Calafia Cafe this week after nine years of serving farm-to-table California cuisine at Town & Country Village in Palo Alto.

"Money wasn't coming through the door anymore," Ayers said. "The costs were greater than the take. I couldn't operate that way anymore."

The closure was publicly announced in a brief typed note from Ayers, posted on the restaurant's door: "It was a good 9 years Thank you Palo Alto!"


A grilled asparagus salad at Calafia Cafe. Palo Alto Weekly file photo.

Ayers said the closure was not prompted by any problems with Town & Country management. He did not answer further questions about Calafia's financial state and how long he had been considering the closure.

"I love Palo Alto. I think Palo Alto still loves us, but I just can't do it anymore," he said.

Ayers became Google's executive chef in 1999, long before its campus cafeterias made headlines for their range and quality of food. He won the job in cook-off judged by the company's 40 employees, according to his website. When he left six years later, Google had five sous chefs, 150 employees and 10 cafes serving 4,000 lunches and dinners daily, according to Ayers.

Ayers left Google to open Calafia in 2009, "realizing his dream of owning a neighborhood spot serving organic, sustainable, healthy, delicious food," the Calafia website states. Ayers took over one of the El Camino Real shopping center’s larger spaces. There was the sit-down restaurant on one side and the takeout-focused Market A Go-Go on the other.


Charlie Ayers in Calafia Cafe the year it opened in Palo Alto. Palo Alto Weekly file photo.

In 2009, former Palo Alto Weekly reviewer Sheila Himmel called Calafia a "hit."

"Charlie Ayers may finally be able to shed his exes," she wrote. "The chef formerly known for feeding Google and the Grateful Dead has a hit in Calafia Cafe and Market-A-Go-Go, his contribution to the amazing revival of
Palo Alto’s revived Town & Country Village. Good luck finding a parking space at this recently moribund center at lunchtime."

Calafia also took home best California cuisine for several years in the Palo Alto Weekly's Best Of competition.

Ayers was formerly a private chef and personal chef to the Grateful Dead. He also serves as a restaurant consultant and is chief culinary officer for Chowbotics, the local startup behind a salad-making robot.

When asked what's next for him, Ayers quipped, "Opening a pizza place on Mars with Elon Musk!"

Comments

 +   17 people like this
Posted by Health issues??, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Aug 26, 2018 at 8:45 pm

Health issues?? is a registered user.

Might the lack of recent business have something to do with the fact that the health department had to close them down multiple times for insects and rats?


 +   25 people like this
Posted by redplanet, a resident of Addison School,
on Aug 26, 2018 at 10:05 pm

I heard about the closing an hour after if happened - long before Charlie's note on the door. According to my source it was more the management issues Town and Country has with store owners/operators. They are not well liked. I was told Charlie hadn't been around for months and was not happy. Everyone agrees the place was always packed. I was there the night before with three family members - it was thriving as usual. So sorry t see it go. Another favorite place of mine gone. Thx Charlie for the good times and good food.


 +   11 people like this
Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Aug 26, 2018 at 10:54 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

"According to my source it was more the management issues Town and Country has with store owners/operators. They are not well liked."

Not too surprised to hear that. They destroyed Prestige, a 35+-yr-old women's boutique and family business, by first moving them into a huge costly space just in time for one of the economic downturns and then refusing to let them move to a smaller more affordable space.

Loyal customers wrote and called the city which city refused to get involved and sent a very junior "business development guy to their going away party; he seemed totally shocked that 200+ women from Presige's loyal customer base expected his department to actually do something.


 +   22 people like this
Posted by Rats will be sad, a resident of Esther Clark Park,
on Aug 26, 2018 at 11:23 pm

Horrid staff was part of their problem. Example: Went in for coffee and had to ask for sugar. And got the sugar with server's clearly annoyed look.


 +   10 people like this
Posted by Downfall, a resident of Fairmeadow,
on Aug 27, 2018 at 9:38 am

Downfall is a registered user.

Can't say I'm sorry to see it go. Got sick multiple times eating there. When the health department shut them down it sure made sense to me. Overall impression was overpriced, average food that occasionally made you sick. Never understood people who would wait in line for this place.


 +   7 people like this
Posted by Annette, a resident of College Terrace,
on Aug 27, 2018 at 10:12 am

Annette is a registered user.

His creations were great and his cookbook is one of my favorites. If you get it, try his pork chops wrapped in rosemary and bacon and drizzled with fig-infused balsamic. Kudos to Ayers for his creativity and nine years of tough work in a tough business.


 +   23 people like this
Posted by Harris, a resident of Barron Park,
on Aug 27, 2018 at 12:55 pm

This hype about being a google chef is beyond silly. Yet even the generally outstanding article writter requotes this illogical kudos. Google is an ad firm with search products and aps not a cooking school.


 +   7 people like this
Posted by harris, a resident of Barron Park,
on Aug 27, 2018 at 12:57 pm

typos. Sorry. From Spain


 +   13 people like this
Posted by Julie, a resident of Gemello,
on Aug 27, 2018 at 3:22 pm

I am so sorry to see this. I loved this restaurant. The food was amazing. It tasted fresh, home cooked and healthy. I will miss it.


 +   43 people like this
Posted by Rob, a resident of Atherton,
on Aug 27, 2018 at 5:08 pm

@Downfall: "Can't say I'm sorry to see it go. Got sick multiple times eating there. When the health department shut them down it sure made sense to me. Overall impression was overpriced, average food that occasionally made you sick. Never understood people who would wait in line for this place."

You mentioned that you "got sick multiple times eating there" yet say you "never understood people who would wait in line for this place."

Hmmm...sounds like you loved this place and were probably one of those people waiting outside too.

Call me crazy but I wouldn't return to a restaurant that made me sick one time. Why continue eating at a place that has gotten you sick MULTIPLE times? You clearly loved this place.


 +   15 people like this
Posted by Common sense, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Aug 27, 2018 at 5:43 pm

It's even worse than that, Rob. People get sick, they remember eating at a restaurant, so PRESTO! They blame the restaurant. Fact is, they rarely really know what they got sick from, and it usually wasn't what they guess. But it's handy to scapegoat someone.


 +   20 people like this
Posted by Lesley , a resident of another community,
on Aug 27, 2018 at 9:05 pm

We really enjoyed Califia, the staff was wonderful and always friendly and nice. I met my daughter there for 5 years every Thursday night. The food was inventive and delicious! Our schedules changed so we haven't met there for about a year but every time I am in Palo Alto I would stop by for lunch and to say hello. I would like to thank the entire staff and particularly Mollie for always making us feel welcome. Thank you all for the great food and friendship!


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Vahe Agajenian, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Aug 27, 2018 at 9:32 pm

Does not help that it is located in a shopping center with no particular identity, astronomical and arbitrary rents, CVS as an anchor; but boutique pretensions.
The coast of nowhere. Trader Joe's and the car wash nearby, not bad.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Dreadful Coffee, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Aug 27, 2018 at 9:39 pm

I went to this place ONCE and had the worst coffee in my entire life. I'm flabbergasted it was around this long. The entire appeal was the guy was lucky enough to be Google's first chef. B.F.D.


 +   18 people like this
Posted by Sally, a resident of Downtown North,
on Aug 27, 2018 at 10:46 pm

A footnote in this drama. I was given a $100 gift-certificate for my birthday, from my mother, to this place a day before the announcement of their closure. In Judeo-Christian language, there is a special place in hell for an owner that would sell a gift certificate the day before they announce closure and bankruptcy. In the language of ancient Greece, "I pray to Apollo, Your arrows upon the Danaans, for my Tears."


 +   18 people like this
Posted by redplanet, a resident of Addison School,
on Aug 28, 2018 at 12:01 am

Sally - I don't think the staff knew the closing was coming so whoever sold the gift cert probably did so in good faith. I was there about an hour after it closed and people were milling around, confused, saying they had called earlier for reservations for dinner = and got them. If the closing was known the phone person would have simply said, no or a phone message could have been on. I bet Charlie will make the 100 good.


 +   18 people like this
Posted by Mimi Leake, a resident of Green Acres,
on Aug 28, 2018 at 7:22 am

It's sad that employees and patrons were left in the dark. Probably investors too. Instead of focusing on and correcting issues such as horrible customer service and food that wasn't up to par, menu prices increased. The health department shut down didn't help. Why would anyone eat somewhere that had been shut down for vermin, return especially with the above mentioned issues already at hand??

I also had witnessed in the past how the owner/chef treated his employees at times cruel and abusive language in front of guests, could only image behind the scenes!!!

I had quit coming here years ago, due to the downhill spiral of product, service and my disappointment in an owner of business who lacked respect for others.

Fortunately Palo Alto has many excellent places for healthful eating with wonderful customer service. Calafia will not be missed for long.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by wayne douglass, a resident of another community,
on Aug 28, 2018 at 11:23 am

wayne douglass is a registered user.

Another business/eating concept that failed. So what? The moving finger, having writ, moves on. That's free enterprise for you.


 +   11 people like this
Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Aug 28, 2018 at 11:32 am

Online Name is a registered user.

Maybe he should have treated his employees better instead of wasting a snall fortune promoting his trendy robotic salad makers.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by chris, a resident of University South,
on Aug 28, 2018 at 1:52 pm

Note that neighboring Mayfield puts a surcharge on its bills for Palo Alto's minimum wage increase.


 +   40 people like this
Posted by Reader, a resident of another community,
on Aug 28, 2018 at 6:26 pm

That's just a political statement.

You can build the cost increase into your pricing.

Let's say you run a coffee shop and your cleaning products vendor increased the price of soap for your dishwashing machine. Do you add a line item bill surchage for "Soap Price Increase"? What about paper cups? Straws? Napkins? Your electricity bill? Fire insurance? "New Toilet Roll Dispenser in 2nd Stall of Women's Bathroom Surcharge?"

These bill surcharges are local SF Bay Area restaurant business political B.S.

Go to Tokyo, Paris, Milan, whatever and dine out. Do you see stupid line item surcharges like this on those bills?

NO.

Palo Alto restaurateurs really need to start understanding that some of us here are fed up with this political posturing.

The price of a cappuccino at Caffe Venezia in downtown PA is more than the exact same drink in coffee shops in downtown Mountain View. Do I need a line item on the bill to tell me this? NO, I DO NOT.

Restaurateurs who pull this stuff off really need to consider the possibility that they are being annoying. Yeah, it's expensive around here. Labor is not cheap. WE KNOW THAT. It's not more expensive for your restaurant than anyone else.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by whatever, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Aug 28, 2018 at 9:09 pm

redplanet-"I bet Charlie will make the 100 good."

Yeah, right. A Google zillionaire cares about a working stiff's $100.

I, too, have a $100 unused gift card.
When you hear, let me know where he is offering refunds.
I await with bated breath.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde,
on Aug 28, 2018 at 9:21 pm

@Reader, I suppose you and everyone who liked your comment wants to see sales tax folded into pricing as well. Customers should be kept in the dark about any reason for higher prices, especially government impositions.


 +   21 people like this
Posted by Lucky, a resident of Professorville,
on Aug 29, 2018 at 5:47 am

First of all, I find it terrible that most responses on this and many other topics have such spiteful comments. Calafia, was an innovative restaurant that succeeded in not only healthy, creative and wholesome food but also educated people about food, where it came from and how it affects your body in a healthy way. Icons like Steve Jobs ate there daily. Charlie did benefit from the fact that he was the original Google chef but that is just a chapter of an otherwise great career. Keep in mind that he also turned around such places as the Peninsula Fountain and Grill a couple years prior to Google. Chef was an innovator of food service in the corporate world that now employs thousands of people who otherwise would not be surviving. He understands that small ranchers and farms need to be the focus for high quality and healthy cuisine (how many times are you going to hear about a recall on produce, let me tell you, it happens everyday). Calafia showed that sustainability was not just a word that most restaurants just throw around; every detail mattered, from the decor, to the food down to the squid ink stamp used on the pizza boxes. As far as the Health Dept closure, I truly believe that it was a set up as they were inspected just days before and had a green rating, look it up, its public. How could Mayfield not have the same issues? They share the same common building. Personally, I have eaten at Calafia a hundred or more times, with family, friends and have only felt energized by the food and creative smoothies. I turned many people on to this place and am sad to see it go. As for all you haters out there, try to take that energy and do something good with it, you'll be a better person.


 +   8 people like this
Posted by Common sense, a resident of Mountain View,
on Aug 29, 2018 at 9:39 am

Musical wrote "@Reader, I suppose you and everyone who liked your comment..." FYI: Comments by "Reader, a resident of another community" routinely appear here together with unlikely "Like" counts added immediately after the comment. It's been a quirk of that commenter for years. While most comments might garner a couple of "Likes" per day, I saw this page a few minutes after "Reader" commented above, and it already showed the same 30 "Likes" it currently has, the next day.

In other words, it's likely no one actually "Liked" that comment (besides its author, using an automated tool for the purpose).

Lucky: I agree with you about spiteful shallow comments. Subject matter of this blog seems to bring those out regularly, it's just part of the package.


 +   9 people like this
Posted by CMC, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Aug 29, 2018 at 10:23 am

@Lucky,
I'm with you! Why all the vitriol?

Calafia wasn't my "go to," but why the need to keep swinging when they're already down?

There's other projects in town that need the good energy right now...


 +   2 people like this
Posted by HumosHuman, a resident of Atherton,
on Aug 29, 2018 at 12:16 pm

[Post removed.]


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Jerry Brice, a resident of Atherton,
on Aug 29, 2018 at 12:28 pm

[Post removed.]


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Lucky, a resident of Professorville,
on Aug 29, 2018 at 1:20 pm

[Post removed due to deletion of referenced comment.]


 +   11 people like this
Posted by Howard, a resident of Community Center,
on Aug 29, 2018 at 4:08 pm

I for one, am very, very sad. I loved Calafia, and went there often for both business and social lunches, and also often for dinner with my family. I will miss Molly at the front table, the friendly staff, and most of all the awesome dishes. Their menu was one of the few places in town that could make everyone in my family happy, including the meat-lover, the vegan, and the gluten-free. They were even friendly and welcoming to our dogs.

Thanks for the incredible run, Calafia. You will be missed by me and my family.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Chris, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Aug 29, 2018 at 5:52 pm

I went to Italy this summer and they have a 2 Euro Service Charge just to sit down. My wife had a quick lunch as she was very hungry while my kids and I did not. 8 euro plus her salad. It's everywhere and not absorbed into the pricing.


 +   8 people like this
Posted by Jwheeler, a resident of Greenmeadow,
on Aug 30, 2018 at 11:42 am

Jwheeler is a registered user.

Lucky, I'm with you also. We will miss the food people. Our number favorite in PA.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by maximusgolden, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Aug 31, 2018 at 12:41 pm

[Post removed.]


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Jack45, a resident of Greenmeadow,
on Aug 31, 2018 at 1:06 pm

Jack45 is a registered user.

It's even worse than that, Rob. People get sick, they remember eating at a restaurant, so PRESTO! They blame the restaurant. Fact is, they rarely really know what they got sick from, and it usually wasn't what they guess. But it's handy to scapegoat someone.

JackG.

[A portion of this post has been removed.]


 +  Like this comment
Posted by TLC, a resident of Woodland Ave. area (East Palo Alto),
on Aug 31, 2018 at 2:11 pm

I went to Calafia couple times when it first opened. It's a nice, comfortable restaurant and I vaguely remember liking it. However, it's not enough draw for us to come back since. Still sad to see it closes. So MANY restaurants in PA closed these days: Cheesecake Factory, Spot Pizza, LYFE Kitchen, EPI Cafe. And these are only the ones that we frequent. What's going on? High rents? High labor cost? Low customer turn out?


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Steve, a resident of another community,
on Aug 31, 2018 at 4:13 pm

The market/to-go part of this restaurant was terrible. Bad sandwiches for $10, really expensive soft drinks, awful burritos. It was quick, which is why I tricked myself into going a handful of times. The quality of that part of the business did not change an inch in 9 years.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by @Reader, a resident of Sylvan Park,
on Aug 31, 2018 at 10:11 pm

"Go to Tokyo, Paris, Milan, whatever and dine out. Do you see stupid line item surcharges"
While I agree with your post that these surcharges are stupid,you'll see "Coperto" and "Servizio" surcharges in Milan.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde,
on Aug 31, 2018 at 11:49 pm

^ Only nine different surcharges on my monthly phone bill.



 +   3 people like this
Posted by Too bad, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Sep 2, 2018 at 12:26 am

I loved the food but stopped going because of being seriously overcharged on more than one occasion, experiencing less expensive substitutes for what I ordered, etc. Something was not right. Tried to contact Ayers with concerns fwiw but unsuccessful. Then the health inspections sealed the deal.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Hmmm, a resident of another community,
on Sep 2, 2018 at 11:46 am

I went out of my way to avoid this place after a few bad experiences there earlier on- dried food on silverware, inattentive and poor service, bad coffee and food dried on plates. I wondered about the rats and roaches infesting Mayfield Bakery & Cafe. It'll be interesting to see what goes in there next.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Karn, a resident of Woodside,
on Sep 5, 2018 at 11:27 am

Sad to see this place go, thank you Charlie Ayers for teaching me about three month dry aged steak and high quality non-alcoholic grape juice "wine". Where else could you go and see a long public list of the farms that grow your food?


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by David jones, a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda,
on Sep 6, 2018 at 1:40 am

I love this restaurant. The food was amazing and the service. Cost is little bit high in here.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by emik, a resident of Fairmeadow,
on Sep 30, 2018 at 9:22 pm

We loved Califia and are really sad to see them go. I don't know how some people can describe the food/staff so poorly. We must have eaten there at least 10 - 15 times and ALWAYS had great service/encountered friendly staff. We also always really enjoyed their food. The only place I knew of, where we could go out to eat, and have a relatively healthy meal that tasted good (and was more than just salad). Now, I will admit I HATE going to T&C, but the main reason is because they have not figured out a way to handle the traffic flow in a sane manner...that is the primary reason we didn't go there more often.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by easong, a resident of another community,
on Oct 17, 2018 at 9:32 pm

No worries, food fans. It will soon be another poke bowl parlor or ultra-gourmet $18 burger place where they put kimchee or tofu bacon on for no extra charge. Or a place where your hand-tossed pizza is oven-blasted to char-crust perfection in 90 seconds at 900F. Town & Country is highly attuned to the wants and needs of Palo Alto.



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