The Oasis, perhaps the oldest eating establishment in Menlo Park, will close permanently March 7 after 60 years of business, according to a Feb. 21 announcement on Facebook by the business' owners, the Tougas family. They claimed they were "unable to negotiate a reasonable lease for our business, nor meet the requested terms of the building's owner."
The joint is considered an institution by many and beloved for its burgers, pizza, beer and slightly sticky wooden tables engraved with what appear to be generations of initials.
Michele LaBarbera, daughter of the Oasis' longtime former owner Bernie Tougas, who helps manage the family business with her husband, said she did not wish to discuss the terms of the negotiations. She noted that the "terms and conditions that were being asked of us were just not workable."
"We're extremely sad over this," she said.
Diana Beltramo Hewitt, a descendant of the Oasis' original founder and current property owner, also declined to comment further on the conditions of the lease, but noted that the Beltramo family does not have development plans for the site and will be looking for a new tenant.
In a Feb. 25 memo sent to the Menlo Park city attorney and city manager, Vice Mayor Ray Mueller has offered to mediate negotiations between the Beltramo and Tougas families, or to help the Beltramo family find new operators for the site.
He said he has spoken with property owners Dan and Margaret Beltramo and understands they don't want to develop the site. The restaurant holds emotional significance to them, he said. Mr. Beltramo's father reportedly built the wooden booths there.
The property owners would like to continue to operate the site as a restaurant, confirmed Ms. Beltramo Hewitt.
Mr. Mueller also suggested that the city explore options to address the parking shortage at the restaurant during peak business hours and recommended that city staff prepare a report for the City Council to discuss the matter.
Another property owned by the Beltramos, the former Beltramo's Wine & Spirits site on El Camino Real in Menlo Park, was sold and is planned for redevelopment into a three-story residential building by local developer Derek Hunter. The Menlo Park Planning Commission was scheduled to review the development plan on Feb. 26, after the Almanac went to press.
'Don't let the O Go!'
A widespread outpouring of public support for the institution ensued shortly after the Tougas family's announcement on Facebook. Hundreds of comments flooded in and a petition was launched to urge the property owner to reconsider.
On Facebook, some people tagged other people or shared the announcement to spread the news; others expressed sadness at the announcement or shared memories.
"NNNNNNNNNNOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!! The last great hole-in-the-wall in Menlo Park / Palo Alto ... RIP," wrote Todd Curtis Fryburger.
"Spent time there growing up starting back in the 70's and my father even spent time there when he was in College at Stanford. I try to get there every time I'm in town visiting. It feels like home to walk in there. So sad to see it go," wrote Gary Lee Chrisman.
"The Oasis was the extension of the Homebrew Computer Club, where after the meeting adjourned staff of competing companies would drink and exchange tips about how to run their businesses. It deserves historic recognition for that reason alone," wrote Lee Felsenstein.
The online petition, titled "Don't let the O Go!" (a reference to the watering hole's nickname) was written by Alison Perris, who shared her remembrances of the spot: "I was born and raised in Menlo Park, CA and ever since I can remember The Oasis has been our hangout. ... As a kid I can remember going to the O with my Dad for pizza and a (root beer) and feeling so grown up as we sat in the large wooden booths with names of Stanford students past and present carved into the tables and walls. Then when I was older meeting friends over beers after softball games or watching the Giants in the World Series."
As of about 3 p.m. Feb. 26, the petition had gathered 12,571 signatures.
According to the Menlo Park Historical Association, the building that houses the Oasis was once the YMCA building at Camp Fremont, when the area was a training camp for World War I. It was originally built in 1917 at Santa Cruz Avenue and Chestnut Street, but was moved to its current location at 241 El Camino Real around 1920.
The historical association reports that Alexander Beltramo, son of Beltramo's Wine & Spirits founder John Beltramo, converted the building into a beer garden in 1933. Ms. Beltramo Hewitt told the Almanac he named it that "because he thought that was fitting after Prohibition."
Mr. Beltramo operated the beer garden for about two years, and in 1946 it was leased to a man named Archie Marshall. In 1958, the business changed hands again, and Bernie Tougas took over tenancy at the site, Ms. Beltramo Hewitt said.
"He and his wife Doris really poured their heart and soul into the place and made it what it is today," she said. "They were great tenants for many years."
According to "Menlo Park: Beyond the Gate," a history book about Menlo Park by historians Michael Svanevik and Shirley Burgett, the building's front office was used as the air raid warden's office during World War II.
Notable incidents referenced in that book include a visit by a young John F. Kennedy, who came by to eat a hamburger. Another time, when flooding from San Francisquito Creek had left the restaurant inundated, customers just took off their shoes and "partied as usual."
The restaurant currently has around 20 to 25 employees, who were alerted about the closure plans on Feb. 20, after the final decision was made the day before, according to an employee who asked to remain anonymous.
The Tougas family also made a separate farewell statement, expressing gratitude to loyal clients in Menlo Park, Palo Alto and Stanford.
"We want to express our warmest appreciation to all of the wonderful customers who passed through our doors. Your love is engraved in our many tables and booths. Thank you for sitting down in our beer garden to have a beer with us, cracking open some peanuts, carving up our tables with your first loves, playing some pinball, and filling our restaurant with your children and children's children. We are so grateful to have shared these past 60 years with you!" the letter says.
Editor's Note: This story has been updated and expanded from a previous version.