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Alice Waters 'Visibly Distraught' at Scene of Chez Panisse Fire

Waters says the Cafe could reopen by next weekend.

Acclaimed chef Alice Waters was "visibly distraught" this morning when she visited the scene of a fire that damaged Chez Panisse, the iconic Berkeley restaurant at 1517 Shattuck Ave. that she founded 41 years ago and still co-owns.

"It was very upsetting [for her] to see this happen ... but she was relieved to see it wasn't as extensive as it initially appeared," said Acting Deputy Chief Avery Webb of the Berkeley Fire Department.

Waters sent a message out on Twitter around 10 a.m. that said, "Luckily no one hurt and the main structure of Chez Panisse intact. Hope to reopen the Cafe next weekend. Thank you for your love + support."

The fire appears to have started at or near exterior electrical equipment under an overhang that houses an 8x12-foot alcove off the main dining room, Webb said. Fire department personnel were still investigating the cause of the blaze mid-morning.

The fire was reported at 3:04 a.m. today.

Flames spread from from the point of origin up the side of the restaurant and reached inside to the alcove, Webb said. Sprinklers quickly extinguished the fire inside the building, he said.

Webb said that most of the damage is to the building's exterior. He said Fire Marshal John Fitch "guesstimated" damage to the structure at between $150,000 and $200,000.

"The vast majority of the rest of the restaurant is essentially undisturbed by fire, but they have some minor smoke damage," he said.

"I'm just glad no one was in the building," Waters told KCBS radio.

The downstairs main dining room could be closed for several weeks, according to KCBS. Waters indicated she may use this as an opportunity to extend the downstairs dining area, the station reported.

Chez Panisse patrons who visited the fire scene were upset and offered memories of their visits to the restaurant.

"I heard about it on the radio this morning and was heartsick," said Jennifer Curtis of Berkeley. "It's pretty traumatizing to have this happen twice."

The restaurant suffered a much more serious fire in 1982, according to Webb.

Curtis said, "My kid brother had his after-wedding dinner here. He's now in his mid-60s and he's got kids in their late 20s and early 30s."

Curtis, a Berkeley native, also said that she was delivered by Alta Bates, the nurse for whom the local medical center is named.

Webb said today's fire was a single-alarm incident. Four fire engines, one ladder truck and about 18 firefighters responded, he said.

Read more about the Chez Panisse fire in this earlier article.

Bay City News Service contributed to this article.

Share your memories of Chez Panisse in the comments section below.

Charles Burress March 08, 2013 at 09:26 PM
Hi Dorothy, thanks. You may be right about the relevancy of the Alta Bates mention, so thanks for adding that connection!
Dorothy Coakley March 08, 2013 at 09:56 PM
Sorry, Charles! You know I love your work. We miss you as our fearless leader here in EC.!
Toni Mayer March 11, 2013 at 09:40 PM
I agree w/ Dorothy about missing you, Charles, but have not quibble about the local color. I like details like that, relevant to the main story or not.
Dorothy Coakley March 11, 2013 at 10:20 PM
Toni has a point. "Local color" does add an aura of authenticity to an article. So...digress as much as you like, Charles. Its nice to know you are out there bringing in the daily fish wrap. Thanks!
Charles Burress March 12, 2013 at 12:28 AM
Thank you to Toni and Dorothy for the kind words. I'm still around – just covering more territory.

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