Appetizers
May 12, 2010
California Cafe shuts down abruptly at Arden Fair

The California Café at Arden Fair mall is no longer. Employees found out Tuesday, with phone calls breaking the news to them and giving them absolutely no notice.

Customers began learning the same thing about the popular upscale-casual restaurant today when they showed up for a meal and found the doors locked. Owned by parent company Tavistock Restaurants, California Café had a devoted following dating to its opening 20 years ago this July.

Jeff Carl, Tavistock's chief marketing officer, told me it had little to do with the restaurant's performance, that it was more about the expiring lease and terms of a future lease.

"We were satisfied with the performance of the restaurant given the current economic factors," said Carl, who is based in Emeryville.

But he didn't have much explanation for the way the 30 or so employees were told and how they will be compensated in their final paychecks, which they are supposed to pick up today.

Surprisingly, one longtime employee was sad but not bitter about the way it went down.

"In the restaurant business, that's fairly common practice," said Lori McManus, a server who started at the café 15 years ago. "This will be my second closure. I tend to stick around at a restaurant until they kick me out."

The pastry chef, she said, had worked there since Day 1 and was renowned for his apple tart, among other things.

"After being there 15 years, it was family," McManus added. "I have met so many wonderful people who worked there. It was a pleasure and an honor to work there. It's sad, but it's not often you can work at a place that long."

"I've been very thankful to work there and this is just one of the things that happens," she added.

That said, the reliable and hardworking McManus is suddenly out of work and looking.

She is focusing her search for now in the Roseville area where she lives.

As for Tavistock/California Café, there's an outside chance the restaurant will reopen in another Sacramento location - one with more attractive financial terms.

"We're always looking for better locations, better lease terms," Carl said.


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