As the end of 2022 nears, the local dining scene is in a state of flux. Two eateries have recently closed, a popular East Bay bagel shop has opened its doors, a Stanford spot has returned after renovations and a new hotel's restaurants have been announced.
Vietnamese restaurant coming to Palo Alto
Pho Hà Noi, an upscale northern pho restaurant with locations in San Jose and Cupertino, is coming to Palo Alto, slated to bring its next location to the home of the now-closed Wahlburgers at 185 University Ave.
Palo Alto's Wahlburgers, a national burger chain operated by celebrity brothers Mark, Paul and Donnie Wahlburg, first opened on the Peninsula in November 2017 after launching in the Boston area in 2011. Wahlburgers took over the location from Sam's Chowder House in late 2016. Its only remaining Peninsula restaurant is in downtown Burlingame.
Pho Hà Noi owner Helen Nguyen said she plans to have the new restaurant open by early spring.
She's also thinking of opening some of the restaurant's services to a new clientele: diners' canine companions.
The restaurant cooks about 600 pounds of bones each day, and Nguyen figures some of the extras might make satisfying meals for pooches.
She said she's considering offering outdoor seating for customers who wish to dine with their dogs, but the indoor space will be for humans only, with the exception of service dogs.
The restaurant's menu offers beef rib, sauteed flank steak and a combination with brisket, tendon, meatballs, ribs and flank steak pho and chicken pho flavors, as well as other items like garlic and fish sauce chicken wings, noodle soups and sweet rice dishes.
Nguyen said she is planning to add more health-conscious dishes to the restaurant's Palo Alto menu, including fruit offerings like mango, papaya and lotus root salads. She also intends to make some cosmetic changes, including adding Vietnamese flowers along the windows and walls, she said.
Tootsie's reopens with brand-new coffee roaster
Since opening Tootsie's in the Stanford Barn 13 years ago, owner Rocco Scordella said it's been his dream to be able to roast coffee on-site.
After a several-month closure, the interior of the Italian breakfast and lunch restaurant has been freshened up with new tiles, paint and counters. More importantly, Tootsie's has purchased a small coffee roaster, allowing the restaurant to roast its own beans. It's now open again to serve customers on weekdays from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
The restaurant had for years sourced its coffee beans from Italy, but due to shipping delays, the beans they were receiving were getting older and older — "not the high quality we used to get," he said.
"With the machine we have now in-house, we can have fresh coffee beans every 72 hours," he said.
Since reopening the restaurant about two weeks ago, Scordella said that visitors have been enjoying the new interior — much of which was designed by his wife, Shannon.
Moving forward, he said, not only will all of the food be made in-house daily, but the coffee will be as fresh as the food. They're also planning to develop special coffee blends available for purchase.
Cocoa & Butter closes months after opening on University Avenue
Cocoa & Butter, a French bakery and patisserie that opened a brick-and-mortar location in downtown Palo Alto seven months ago, announced Nov. 16 that it has closed the shop, offering its goods only through online orders.
There were a number of factors that led husband-and-wife team Fouzia Rafae and Rafae Bhatti to suspend retail operations, including major workforce challenges, a rent increase and the rapidly changing economic climate, Bhatti said.
Before opening the shop at 383 University Ave., Cocoa & Butter had operated as an online business for about six years through a cottage kitchen license, renting out commercial kitchens in which to bake for larger events. That's the setup they plan to return to, Bhatti said.
"We were hoping for a rebound that never arrived," Bhatti said.
Hiring and retaining workers was one of the biggest challenges, Bhatti explained. Offering higher-than-market pay, along with medical and dental health care benefits and 401(k) options, wasn't enough to attract staff with the experience they wanted, so they took on less-experienced workers. After going through the training, many left for higher-paying jobs after receiving their first paycheck, he said.
Over the course of their seven months in operation, they were searching for new workers every two or three weeks and cycled through 30 to 40 employees, he said.
These staffing problems were compounded by recent layoffs hitting the tech sector.
"At least in the pandemic, the tech sector retained its strength," Bhatti said. "Now, that part has reversed as well ... the sector is losing jobs and spending is going to go down."
Meanwhile, their efforts to negotiate with the landlord regarding a rent increase weren't successful.
"We just could not continue to accumulate all those losses, particularly with the forecast not looking bright, either," he said.
But despite the obstacles, they're not giving up on their bakery concept.
"We enjoyed serving the community," he said. "Hopefully we'll be able to find another opportunity for retail, but for now, I think we'll just have to wait it out a little bit."
Former President Hotel to offer rooftop bar and cafe
Graduate Palo Alto, the luxury hotel that was once home to Palo Alto's historic President Hotel (formerly apartments), is set to open a cafe and a rooftop bar.
Starting this month, Graduate Palo Alto will offer Lou & Herbert's, a casual all-day cafe, and President's Terrace, a rooftop bar with views of downtown, according to a recent press release.
The cafe will offer quick breakfasts in the mornings and light bites at night. Coffee will be sourced from Saint Frank Coffee, and the breakfast menu will include items like pancakes, poke and pastries from Manresa Bread. In the evenings it will offer snacks, local beer and wine and classic cocktails.
The rooftop bar atop the six-story hotel will have a garden and cozy settings, including an outdoor fireplace and couches. The cocktail menu is being designed in collaboration with Los Angeles-based mixologist Bad Birdy. There also will be a selection of natural wines and seasonal snacks. The hotel plans to host activities like rooftop yoga, weekend brunch, a Bloody Mary bar and tastings with local distillers.
The revamped hotel is emerging more than two years after the Palo Alto City Council allowed the building's 75 apartments to be converted into 100 hotel rooms in June 2020.
Boichik Bagels opens at Town & Country
The long-awaited Boichik Bagels outpost in Palo Alto opened last month and has been drawing long lines ever since.
The Berkeley-launched bagel business opened its first storefront in 2019 and quickly grew in popularity, thanks in part to a writeup by food critic Tejal Rao of the New York Times, who said Boichik bagels looked like "Labrador puppies curled up for afternoon naps: soft and pudgy, golden roly-polys" and were "some of the finest New York-style bagels I've ever tasted."
The bagel shop is part of what the author called a "West Coast bagel boom."
The location in Palo Alto's Town & Country Village shopping center was announced in January. Situated between CVS pharmacy and Wildseed restaurant, it will offer the same chocolate malted iced coffee, bagels and sandwiches as the original Berkeley eatery.
Founder Emily Winston made headlines over the summer when she announced her plans to raise capital to fund new retail locations by selling "Bagel Bucks" — discounted gift cards — and through a $1 million bond managed through SBMX, a crowdfunding site.
Boichik bagels can also be found at Bianchini's Market in Portola Valley and San Carlos and Piazza's Fine Foods in San Mateo and Palo Alto.