Alameda Business Buzz: Spirits Alley recognized

Alameda Business Buzz: Spirits Alley recognized

Janice Worthen
Spirits Alley

Photo by Janice Worthen.

I’ve heard many people say Alameda is the Bay Area’s best kept secret, and while Julia Park Tracey’s article “24 Things You Don’t Understand About Alameda (Unless You’re From There),” which appeared on Thrillist at the end of January, may not have let the cat out of the bag, it has certainly caused many to give the Island a second look.

Fortunately, Alameda’s moment in the spotlight isn’t over just yet. The Island was recently named a finalist for Sunset Magazine’s first “Sunset Travel Awards” in the category “Best Municipal Makeover/Reinvention Town” for Spirits Alley – the stretch of wineries, distilleries, and a brewery along Monarch Street on Alameda Point that the city christened with its new moniker last October.

Sunset has been bringing attention to the secret wonders of the western United States since 1898, when it was created as a promotional tool for the Southern Pacific Railroad. The Sunset blog is even titled “Westphoria,” and the magazine covers 13 states that were eligible to enter the contest. Other finalists for the honor include Philipsburg, Mont.; Sacramento; Ventura; and Reno. Winners will be announced in the June issue of Sunset.

Eric Fonstein, the city’s development manager, said the city heard about the contest from the Alameda Chamber of Commerce and submitted applications for two categories that seemed the best fit for Alameda: the “Best Municipal Makeover/Reinvention Town” and the “Best Beach Town.”

“Alameda is not a traditional, semi-secluded, VRBO-type of ‘beach town’ for vacation travelers,” Fonstein said. He said the Island’s Robert W. Crown Memorial State Beach is both a “local’s beach” that serves as a haven for wind surfers and kite boarders and the largest, most popular swimming beach in the heart of the San Francisco Bay.

I asked Fonstein if the city has any future plans to expand Spirits Alley, which is now home to St. George Spirits, Hangar One, Rock Wall Winery, Building 43 Winery and Faction Brewing. While it’s “almost fully occupied,” Building 44, neighbor of Building 43 Winery, is currently for sale, and a local restaurant has expressed interest in the 5,000-square-foot space.

Fonstein said catering company Pacific Fine Foods is also looking to expand at the Point, and that the city is also “exploring some creative options with temporary, pop-up opportunities.”

Spirits Alley is also home to a purveyor of non-alcoholic drinks: Brix Beverage, a drink distributor and producer started in 2011 by Sky Pace and Alberto Silva that also offers machine service and equipment, recently completed a move from San Leandro.

Brix now services the Bay Area, and president and chief executive officer Pace said the company plans to maintain its focus on serving customers in this area, which offers a unique market of diverse businesses from “mom and pop shops” to larger restaurants and corporations.

Pace said Brix is unique because it offers “the best of every brand under one roof.” For example, a restaurant might choose to serve Coca-Cola brands and would therefore not be able to sell Pepsi brands; Brix can sell them both. Brix also offers machine repair services and equipment sales.

Pace said his company knows what is trending in the Bay Area and can make drink suggestions that will be popular with its customers. One thing that is trending in the Bay Area, Pace said, is healthier drink options, which his company provides.

Besides carrying water and juice brands, Brix provides soda made with cane sugar rather than high fructose corn syrup.

Brix also produces and sells its own brands, including a full line of sodas under the “Alameda Point Bottling Company” label that is served in a fountain format at a few Bay Area restaurants but is not available in a retail format. He said production occurs offsite, but in time, he wants to move production of the soda line to Alameda Point as well.

Pace’s plans for the future also include opening the business to the public, hopefully as early as next year, so children have a place to enjoy a treat while their parents are enjoying the area’s spirits.

Fonstein said the city hasn’t yet considered plans for a celebration should Alameda win Sunset’s Travel Awards.

“The city is honored to be one of the five finalists,” he said.

Around Town

Park Street and Beyond: Divine De-Lites is now open. This is owner Kim Herring’s first business venture, which she started in Columbus, Ohio, in 2010. Herring said moving the baked goods business to California took longer than she expected, but she was given a warm welcome by her Park Street Plaza neighbors and the Park Street Business Association.

Divine De-Lites offers a variety of gourmet baked items, from red velvet cupcakes and almond butter cookies with fig to banana bread and caramel. Customers can also choose among a variety of gluten- or sugar-free items. Special orders can be made in advance.

Herring said her “passion for food overall and inspiration from other chefs while watching Food Network and reading cookbooks” got her interested in baking.

“Baking allows me to share my creativity with others through food,” Herring said.

She added that she is “looking forward to serving our local community here in Alameda for many years to come.”

1419 Park Street, Park Street Plaza; (614) 961-2312. Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday and Sunday and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, while supplies last.

Julie’s Coffee and Tea Garden is celebrating its 10-year anniversary. The local favorite opened in 2005, and owner Julie Baron said she’s proud that they were able to buy their building in 2013. When Baron was first looking for a place for her business, she said she wanted something with a patio on a “walking-shopping street” and that the coffee shop’s current location was actually the first one she looked at.

“As we are on the far end of the business district, it took a while for people to notice us,” Baron said. “We had to do a lot of promotion in the beginning. I’ve seen Park Street get more active over the years. It’s exciting to see.”

Baron said she’s hired 66 people in the decade the café has been open, and staffing has been one of the challenges of running the business.

“Who I have to represent us to the public is very important to me,” Baron said. “There are lots of details to know about the products we serve. Since I obviously can’t be here all the time, I want to make sure my customers feel my presence through my staff.”

Though it takes time and effort to maintain a full staff that is properly trained, Baron added that “it always seems to work out somehow.”

“The most rewarding part is the lives we touch in a positive way,” Baron said. “Customers and employees alike. The ‘Julie’s Community’ is a wonderful thing to be a part of.”

That community celebrated during an anniversary party on February 13, where customers and employees were given awards. Baron said that most of the awards were “tongue in cheek” and included a “Very First Customer” award for Bill Rowan, a “Singing Barista” award for Nate Nelson, and a “Social Butterfly” award for Heidi Bennett, Julie’s first manager and “social media maven.” A timeline and “Julie’s-inspired” art exhibit will be on display at the café until March 6.

West Alameda: Pho & Baguette is now open. The menu is made up of Vietnamese favorites including a variety of spring rolls, vermicelli bowls, banh mi, and pho. Diners can also order a variety of smoothies (mango, strawberry, taro, avocado, honeydew) as well as Vietnamese milk coffee, Thai milk tea, lychee green tea, and lemonades. 660 Central Avenue, Suite C; 263-8568. Open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.

Safeway’s gas station at Alameda Landing is now open. Open 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.

Panda Express is now open, and in the spirit of the Panda Express Innovation Kitchen in Pasadena, the Alameda Landing location offers a tea bar where guests can order a variety of teas and a variety of items, including honey boba, lychee, aloe vera and chia seeds, that can be added to them. 2630 Fifth Street, Suite 40; 748-1288. Open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

The Habit Burger Grill, which opened its first location in Santa Barbara in 1969, now has a store at Alameda Landing. Habit Burger offers a variety of “charburgers,” sandwiches, salads, shakes, malts, and more. If you’re a fan, it’s a good idea to like Habit Burger’s Alameda Facebook page, where they’ve offered gift cards and announced free burger promotions. After announcing that they would donate 100 percent of their profits to local organizations (Alameda Point Collaborative, Alameda Meals on Wheels, and Midway Shelter of Alameda) during pre-opening hours on February 2 and 3, Habit threw a surprise “Free Burger Day” on February 1. 2640 Fifth Street; 337-9984. Open 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.

JP and Christine Parker, owners of Parker Hospitality Group, will open a SPIN! Neapolitan Pizza in Alameda Landing this summer. SPIN! Was founded in 2005 in Kansas City and now has several locations in the Kansas City and Dallas areas as well as franchises in California, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

Parker said that he and his wife, who live in the Bay Area, discovered SPIN! in Southern California and were impressed by their “superb food” and “outstanding customer service,” qualities he is eager to offer at their Alameda location.

“In addition to SPIN! being that rare restaurant whose atmosphere appeals to all ages, SPIN! serves exceptional, award-winning artisan food made from fresh ingredients without the gourmet price,” Parker said.

Some of the awards Parker listed include SPIN!’s being named a “Breakout Brand” by Nation’s Restaurant News and one of “The Rest of the ‘101 Best Restaurants’” by TheDailyMeal.com. Parker also pointed out that Zagat has listed SPIN! as the number one pizza restaurant in Kansas City.

Gail Lozoff, a SPIN! partner, said that the restaurant has been well received by communities where new locations have opened and that they “hope to continue to grow and serve more markets as well as to add new locations to existing markets.”

I asked Parker why he chose Alameda for his new franchise, and he said that Alameda Landing’s “mixed-use community,” proximity to the College of Alameda, “accessibility from Oakland and the 880” and a “significant amount of residential which will increase local traffic to the center” are all things that drew him to Alameda.

The popular pizza restaurant features a large menu with recipes built with the help of Michael Smith, James Beard Award Chef and 2014 Chef Innovator of the Year; besides their signature, stone-fired pizza, SPIN! offers a variety of salads, Italian sandwiches, homemade soup, appetizers, and gelato ice cream. Guests can also have their pizza made from whole wheat or gluten-free dough, can choose between pizzas with a tomato sauce or a roasted garlic olive oil glaze and can opt for dairy-free cheese.

When I asked Parker what his favorite menu item is, he said “it’s a toss-up” between the hand-tossed pizza with its numerous topping choices and the large selection of salads “with made-from-scratch dressings.”

SPIN! also serves craft beers, wine, and a variety of homemade sangrias. I asked Parker if he would offer any wines and beers from our own Spirits Alley, and he said, “I have not yet finalized distributors, but I am definitely planning on serving local wine and beer when possible.”

Petco Unleashed will open its Alameda Landing location, next to Michaels, on February 23. This new location will have pet wash stations that are self-serve; each wash costs $10.

West Alameda Business Association’s Wine & Dine 2015 event will take place from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. on March 19, upstairs at Otaez Mexican Restaurant. Tickets cost $30 and cover two appetizers and two drink tastings from participating restaurants, wineries, and breweries as well as dinner at one of six restaurants: Bucket O’ Crawfish, Café Jolie, Chicha Peruvian Bistro, East Ocean Seafood Restaurant, Otaez Mexican Restaurant, and Pasta Pelican. Rock Wall Wine Company, R&B Cellars, and Faction Brewing will provide the drink tastings. Guests can enjoy a free raffle and music at the Otaez reception before choosing a restaurant. Tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets or the West Alameda Business Association. Taxes and gratuity are not included. 1619 Webster Street.

Alameda South Shore Center: Bagel Street Café, a Bay Area original that opened its doors in Alamo in 1996, is now open in Alameda. Bagel Street Café has an espresso bar, and customers can buy fresh bagels, bagel sandwiches, and sandwiches on a variety of breads, including Bay Area favorite Dutch crunch. Bagel Street Café also sells cream cheese in a variety of flavors. 2212 South Shore Center, Suite F; 522-2838. Open 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

Mancini’s Sleepworld will be moving into the old Dress Barn location. 2298 South Shore Center, Suite A.

Hanna Banana will be performing dance music at Studio Grow tomorrow at 11 a.m., and Mike Della Penna will be performing a magic show at 11 a.m. on March 21. The shows are included with the price of admission, which is $10 for each child 12 and under and $5 for adults. For discount card information visit www.studiogrow.com. 2202N South Shore Center; 701-6042. Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.