Cafe Intermezzo, Raleigh's Plan to Re-Open ... in Tents 

Plus a new study recommends overhauling the Oakland schools lunch program.

After a massive Telegraph Avenue fire destroyed Cafe Intermezzo and Raleigh's, many feared the worst. But Oakland architect Kirk Peterson unveiled some grabby plans last week to open a tent-and-trailer version of both restaurants, potentially for the next two to three years.

In a setup that resembles something between a M.A.S.H. triage unit and the Proxy project in San Francisco, three shipping-container kitchens would operate under canopy tents in the old Sequoia Building location at Telegraph and Haste. Raleigh's and Cafe Intermezzo would each run a kitchen, and an upscale pizzeria called Gabriella's, which was alreaady in the works, would take the third shipping unit.

The three restaurants are all permitted for food, beer, and wine, so the City of Berkeley only needs to sign off on temporary use permits. Peterson, who is working for property owners Greg and Kenneth Ent, said he's "a veteran of the Berkeley permitting process" and is fairly confident the plans will be approved.

In the proposal, all three tent restaurants would have glassed-in, greenhouse-style walls, as well as picnic tables with umbrellas outside the tents. A beer garden in San Francisco's shipping container pod has proven wildly popular; this setup could have similar allure.

The project is distinguished from Proxy SF by its element of urgency, however. Proxy is whimsical and experimental, created primarily because there's a temporary parcel of vacant commercial space. In Berkeley, the project is part of the healing process, an ad hoc solution for restaurants that can't afford to stay closed for years. A commenter on Berkeleyside, which broke the story earlier last week, pointed out that Santa Cruz businesses operated out of tents for more than two years after '89 earthquake.

Peterson just hopes Berkeley customers will give this bold concept a shot. "It's a fascinating project, but it's very hard to portend if it will have appeal," Peterson said. "I'm sixty, so I don't spend a lot of time at campus hangouts; Is this something kids will like?"

If approved, the tented restaurants could be operational by May.

Study: Overhaul School Lunch

School lunch reform is a hot-button national topic, with reformers like Michelle Obama and Alice Waters counterbalanced by budget cuts and food industry lobbyists. Amidst all the sturm and drang, a comprehensive local study of the Oakland Unified School District's lunch program was recently released, and it concluded that it's in dire need of an overhaul.

OUSD serves 37,000 meals daily and 6.6 million meals each year; some students are fed five times a day. Key among the study's findings was that the district's kitchen facilities and equipment are woefully inadequate to keep up with this level of service. For instance, the chief central kitchen at Prescott Elementary School was designed to prepare 8,000 meals a day, but it is currently preparing 20,000. Prescott is one of three off-site kitchens that prepare almost three-quarters of the district's meals.

On a positive note, the study found that the OUSD had exceeded the USDA's dietary guidelines. However, as the federal policies themselves need to be reformed, the study suggests Oakland could still use a nutritional overhaul. In keeping with the beliefs of OUSD Nutrition Services Director Jennifer LeBarre, the report recommends cooking 60 percent of all meals from scratch, avoiding high-fructose corn syrup and trans fats, and sourcing produce organically and locally.

The study, a joint effort of the Center for Ecoliteracy and the Oakland Unified School District, was the result of more than a year of analysis. Rather than focus on one small area of the district's food system, "Rethinking School Lunch Oakland" took a holistic approach, reviewing ten components that provide a fairly thorough portrait, from finances to marketing.

LeBarre and the Center for Ecoliteracy presented the study to the Oakland school board, and are now hoping for some real-world change. First on their wishlist is the creation of a 44,000 square-foot central commissary; a facilities upgrade to create seventeen from-scratch cooking kitchens; the designation of fourteen "community kitchens" that can be used by outside groups; and the creation of a 1.5-acre farm to grow produce for the district.

LeBarre said initial feedback from the school board has been largely supportive, and OUSD superintendent Tony Smith has long been an advocate of school lunch reform. She said the proposed changes would be tied into the district's facilities master plan.

Zenobia Barlow, executive director of the Center for Ecoliteracy, said this study was coincidentally well timed, considering the national focus on diabetes and the childhood obesity epidemic. "I'm kind of ambivalent about needing a diet-related epidemic to get something done," she said. "Yet I can't deny how exciting it is that we may be able to implement significant changes here."

An executive summary of the study is available at EcoLiteracy.org

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