Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Primo's Parrilla Being Reborn as a Restaurant

By John Birdsall
Tue, Aug 23, 2011 at 8:46 AM

Javier Sandes is arguably the most dynamic food vendor ever to smoke up an Emeryville street. In May 2010, Sandes launched Primo’s Parrilla, an asador — or grill — like the ones in his native Argentina. Over a mix of almond wood and mesquite, Sandes grilled chickens and tri-tip, served up with chimichurri sauce.

Then things got prickly for street-food vendors in Emeryville, as a handful of brick-and-mortar restaurant owners raised concerns with the chamber of commerce — and ultimately the city council — about what seemed like a poorly regulated explosion in mobile vending. Emeryville ended up revising its mobile-vending ordinance this year, expanding distance requirements between vendor and vendor and vendor and restaurant. Despite the changes, Sandes and Sere Peterson (his partner in business and otherwise) had already seen the writing on the wall.

Javier Sandes, in an earlier al fresco incarnation.
  • Javi's Parrilla/Facebook
  • Javier Sandes, in an earlier al fresco incarnation.

Because it didn’t operate strictly out of a truck, Primo’s Parrilla had been a particular focus of concern by some restaurant owners — not only were there permit issues for cooking over an open flame, but they charged Sandes was essentially setting up a de facto restaurant on the street, not merely lifting a flap to sell Korean burritos or falafel sandwiches. It seemed like unfair competition.

In January, Sandes and Peterson killed Primo’s, deciding to focus on opening a brick-and-mortar of their own in Oakland. “We didn’t want to be in a war with someone,” Peterson told WTF in a recent phone interview.

Last week Sandes and Peterson sent Facebook friends of Primo’s Parrilla an update in the form of a website link, officially launching Javi’s Parrilla, name of the restaurant, eventually. “It was bittersweet to close Primo’s,” Sandes wrote on the Javi’s website, “but I felt it was good for me to work towards opening a brick and mortar restaurant — a restaurant that doesn’t require a parking spot (thanks all of you who moved your cars around to squeeze us in at the park!) and won’t require jumper cables! Kidding.”

Word of Sandes’ return roused existing fans. “Right away we picked up a hundred fans,” Peterson said. “We’re pretty excited.”

As for locations, Peterson said they’re still scouting. “We’ve got a few places in mind in Oakland,” she said. “We definitely want to be an Oakland-based business, even when we started Primo’s, but grilling on the street was going to be impossible here.” The couple have their eye on North Oakland, though they’re also considering Uptown — not a bad choice, since they’re hoping to be in a neighborhood that can support lunch, dinner, and late-night service on weekends. Finding a space is a bit trickier with that open grill and all, plus Sandes wants a place big enough to allow interacting with customers as he grills — just like he did on the street — instead of being walled off in some fluorescent-lit kitchen.

Plans call for expanding the menu from the Primo’s days, adding different cuts of beef and choripan (a traditional Argentinean sausage sandwich) to Sandes’ signature chicken and tri-tip. Peterson expects to open the doors in 2012, wherever Javi’s roofed asador ends up finding a home.

Meanwhile, until the restaurant opens, Sandes is continuing to cater private parties and public events like this year’s Eat Real Festival, September 23-25 in Jack London Square.

Get in touch at John.Birdsall@EastBayExpress.com, and follow me on Twitter @John_Birdsall.

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