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Telegraph's Been Down So Long
It's Starting to Look Like Up--
Even Mario's Has a Future

By Ted Friedman
Tuesday March 29, 2011 - 06:31:00 PM

Students returning from Spring break will find an upside to the downside on Telegraph Avenue--including a new life for Mario's La Fiesta, an avenue institution for half a century.

As the recently up-dated Berkeley Telegraph sales tax report makes painfully clear, Teley businesses have been struggling with declining revenues for decades.

But a spurt in new businesses on Teley is giving the Ave. new hope. 

The first hopeful sign is the recent lines-around-the block success of Cream, at Channing and Telegraph, which offers nothing more than hand crafted ice-cream sandwiches for $1.50. 

Then Daiso Japan, a Japanese tchotchkes emporium, with most items priced at $1.50, opened quietly before Spring break next door to the empty Blake's site. 

Daiso is drawing crowds who may have felt trapped at IKEA, now helplessly mesmerized by Japanese designed products, snacks, and utility items. You'll need at least an hour here.  

Has bargain-selling stepped in where profits failed to tread? 

Monday, Pepe's pizza, "a true pizza buffet" served up a wandering pizza person with legs and arms, on a pizza head to celebrate it's opening at 2516 Durant Ave. 

Although Pepe's offers, wings and pasta, they feature an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet including soup, salad bar, and ice cream and sodas for $6.99. Price point marketing rules. 

There was nothing cheap about the pizza person, though. The walking red tomato pie blended into the Teley scene like a participant in the "How Berkeley Can You Be" parade. 

Most of the complex on Durant that housed Tower Records, (Pepe's is downstairs where La Val's on South side used to be) is rented. What was many years ago one of Berkeley's old coffee houses, opened two weeks ago as, Fa-La-La Falafel, an addition to Durant's falafel gulch. 

Even the retirement of Mario, 81, and Rosalinda, 79, Tejada, a sad turning point for their loyal customers, if not the entire Avenue, has an upside. 

The business will re-open next month as Remy's Mexican Restaurant at the Mario's Haste Street location, near the West end of People's Park where it has been for two years. A former cook and long time friend of the owners, Manuel Lopez, who recently managed Manny's Pub (now Raleigh's) will preside. 

According to the Tejadas, the basic menu and most familiar employees will continue. Because the owners transferred most of the decor of Mario's, Telegraph, to their Haste Street location two years ago (particularly, the Mexican masks and other art), Mario's-Remy's will be Mario's La Fiesta for many more years. The original tables and chairs from Telegraph are in place. It feels and looks like Mario's 

The Tejadas are the longest original owners of a Teley eatery extant, and beloved by anyone who's met them. They will be feted by the Telegraph Business Improvement District at a free drinks, ‘derves, and mariachi music retirement send-off this Thursday, 5-8 at Mario's on Haste. 

Mario, who loved baseball as a youth in Mexico, wants to spend his time watching his grandkids play ball. Mario and Rosalinda say they spent their entire restaurant careers working 24-7. 

In yet another sign of hope for the Ave., Blake's is six months to a year from re-opening, with major structural changes, as Pappy's Grill to be run by Stephanie Dodsen, a former manager at Smart Alec's. Proposed changes include removing the mezzanine, raising the ceiling, converting the old rathskeller from a nightclub to a games room--all aimed at a Cal crowd, according to Roland Peterson, 53, spokesman for the Berkeley Businessmen's Property Owners Association. 

Al Geyer, 62, owner of Annapurna on Telegraph is sponsoring an Easter Parade on Telegraph for April 24--a first. 

An Easter Parade on Teley? Maybe the avenue will stage a resurrection of its own. 

Ted Friedman, a southsider for 40 years, is spending way too much time on the avenue.