Billy Zoellin, whose dynamic cooking has won raves, said today he will uproot Bacon & Butter, his breakfast and lunch restaurant on 21st Street, and move 5 miles east to Tahoe Park.
What’s more, while the chef will continue to serve breakfast, he will add dinner to his repertoire from Thursday through Saturday at the new location, in a tiny strip mall at the corner of 59th Street and Broadway.
Zoellin was born and raised in east Sacramento and said he is excited about the move, which he hopes will be complete by late February or early March, following significant improvements to the space (previously a Chinese restaurant).
“It may be considered crazy by some, but that’s where we’re moving,” Zoellin told me Wednesday morning. The chef says he sees himself as something of a pioneer in this regarding — leaving restaurant-rich midtown and heading away from the central city.
“The more blossoming of neighborhoods we have, the better food city we will become,” he said.
Zoellin, who opened in May of 2012, said he has long wanted to expand beyond the breakfast/lunch concept at the midtown location. We was unable to open for dinner there, as he shared the space with a nightclub, Barfly. He said he looked at several other shuttered spaces, including Hamburger Patties, Purgatory, Sweetwater and Blackbird, but that in most cases the asking prices were too high for rent.
In recent weeks, Zoellin had worked behind the scenes to make an offer on the attractive Blackbird Kitchen & Bar at 1015 9th St. downtown. Blackbird closed in late September amid an uproar that the owners informed employees of the closure via a last-minute group email on Monday morning.
Zoellin said he had made an offer to buy Blackbird’s equipment and furnishings and take over the terms of the long-term lease. The deal had been accepted by Blackbird’s owner-chef Carina Lampkin and her step-father, attorney John Thacker, who was a co-owner who had made it clear he wanted out of the restaurant business.
Three days before Zoellin was set to close on the deal and sign papers, Lampkin had a change of heart, pulled out of the agreement and soon announced she was going to reopen Blackbird with new partners. We’ll have more on that in a separate blog post, coming soon.
Contacted Wednesday afternoon for comment, Lampkin said she was doing a “stage” (traditionally, volunteering in a kitchen) at Michelin two-star Atelier Crenn in San Francisco and was too busy to talk. Six weeks after the original email to staffers, she reportedly sent a new email apologizing for how the matter was handled.
Zoellin didn’t mince any words about how Lampkin conducted herself.
“I was a little heartbroken over it because it had gone so far along,” he said. “We put our money on the table, did our due diligence and could seethe light at the end of the tunnel. We were three days away from the closing and I got a call that Carina had changed her mind and was going to buy out her parents.”
He added, “I don’t have any hard feelings. I think it was just unprofessional in the way it was handled. Nobody else was willing to pay a quarter of a million dollars for her stuff. We were looking for a place and it was perfect — but I jumped into the middle of a mess.”
Lampkin recently announced she was going to reopen with a revamped concept, including new business partners, a new menu and 44 beers on tap.
Zoellin told me he wishes her well but wonders about the damage Lampkin and Blackbird have left in their wake.
Referring to the now-notorious group email to employees, Zoellin said, “If you had any intention to reopen, you would handle that in a much more professional manner. These people’s lives depended on it, their Christmases depended on it and in some cases their kids depended on it. When you don’t keep them in the loop about how the restaurant is doing and don’t give them any notice, I would have a hard time coming back. I wish them well and want Blackbird to succeed, but the way they did things casts a shadow over the rest of the industry.”
As for the new location, Zoellin says he hopes it will help improve the neighborhood. He has already embarked on improvements to the building and wants to spruce up the curb appeal as well.