Free Pizza Ain’t What It Used to Be
by Steed Dropout
June 28, 2016
A TALE OF A BERKELEY BUSINESS EMPIRE
Ed Monroe’s Blondies. Photo by Ted Friedman
Telegraph Avenue street artist Ed Monroe’s hand-to-mouth life-style took a paste to the mouth recently when he lost free pizza for life at Berkeley’s Blondie’s Pizza.
Blondie’s was sold recently to a longtime employee.
Blondie’s was the 1960s (“Make Pizza Not War!”) love-child of the nine store Rasputin music chain and other enterprises of Berkeley’s titan of Telegraph trade—Ken Sarachan.
Legend has it that Rasputin appeared to Sarachan in a dream—commanding him to sell round items. Pizza and records are round.
Sarachan’s Telegraph Avenue enterprises comprise key properties, like the vacant lot at Telegraph/Haste, and several other properties and major businesses lining Berkeley’s boulevard of bizarre.
Sarachan’s legion of street critics say he buys up Telegraph properties—seemingly using the undeveloped properties for unsightly storage—in a monopoly scheme.
The undeveloped properties, purchased at low market rates, sit vacant while gaining worth, critics say, to the detriment of Telegraph Avenue, which resents looking abandoned.
Former Rasputin employee, Marc Weinstein, co-owner of nearby Amoeba Records, has suckled a 25-year grudge against his pal for grabbing-off a vacant lot across the street from Amoeba.
The vacant lot, a former Beatnik hotel destroyed by a suspicious fire, has gone undeveloped for 25 years, fueling criticisms of Sarachan and drawing the ire (and unpaid fines) of Berkeley’s City Managers.
According to a source close to the story, the latest plan to develop the errant site as student housing has sputtered.
Artist Monroe’s lost lifetime of pies was just one of the results of economic belt-tightening in Sarachan’s empire.
Blondie’s Relics are moved to another
Sarachan property. Photo by Ted Friedman
Rasputin’s loyal roustabouts were busy for months, bustling merchandise from store to store among Sarachan’s Telegraph Avenue holdings, as Rasputin adjusts to hard times selling round objects like CDs, DVDs, and pizza.
As in cards, it’s all about when to hold and when to fold.
Folded: the annex attached to Rasputin was vacated (saving rent) and its withering DVD business moved downstairs in the main store.
Vintage Vinyl, once downstairs at Rasputin, has gone to Mad Monk, a block away.
Two of Sarachan’s San Francisco businesses (pizza & records) have closed.
ICE-CREAM WARS END
And the winner is. Photo by Ted Friedman
Sarachan’s ice-cream war with his across- the-street adversary, Cream, is over.
Cream has won.
That war began when Cream, a small chain of ice-cream cookie-sandwiches drew block-long lines across from Rasputin. Sarachan challenged Cream with his own ice-cream, which he first called “Dream,” then “Hoop-Dreams” (with a basketball theme).
Basketballs, hoops, and ice-cream scoops are round.
Cream went to Berkeley’s city council, complaining that Sarachan was “a predatory businessman” because he was competing with them, using a rip-off of their brand.
Dream succeeded in blocking Sarachan’s proposed ice-cream vending (street) window, which two councilmen concluded would block the walkway.
Meanwhile, Cream’s sidewalk crowds routinely block their walk.
Sans the proposed street window, Sarachan’s Dream opened with a tough sell.
Dream failed and was replaced with (renter) Lappert’s Family Ice-Cream where Dream had been. That failed, ending the great Telegraph Avenue ice-cream wars.
Predatory, or too big to fail, Rasputin has moved on.
Rasputin’s Anastasia, Vintage Clothes, with its Ed Monroe cloud-themed ceiling and other artistic flourishes opened a few months ago next to Sarachan’s futuristic Bear Basics.
Sarachan’s Bear Basic’s ready for take-off. Photo by Ted Friedman
Sarachan’s Bear Basics, which, reportedly, flouted city building regulations, resembles nothing in Berkeley. The bloated glass menagerie, a “tee-shirt orgy,” has its own sidewalk and may go down in history as Sarachan’s trophy building.
The long-awaited re-opening of a used books/vinyl venue in the decade-vacant Cody’s Books location at Telegraph/Haste completes a Sarachan conceit, a Russian royal court of businesses: Rasputin, Anastasia, and Mad Monk.
An instant hit, Mad Monk, Anachronistic Media Center, is perhaps the new crown jewel in a downsized Sarachan fiefdom.
A thoughtfully curated books and vinyl record store, the Monk is poised—with artistic flourishes throughout, and a breath-taking balcony addition—to be a balcony restaurant/coffee house. And possibly a robust future for Sarachan enterprises.
Perhaps Monroe can get coffee and pastry for life from the Mad Monk of Telegraph. A coffee cup is round.
RECORDS OF RASPUTIN, Photo Gallery:
Sarachan (in plaid shirt
Inside Mad Monk
Mad Monk balcony view
Metallica at Rasputin, recently
Rasputin, himself, center
Our photographer, Ted Friedman, has posted a several month photo-survey of Berkeley’s Southside homeless: https://www.flickr.com/photos/berkboy/