Calafia closes in Palo Alto: 'The costs were greater than the take' | Peninsula Foodist | Elena Kadvany | Palo Alto Online |

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By Elena Kadvany

Calafia closes in Palo Alto: 'The costs were greater than the take'

Uploaded: Aug 26, 2018

Google's first-ever chef, Charlie Ayers, closed Calafia Cafe this week after nine years of serving farm-to-table California cuisine at Town & Country Village in Palo Alto.

"Money wasn't coming through the door anymore," Ayers said. "The costs were greater than the take. I couldn't operate that way anymore."

The closure was publicly announced in a brief typed note from Ayers, posted on the restaurant's door: "It was a good 9 years Thank you Palo Alto!"

A grilled asparagus salad at Calafia Cafe. Palo Alto Weekly file photo.

Ayers said the closure was not prompted by any problems with Town & Country management. He did not answer further questions about Calafia's financial state and how long he had been considering the closure.

"I love Palo Alto. I think Palo Alto still loves us, but I just can't do it anymore," he said.

Ayers became Google's executive chef in 1999, long before its campus cafeterias made headlines for their range and quality of food. He won the job in cook-off judged by the company's 40 employees, according to his website. When he left six years later, Google had five sous chefs, 150 employees and 10 cafes serving 4,000 lunches and dinners daily, according to Ayers.

Ayers left Google to open Calafia in 2009, "realizing his dream of owning a neighborhood spot serving organic, sustainable, healthy, delicious food," the Calafia website states. Ayers took over one of the El Camino Real shopping center’s larger spaces. There was the sit-down restaurant on one side and the takeout-focused Market A Go-Go on the other.

Charlie Ayers in Calafia Cafe the year it opened in Palo Alto. Palo Alto Weekly file photo.

In 2009, former Palo Alto Weekly reviewer Sheila Himmel called Calafia a "hit."

"Charlie Ayers may finally be able to shed his exes," she wrote. "The chef formerly known for feeding Google and the Grateful Dead has a hit in Calafia Cafe and Market-A-Go-Go, his contribution to the amazing revival of
Palo Alto’s revived Town & Country Village. Good luck finding a parking space at this recently moribund center at lunchtime."

Calafia also took home best California cuisine for several years in the Palo Alto Weekly's Best Of competition.

Ayers was formerly a private chef and personal chef to the Grateful Dead. He also serves as a restaurant consultant and is chief culinary officer for Chowbotics, the local startup behind a salad-making robot.

When asked what's next for him, Ayers quipped, "Opening a pizza place on Mars with Elon Musk!"