Shop Talk: Ming's last day, acai comes to Cal Ave


Shop Talk columnist Daryl Savage has the latest on Ming's impending hiatus, a new toy store for the brain and an acai cafe opening on California Avenue.

NEW TOY/BRAIN STORE IN TOWN ... A toy store for the brain? Toys that are called fidget tools and patience blocks? All the salespeople are trained psychologists? Oh yes. Gray Matters, 330 S. California Ave., opened in late October, and is clearly not a run-of-the-mill toy store. It specializes in toys that engage the brain. "The theme here is building cognitive skills," explained toy store owner and clinical neuropsychologist Dr. Richard Abbey. "We're trying to get people thinking and unplugged from their computers." He added that he opened the toy store as a way to spread the word about expanding one's own brain capacity by playing simple and complex games. Abbey, a Palo Alto resident and former Stanford faculty member, also runs a clinic just down the street from the store. It's called Abbey Neuropsychology Clinic (366 S. California Ave.), and his team of psychologists shuffle back and forth when it's their turn to staff the toy store. "They love coming here. It's a lot of fun for them," Abbey said of the salespeople/psychologists. Abbey hand-picked nearly all the toys in the shop, labeling them as smart toys. The site of the two-story building has an illustrious past. The previous tenant was an herbalist and acupuncturist. Before him was the legendary Draper's Music Center, which had survived on Cal Ave. for 38 years. In addition to selling and renting instruments, the center was a gathering place for local musicians. It's been said that Grateful Dead musician Jerry Garcia used to practice there. "There's a lot of folklore in this building," Abbey said.

ACAI CAFE TO OPEN ON CAL AVE ... One of the latest fads in superfoods is the edible acai berry, a nutritionally-rich, inch-long, reddish-purple fruit from Central and South America. And no surprise that Palo Alto, remaining at the top of the trend curve, is about to get its second cafe whose main feature is acai berries. The first, Bare Bowls, opened last month downtown. The second cafe that touts acai berries is scheduled to open in late March 2015 at 213 S. California. Called Vitality Bowls, it has taken over the former location of Cho's, the tiny dim sum eatery that closed with little warning earlier this year and is now preparing to reopen in downtown Los Altos. Vitality Bowls has had quite a run in the short time it has been in business. "We opened our first Vitality Bowl four years ago in San Ramon," said owner Tara Gilad. "My daughter had severe allergies and we needed a safe place for her to eat. That's why we started it." Since then, Gilad and her husband, Roy, opened a few more Vitality Bowls in the East Bay, and after seeing its popularity, decided to create a franchise for the cafes. "We started franchising eight months ago and thought, maybe if we're lucky, we'll sell five franchises. But we've sold 29 franchises since April. We still can't believe it," she said, adding that the couple has done no advertising. "We just have our website. That's it," Gilad said. The Palo Alto Vitality Bowl, which will serve smoothies, soups, salads and panini, in addition to the acai bowls, has been franchised to three friends who graduated from UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business. "Once we ate the food, we were blown away," said one of the grads who asked not to be identified. "One thing led to another, and here we are in Palo Alto setting up shop."

MING'S TO CLOSE DEC. 28 ... The absolute last serving of Ming's famous Chinese chicken salad will be Sunday, Dec. 28. That's the day that Ming's Restaurant, Palo Alto's oldest and largest Chinese restaurant, will close its doors. Located at 1700 Embarcadero Road, the 10,000-square-foot restaurant is finally and firmly scheduled to be demolished to make way for an extended stay hotel and a newer, smaller Chinese restaurant. Ming's owner Vicky Ching had expected her restaurant to shutter earlier this year -- first in March, then in June -- but because of a combination of factors including financing and weather, the closing was delayed until now. Once the current site is leveled, new construction is expected to take about two years.

Heard a rumor about your favorite store or business moving out or in, down the block or across town? Daryl Savage will check it out. Email shoptalk@paweekly.com.

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