Shop Talk: Pizza Chicago relocates; Mike's Cafe to reopen soon

The latest in local retail news

In the latest Shop Talk retail column, read about the return of a longtime local favorite cafe, a pizzeria changing locations in Palo Alto, new businesses coming to California Avenue and an Indian restaurant's new casual concept.

MIKE'S CAFE COMING BACK SOON ... After more than a year of being closed temporarily for a renovation and expansion, the 23-year-old Mike's Cafe at 2680 Middlefield Road in Palo Alto is nearing reopening. "We are able to say we're very close," owner Mike Wallau said cautiously this week. He still has to go through final building inspections and hire more staff but is hoping to reopen in several weeks. Wallau took over the adjacent site of the former Peninsula Hardware in 2017 and closed last January for a major revamp. The menu will largely be the same as before, Wallau said, though with a larger kitchen, the restaurant will be making more ingredients in house, including pasta, bread and pizza dough. There will also be a full bar and outdoor seating.

PIZZA CHICAGO RELOCATES ... After nearly three decades of serving deep-dish pizza from its restaurant at 4114 El Camino Real, Palo Alto's Pizza Chicago is relocating. A three-story mixed-use project has been proposed for the site, so owner Juan Lorenz signed a lease at 2305 El Camino Real (near California Avenue), which has sat empty since Pieology Pizzeria closed in 2017. Lorenz hopes to close the current restaurant and open the new one by June. The new space is currently under construction. The menu will largely remain the same, Lorenz said, with a few new items, including thin-crust pizza. He said he hopes to see more business from foot traffic from the nearby California Avenue. Pizza Chicago has been around since the 1990s. The first location opened in Santa Clara in 1991 and then Palo Alto several years later. A San Jose outpost closed last year. Stay tuned on firm closure and opening dates for the Palo Alto pizzeria. — E.K.

NEW RETAILERS SET TO MOVE TO CAL. AVE. ... Renovation work is winding down at two new tenant spaces along the 200 block of California Avenue. The longtime FedEx Office Print & Ship Center at 249 S. California Ave., reopened in a smaller space earlier this year after dividing the building into two storefronts. Work on the new FedEx portion of the building, which began in August 2018, is complete and the new, adjoining 6,704-square-foot space has a lease sign in the window. Another new storefront just a block away at 265 S. California Ave., next to Pilates V, is preparing to open. The 951-square-foot interior of Raw Smoke Shop looks ready for business and a sign has gone up on the exterior. The site has remained vacant since Solid Electric divided the lower-level of the building into two retail storefronts. Pilates V moved in at the end of 2017 shortly after construction work on the building was complete. Raw Smoke Shop had pulled permits in July 2017 to move into the adjoining storefront, but according to city records, the permit wasn't finalized until this past March. There's a head shop located in El Cajon with the same name, but it's unclear if the two businesses are related. — L.T.

AMBER DHARA BECOMES NEW, CASUAL CONCEPT ... Another local restaurant is transitioning from long lunches and white tablecloths to casual service in the face of changing demographics and rising labor costs. Amber Dhara, which opened in downtown Palo Alto in 2011, has been replaced with Gup Shup, still an Indian restaurant but one focused on "superfoods" and a lower price point in an effort to serve younger, health-conscious diners. Owner Vijay Bist, who has long run a string of Indian restaurants in the Bay Area, said the change is being spearheaded by three young chefs: Sri Ram Reddy Punnam, Vivek Desirazu and Hitesh Gauta, who recently joined the team from the Middle East and will lead the Amber Indian San Francisco kitchen. Gup Shup soft opened at 150 University Ave. on April 5 with a new menu that includes ingredients such as jackfruit, farro, barley, kale and chia seeds. Many traditional Indian dishes, however — from tandoori chicken and dosa to pav bhaji and cauliflower bezule — still remain on the menu. Gup Shup is open Tuesday-Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for lunch and happy hour at 4 p.m. Dinner is 5-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. — E.K.

Compiled by the Weekly staff; this week written by Elena Kadvany and Linda Taaffe. Got leads on interesting and news-worthy retail developments? Email

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21 people like this
Posted by not a head shop
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 20, 2019 at 8:43 pm

Raw Smoke on Cal Ave will not be a head shop as cannabis sales are not legal in Palo Alto. OTOH it will sell vape supplies and tobacco products that are unhealthy for young Palo Alto residents, who (with their fake IDs) I suspect will constitute the majority of the customers. It's interesting that local residents are sent notices for public hearings on restaurants applying for liquor licenses but were not given notice of any public hearings on this smoke shop.

10 people like this
Posted by not what we need
a resident of Mayfield
on Apr 22, 2019 at 1:24 am

I'd be surprised if there's enough interest to sustain yet another smoke shop in Palo Alto, even with the underage vapers.

23 people like this
Posted by PA Traditionalist
a resident of University South
on Apr 22, 2019 at 9:14 am

Mac's Smoke Shop on Emerson (downtown PA) is all this city needs to meet its smoking and magazine needs.

16 people like this
Posted by 4good
a resident of Stanford
on Apr 25, 2019 at 10:56 am

4good is a registered user.

Pizza Chicago is awesome! Really nice people work there. Hope they can succeed in this location which has seen so many other businesses fail. We will miss the private dining room at the old location that has hosted countless youth sport team celebrations.

6 people like this
Posted by ChrisC
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 25, 2019 at 11:31 am

ChrisC is a registered user.

Head shops traditionally were places that sold paraphernalia, such as papers, bongs, incense etc.. has Palo Alto outlawed that too? I also doubt such a business can succeed here with such high rent. But, I do not know the profit margins of vaping stuff. Regarding revamping the Indian restaurant in downtown to include super foods for the younger demographic: I’m laughing. Indian food is perhaps the healthiest on the planet as long as they don’t use too much oil, which few modern cooks do. Hey folks, lentils and pulses are super foods!! Turmeric is the most studied spice , known for anti-inflammatory properties. Onions and garlic, relied upon heavily in Indian food, another super good we should be eating everyday.

4 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 25, 2019 at 2:18 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

More of the good history of my town gone!

@PA Traditionalist...I didn't give them a lot of my business, but I always liked the store. I bought rum soaked Crooks cigars to celebrate my children's births, bought many magazines, including the Police Gazette, and when I dabbled in pipe smoking for a very brief period after I gave up cigarettes.

@4good...They're leaving the best location for a pizza parlor, to the worst location. After we couldn't buy Big Macs there anymore it has been the death knell for all other business ventures that tried it, right across the street from my church, Wesley United Methodist Church on Cambridge. Another pizza franchise failed there. Location, so important. They won't have the space to offer the Stanford sports teams their special space. Mings was a favorite restaurant of Stanford sports teams and we know what happened with that arrangement. And also, there was another great pizza parlor at their current location. Shakeys...I must be getting old! They had banjo and guitar players singing folk songs and war protest songs that were popular in...OMG...the 60's and 70's. Now I know I'm getting old.

2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 25, 2019 at 4:05 pm

@Gale, no Big Macs at what was once my favorite KFC. I still remember the nice owners.

6 people like this
Posted by D Moore
a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 25, 2019 at 9:10 pm

When I saw the project sign in Pizza Chicago's lot, my heart sank. I thought yet another great place making way for what - more mixed use? We know all too well in MV that everything from restaurants to bike shops are closing in the name of "progress". Very glad to see they're relocating a stone's throw away.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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