After 128 years, Spenger's Fish Grotto in Berkeley closes with no explanation

ByKate Larsen via KGO logo
Thursday, October 25, 2018
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After 128 years in Berkeley, Spenger's Fish Grotto closed with nothing more than a sign taped on the front door.

BERKELEY, Calif. (KGO) -- After 128 years in Berkeley, Spenger's Fish Grotto closed with nothing more than a sign taped on the front door.

"Just like that? No. I had no idea," said one woman who was walking up to the front door, assuming she and her friend could get dinner Wednesday night.

"They've been here for years and I just always expect them to be here," said Kevin Vuorenmaa-Navarro who works on 4th Street, just a few doors down from Spenger's. He saw the famous neon lights on and assumed it was business as usual.

"If they were going to close, then I would figure they would make some sort of announcement or something."

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"It's sort of surprising to me that at least we didn't know and I didn't know," said Linda Maio, who has been Berkeley's District 1 councilmember for 25 years. Spenger's is in her jurisdiction. Maio says she was on council when the City helped the Spenger Family sell the restaurant to McCormick & Schmick in 1999. "We were glad that it would continue, but the patrons were people who were going to Spenger's because of its historical significance. It sort of lost its cache as a really premium quality fish place."

Maio also wonders if the implementation of the new $15 minimum wage this month, was unsustainable for Spenger's. "The way the restaurants cope with it, obviously they have to raise prices somewhat, we all expected that, it's part of the way it operates. But in some cases maybe they didn't feel they could add that special surcharge on."

Spenger's, which opened in 1890, is a Berkeley historic landmark. Maio says that means the integrity of the exterior of the building must be maintained. She says parts of the interior can be changed, but there is a process of approval through the landmarks preservation commission.

There is a public notice, posted by the California Department of Alcholic Beverage Control, on Spenger's front window. It says that KRG JCS LLC, the parent company for Joe's Crab Shack, applied to open a restauarant at the location. So, Spenger's may still have life in some capacity.