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Publication Date: Friday, October 24, 2003

Albany pub owner buys Coffee Roast Express Albany pub owner buys Coffee Roast Express (October 24, 2003)

Plans Italian coffee focus, no alcohol

by Jeb Bing

In a surprise move, the long-time owners of Coffee Roast Express on Main Street scuttled a pending offer from a Danville restaurant group and sold their business to Douglas Miller of Albany.

Ed Churka, who with his wife Diane have owned and operated the coffeehouse at three different downtown locations since 1989, said they will continue to own and maintain their building at 780 Main St. But on Saturday, Nov. 1, they will turn over the keys to the first floor coffeeshop and outdoor patio to Miller.

Up to a week ago, the Churkas had been negotiating to sell their business to Mari and Paul Kennard of Pleasanton and their partners Lyn and Dave Kay of Dublin. The four own and operate the Crown, a popular British pub and dining establishment in downtown Danville. They recently completed an extensive and costly Panning Commission review process, gaining a permit on a 3-2 vote that would have allowed them to serve alcoholic beverages. They also had just completed a preliminary agreement to provide valet parking at a nearby Spring Street lot, which was a Planning Commission condition.

"But in the end, we just weren't able to come to terms with the Churkas on specific conditions of the sales agreement that we felt were too open-ended and expensive," Mari Kennard said. "We're still interested in Pleasanton and are looking at other downtown properties."

Miller said his new operation will not sell alcohol, but will instead become an Italian-style coffeeshop, offering espresso, lattes and cappuccino that use imported Italian coffee beans. The business also will feature gelato, a rich ice cream made with eggs. Miller has ordered gelato-making equipment from Italy, and the frozen delicacy will go on sale once the machines are installed.

Born and raised in Livermore, Miller graduated from Livermore High School in 1997. His mother Sally Miller is a retired teacher who taught French at Amador Valley High School for more than 20 years. His wife Julie teaches at the College of Marin.

Miller also owns two upscale drinking establishments: the popular Club Mallard on San Pablo Avenue in Albany, and the upscale Thalassa Bar and Billiards on Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley's newest bar which features 21 pool tables.

He said his Pleasanton coffeeshop will be managed and operated by his partner Joey Nagase.

Miller said that although his business will have the same hours of operation as Coffee Roast Express, the name likely will be changed to reflect the Italian influence of the new coffeeshop. No decision has been made on whether to offer food service as the Churkas did since constructing and opening the new building at the corner of Main and Ray streets in 1999.

To celebrate the sale, the Churkas will host a community potluck dinner at Coffee Roast Express starting at 3 p.m. Sunday to "give the community an opportunity to meet the new owners."

"Our journey with Coffee Roast Express has been nothing short of magnificent," Ed Churka said. "We live in gratitude for our customers, friends and supporters."

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