A time of transition for restaurants in downtown Pleasanton

Handles, Dean's Cafe close while Zachary's Pizza, Wild One, SideTrack and more are on their way in

Handles on Main closed its doors last month at the Pleasanton Hotel site on Main Street. It was among two high-profile closures in recent weeks in downtown, which is also slated to see a handful of new restaurants open in the weeks and months ahead. (Photo by Jeremy Walsh)

Looking to grab a bite to eat downtown? The options are changing.

Downtown is going through a time of transition restaurant-wise, for positive and negative reasons.

Two well-established eateries closed their doors last month: Handles on Main Gastropub after a nearly seven-year run at the Pleasanton Hotel site, and downtown staple Dean's Cafe on orders from Alameda County health officials.

On the flip side, a handful of new venues are on pace to open up in the weeks and months ahead, including Relish Café at the former Café Main site, Zachary's Chicago Pizza next to Bank of America and SideTrack Bar and Grill on West Angela Street.

Though some may be bittersweet, the restaurant changes have the chance to breathe new life and energy into the downtown corridor, according to Laura Olson, executive director of the Pleasanton Downtown Association.

"While we are always sad to see businesses leave our downtown, it provides us with an opportunity to usher in new and exciting offerings. It helps to keep the landscape of downtown fresh," Olson said this week.

The high-profile closures started Feb. 6 when Dean's Cafe -- a Main Street breakfast and lunch favorite since the 1950s and one of downtown's oldest businesses -- failed a routine inspection from the Alameda County Environmental Health Department.

The inspector found 16 health code infractions, including four critical violations for equipment cleanliness, vermin, washroom facilities and food storage temperatures, according to the inspection report on the county website.

Dean's could reopen after resolving the violation problems, but for now, the restaurant at 620 Main St. remains shuttered with the health department's red "closed" sign affixed to the front door and no notice from ownership about when it might reopen. Dean's management did not respond to a request for comment.

Then almost two weeks later, on the north end of downtown in one of the city's oldest buildings, Handles Gastropub ended its run in the historic Pleasanton Hotel.

A notice on the front door of the restaurant and bar, which opened at 855 Main St. in August 2011, informed customers that Handles was closing for good.

"It is with a heavy heart that we announce the closing of Handles on Main. After nearly eight years of bringing people together for food and drink, creating a space for dancing and laughing, hosting celebrations of marriage and memorials of life, it's time to close our doors," Handles owners wrote in the notice.

They also thanked loyal employees and regular customers for inspiring them during Handles' run in downtown. "We truly wish everyone the best. It's been an honor to serve you," they added.

But the prominent restaurant space might not be vacant for long. Olson and city economic development director Pamela Ott each said other restaurant groups have already expressed interest in the old Handles site, though no new occupant has been confirmed.

One of downtown's newer tenants, Rita's Italian Ice, which opened last April at 320 St. Mary St., has also been closed since early February, but the dessert spot is on track to reopen by May 1 after experiencing an ownership change.

"We are excited about our new partnership and excited to open the doors at Rita's again," said Greg Arellano, who will own the shop with David Hyre.

Just a stone's throw away, at the corner of St. Mary and Peters Avenue, building work continues for Salt Craft, a new restaurant billed as refined casual dining. Olson said Salt Craft is expected to open in the next month or two.

Renovations are also ongoing at 30 W. Angela St., the former home of the Panda and Joy China restaurants that has been empty now for a couple years.

The building was gutted and is being redeveloped to house SideTrack Bar and Grill, a new venture between local mortgage professional Todd Utikal and restaurateur Skip Hinsley who owned Girasole for almost 20 years in the Santa Rita Square shopping center.

Set to open this summer, SideTrack will feature a menu of burgers, sandwiches, salads and small plates along with a full bar and two patio areas, according to Utikal, who also has experience in the hospitality industry.

"Hospitality has been lost in some businesses, so my hope at SideTrack is to create an environment of hospitality where people really feel at home," he said.

Construction is also continuing on the new, two-story restaurant building at 725 Main St., a site that was empty for years after the Union Jack Pub was torn down in 2007.

The building is designed to accommodate two tenants or a large restaurant and bar, with the second floor also featuring a terrace overlooking Main Street for outdoor dining and entertainment, according to developer Rob Dondero.

"Construction is going very well," Dondero said Tuesday. "I am receiving a lot of positive feedback. I have received numerous calls from (prospective tenants) wanting to know how they can book the place."

On the other end of Main Street, fencing is up between Bank of America and the Veterans Memorial Building where Zachary's Chicago Pizza plans to open, taking over part of the Bank of America building at 337 Main St.

"The work currently being done is for the outdoor dining patio; Zachary's is finalizing plans for its tenant improvements and aims to be open later this year," Ott said.

A block away at 349 Main St., Wild One California-Mex Grill is on track to open later this month in Suite 120, previously occupied by High Tech Burrito.

"They will be a great addition to downtown. We know people would like more casual, take-out fare in downtown and we think this will help fill that niche," Olson said of Wild One.

And across the street 401 Main, the new owners are planning to convert the former Café Main building into a new eatery, Relish Café. The opening timeline is unclear as the owners haven't yet requested a permit from the city for tenant improvements, according to Ott.

The Main Street corridor is seeing its share of commercial building action as well, from prominent vacancies at 310, 720 and 728 Main St. to new tenants like Coldwell Banker Residential Mortgage at 450 Main St. and Color Me Mine taking over the old Berry Patch site at 350 Main St. All that, plus the city's major water main replacement project on the north end of Main.

"This period of time in downtown is particularly exciting because we aren't just seeing new businesses, but we are seeing a number of new development and redevelopment projects happening throughout our commercial district," Olson said.

"One of the signs of a healthy and vibrant downtown is the willingness for private investors to make a financial investment in real estate. And you see that happening up and down Main Street and our side streets," she added.


27 people like this
Posted by Buc Lau
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Mar 6, 2018 at 6:26 pm

Dean’s shutdown by the County Health Dept. is long overdue. Although the place has been there for years, it lost its way years ago.

19 people like this
Posted by Grumpy
a resident of Vineyard Avenue
on Mar 6, 2018 at 9:01 pm

Grumpy is a registered user.

This area is not a good place for good food. Most people here rave about mediocre establishments. Therefore, owners can’t justify the added cost of improving food quality. What’s the point if no one will notice and you just lose more money.

Dean’s was gross.

6 people like this
Posted by Pleasanton Parent
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Mar 6, 2018 at 9:09 pm

Give me a family friendly Sonoma chicken coup and a Creole option please

15 people like this
Posted by Eric
a resident of Pleasanton Valley
on Mar 7, 2018 at 8:01 am

If you get shut down by the Health Department then you are doing some pretty sketchy food handling which means you’ve put me, my family and my community at risk. Fool me once, that’s the only shot you get when it comes to food safety.

27 people like this
Posted by Filthy
a resident of Birdland
on Mar 7, 2018 at 8:25 am

Deans has been filthy for a decade. I can't believe it has been open all this time.

7 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Mar 7, 2018 at 9:24 am

A lot of the restaurants in town re-heat food. Or at least they make it tste like they use a lot of processed, pre made ingredients.
I was at Handles a few times. I remember enjoying the first 2 visits. I always stayed on the dining room side, as I found the bar side too noisy. On my third visit I found TV sets mounted on the walls of the dinning room area. That was my last visit to Handles.

15 people like this
Posted by Downtown property owner
a resident of Downtown
on Mar 7, 2018 at 9:29 am

I stopped going to Deans when my elbows stuck to the greasy table I was seated at.
That was 25 years ago.

17 people like this
Posted by Bill
a resident of Pleasanton Heights
on Mar 7, 2018 at 9:48 am

Deans has been filthy for decades, and I still love it. Never got sick. Looking forward to their re-opening in April.

5 people like this
Posted by Shawn
a resident of Birdland
on Mar 7, 2018 at 10:25 am

I heard this new place SideTrack is going to be great. Oh and they are going to clean their kitchen everyday.

18 people like this
Posted by Silverfox
a resident of Castlewood
on Mar 7, 2018 at 11:12 am

Silverfox is a registered user.

with the new pizza place going in next to B of A and even taking over some of the bank building, will patrons of the pizza place be allowed to park in the giant downtown lot the the bank hogs?

10 people like this
Posted by Small Business Not Welcome
a resident of another community
on Mar 7, 2018 at 11:39 am

Dear Pleasanton,

Until you LOWER your rents & tax structure for small business they cannot succeed in your town. Oh and Costco says "thanks for nuthin'".


Your loss.

19 people like this
Posted by Shout Out!
a resident of another community
on Mar 7, 2018 at 11:42 am

Pleasanton Weekly:
Can we get a list of ALL the businesses that have attempted to do business in downtown Pleasanton and had to close down in less than 5 years?? In the meantime Livermore's downtown is thriving.

3 people like this
Posted by DJ TrOn
a resident of Birdland
on Mar 7, 2018 at 2:45 pm

Great article, it just forgot to mention that Todd Utikal is also a Rotarian. Just FYI.

12 people like this
Posted by JPL
a resident of Laguna Vista
on Mar 7, 2018 at 2:45 pm

As a resident of Pleasanton for 19 years, many times I have tried to support the city restaurants but the competition, Dublin, Livermore, San Ramon and Danville makes it a better choice for quality, food choices and parking. If the City was serious about downtown they would have removed the places like Dean's, focused on attracting the quality restaurant's other cities seem to attract. Parking seems to be nobody's concern and there are cities we should take lessons from and build parking that goes up 3-4 stories or down.
I don't think Downtown Pleasanton will be a destination for good dining for the next decade.

19 people like this
Posted by Sam
a resident of Oak Hill
on Mar 7, 2018 at 3:59 pm


Don’t think that the city has the power to just “remove” restaurants from Main Strret. If they did have the power to remove businesses, though, I would prefer that they use that power getting rid of the 8+ bank offices on Main Street.

8 people like this
Posted by Henry
a resident of Pleasanton Valley
on Mar 7, 2018 at 4:57 pm

With Todd Utikal being a Rotarian, does that mean SideTrack will be serving Rotary Chicken, aka Rotisserie Chicken? Even if not, the establishment sounds great, and I'm looking forward to spending time on the patio with friends, food and drinks! Can't wait for it to open!

23 people like this
Posted by Sue
a resident of Happy Valley
on Mar 7, 2018 at 5:50 pm

Parking is a nightmare now ~ if you cannot find a place to park, you can't stop and enjoy these new restaurants. May we please have a suitable garage??

22 people like this
Posted by parking is not the problem
a resident of Downtown
on Mar 7, 2018 at 6:28 pm

There is plenty of parking -- just not right out front of the restaurants! People are too lazy to walk one single block. Even on Saturdays during the market there is a lot of parking on First St, Second St and in the railroad corridor. Come on people, you can walk 50 yards to go to dinner. Geez, I have never seen so much complaining about a very short walk. Oh yeah, you are the same ones who have to park right outside the fitness club so that you can go inside and walk on the treadmill.

19 people like this
Posted by Jack
a resident of Downtown
on Mar 7, 2018 at 8:55 pm

Jack is a registered user.

Downtown may have a decent amount of parking, but it's not the right kind. It's about ease of use. Livermore has big, open lots, big wide streets, and a parking structure near the center of things. We've got these little narrow alleyways like Division Street. And now we're going backwards... Peters was constructed as a thoroughfare, so traffic on Main would be more commerce friendly. Now, Peters has as many stop signs as Main, and it sounds like they want to turn it into a giant bike path... The City needs to bite the bullet and build a large parking structure somewhere off the back half of Main Street. It's gonna cost $25M. We built a $45M golf course! Don't tell me we can't find a like amount to invest in the only Downtown we have!

14 people like this
Posted by Down Town Food
a resident of Foothill High School
on Mar 7, 2018 at 11:46 pm

All the restaurants on Main St serve mediocre food, at best, for San Francisco prices. Not worth it. We stopped eating downtown years ago for that very reason. I'll pay a ton for food if the quality is there; Main St just doesn't have the quality restaurants for the prices.

9 people like this
Posted by Sam
a resident of Oak Hill
on Mar 8, 2018 at 7:12 am

@Down Town Food :”All the restaurants on Main St serve mediocre food, at best, for San Francisco prices.”

Not true. There are some bad ones, though, which probably wouldn’t survive except for the fact that they’re on Main Street.

6 people like this
Posted by Marco
a resident of Pleasanton Heights
on Mar 8, 2018 at 8:18 am

REALLY miss that old Chinese restaurant that's been a shell of a building for years and is only now being restored. We really should not be having lots like that which are not only vacant but also decrepit. Huge eyesore.

6 people like this
Posted by David
a resident of Alisal Elementary School
on Mar 8, 2018 at 9:11 am

Parking is not the problem! It is a combo of rents, red tape by the City, constant whining from neighbor residents, and a lack of vision by the PDA and City Economic Development directors. We need to expand the downtown retail areas to Peters Avenue and other pockets. Plus, dare I utter it, add some condos. Livermore, Danville, now the upcoming San Ramon downtowns along with Dublin commercial strips will make Pleasanton a dead zone unless we get beyond talking about garbage can designs, parklets, and window mannequins. Make banks and offices grandfathered uses and move on to promoting retail and provide incentives like sewer fee reductions and permit fee waivers. Downtown is cute, but c’mon, I eat there periodically and font really shop there. I go elsewhere.

6 people like this
Posted by Tom
a resident of Country Fair
on Mar 8, 2018 at 11:21 am

That building which has been " Dean's " for many moons, should be demolished and a new building put in. that sign above the building should have come down years ago as well. I've seen rats running around in there when the place was closed and notified the Health Department but never saw anyone doing anything about it.

Deans should not be able to return to that establishment. If it were me, I would be a totally ashamed to return once again.

Thank God for the Health department finally coming to our rescue

8 people like this
Posted by Registered Joe
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Mar 8, 2018 at 1:25 pm

Cook's Seafood is coming soon to the corner of Bernal and Valley, across the street from Safeway. I was a regular at the Cook's Palo Alto location, and it's the absolute best when it comes to fish and chips, grilled salmon, and seafood salads. Can't wait for the local opening.

3 people like this
Posted by Grumpy
a resident of Vineyard Avenue
on Mar 8, 2018 at 1:48 pm

Grumpy is a registered user.

Sabio is pretty good now. Blue Agave has some very good dishes—the huitlacoche shrimp is good, and their chips are like corn nuts. Inklings has so so coffee but tries hard to make them look pretty. Beer Baron is good. So is Neighborhood.

The rest are mediocre or worse. Strizzi’s is decent for when you want American classics of Italian dishes, but is too pricey for that. Rising Loafer has decent coffee and one or two good dishes. I’m just not sure why the rest are here. Pleasanton diners must like paying too much for bad food.

And don’t eat Chinese food in anywhere in (traditional) Pleasanton. Go to Koi Palace.

8 people like this
Posted by Disk Man
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Mar 8, 2018 at 4:06 pm

All those years that Dean's Cafe was getting those "Best of Pleasanton" awards in the Pleasanton Weekly, I was thinking this poll has got to be rigged by orchestrated voting (i.e. the owners getting all their acquaintances to vote for them). We ate there about 20 years ago and we thought the place was the pits. Tried it again about 10 years ago and it was even worse. The food was bad, the service was bad, the ambiance was 1940s diner, and the cleanliness was off-the-chart bad.

5 people like this
Posted by LanceM
a resident of Mohr Park
on Mar 8, 2018 at 4:13 pm

LanceM is a registered user.

Handles closed because of poor service and high prices. Suppose to be a place to get specialty beers and such but they have the highest prices in town and never really had much in the way of rotating handles. Every time I went in bartenders seemed to be too busy to help the 1 or 2 customers actually in the bar and could barely mumble a word, God forbid you ask for some information about the beers they serve.

7 people like this
Posted by LanceM
a resident of Mohr Park
on Mar 8, 2018 at 4:16 pm

LanceM is a registered user.


"I would prefer that they use that power getting rid of the 8+ bank offices on Main Street."

Yes! It's been a running joke that every time a business closes it gets replaced by a bank.

A restaurant tries to open and provide something different (live music, etc) the idea gets quickly shut down by the city (or the complaining neighbors) unless they limit it to Saturday evening from 6:00 to 6:15pm as long as it is inside and all doors and windows are shut and there are sound mitigating devices installed.

7 people like this
Posted by Mikel
a resident of Vineyard Avenue
on Mar 8, 2018 at 5:05 pm

Mikel is a registered user.

I hardly eat downtown any more. I used to go out all of the time. I agree that parking is not the problem and that the rents are too high and the city is obstructionist and only interested in getting their high fees. The complaining neighbors and the restrictions don't help. The PDA and City Economic Development directors don't seem to be doing much. Redevelopment with mixed use would help as well as selective granting of permits to get a better mix of businesses and relaxing the fees. I heard some real horror stories from business owners about the high cost of dealing with the city and the nit picking that they do.

6 people like this
Posted by Silverfox
a resident of Castlewood
on Mar 8, 2018 at 7:25 pm

Silverfox is a registered user.

Parking not a problem

obviously you are not 90 and disabled. and no I do not drive to the gym to use the treadmill. geez I could barely walk-but have my wheelchair and walker. not enough handicaped spots on mail street for us to eat down town. and yes I live just three short blocks away but cannot walk that far.

3 people like this
Posted by Grumpy
a resident of Vineyard Avenue
on Mar 8, 2018 at 7:41 pm

Grumpy is a registered user.


I’d be fine with the city making half of the spots on Main Street disables (blue) and the other half for expectant mothers, injured but not disabled, etc—if they built a big garage nearby. I’d be happy if they restricted the parking in Livermore the same way BECAUSE they have that garage.

1 person likes this
Posted by filthy
a resident of Birdland
on Mar 9, 2018 at 8:29 am

Right now I think Oasis is the best place downtown. Not too pricy and really good food. Customer service has always been super friendly. It's not Italian, a bank or a coffee joint!

Like this comment
Posted by Grumpy
a resident of Vineyard Avenue
on Mar 9, 2018 at 8:36 am

Grumpy is a registered user.

Really? Never been to Oasis. It just never seemed appealing. I’ve usually gone to Fremont or the South Bay for that sort of food. Perhaps I’m turned off by their calling themselves a wine bar. Reminds me of Faz.

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Charter Oaks

on Mar 9, 2018 at 9:19 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

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

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