Letters for the Week of October 5

Readers sound off on Peet's Coffee, the Parkway Theater, and food trucks.

“How Peet’s Starbucked Itself,” Features, 9/21

From Peet’s to Philz

Just buy a bag of Peet’s coffee and see the broken beans and the lower quality of both the roast and the beans. I now buy my beans at Philz.

Jason Carey, Oakland

Time for a Boycott?

I really hate that Peet’s is abusing its employees. I want to hear that this situation improves rapidly, or I’ll stop buying Peet’s altogether. I’m sick of the maquiladora philosophy that permeates Peet’s right now.

Eva Merrick, Oakland

What’s Wrong With Starbucks?

I’ve never been to Peet’s, but what’s wrong with Starbucks? I’ve been getting coffee there for years, and I’ve always found the service and the quality of the coffee to be excellent. I don’t understand the disparaging remarks made in this article. All I want in any store is a polite service person, fast service, and a decent product. I get all three at Starbucks.

Kathleen Haugh, Rio Vista, California

Bummer, Dude

What!? Peet’s no longer hires people to show up when they feel like it, hang out and talk about coffee? Bummer, dude.

Michael Cabanatuan, Albany

Peet’s Still Rocks

This was a very interesting article. Paints the picture of very bitter baristas. I have worked for Peet’s for six years and I love my job. I love the product we produce. I truly feel that though some truth is in this article, it’s very exaggerated. The pressure is there, but come on. I have a huge sense of family at all the different Peet’s locations that I have worked at. I know we are no longer a mom-and-pop coffee shop, but we still have the best standards for quality and service. Peets still rocks!

Anonymous Peet’s Employee

Well-done — and Typo-free

I enjoyed this article very much, and thought it was extremely well-written. I got scared when I saw how long it was, but it held my attention all the way through. And unless “Iulia” Bodeanu’s first name is actually “Julia,” I did not find one single typo or grammatical error in the whole long piece — quite an achievement, given the Express‘s recent track record in that regard. Bless you and thank you for the excellent copy-editing.

Jessie West, Richmond

Long Overdue

That was a great piece of writing. Long overdue. I’ve been with Peet’s for over five years and your article caught perfectly the accelerating slide the company has taken in the last few years.

I don’t mind that Peet’s is turning into a Starbucks clone. It’s their clinging to the plucky little coffee store image that’s infuriating. When it gets to the point of being required to sign vows of silence, of your company cutting employee raises then trying — unsuccessfully — to buy another coffee company, well — that’s just what corporations do. And so it goes….

Sure, I could tell you stories, sad whistle-blower stuff. But your article did a good job. Our manager usually gives us corporate lines to feed customers whenever something unsettling turns up in the press. This week she’s being really quiet, as if she’s been told to not even acknowledge the recent issue of the Express exists. “If you don’t mention the problem it doesn’t exist.” Multiply that by about 200 stores and 3,700 employees and you have some mighty strong reactions.

Iulia Bodeanu — she’s our hero. Now, whenever we’re asked to do something demeaning, corporate, and required, we ask, “What would Iulia say to this?” The thought puts a spring in our step, as did your article.

Again, a well-written article that people on both sides of the bean counter are talking about. How do I get a copy of the cup-in-a-cup graphic that accompanied the article? That would make a nice T-shirt! Did I say “thank you” yet?

Anonymous Peet’s Employee

“The Parkway’s Last Shot,” News, 9/21

Praise Moses

Moses has come closer than anyone in reviving and restoring The Parkway. He has the vision, the passion, and the networking, if not that key component: the funding. I hope his heroic efforts don’t go unrewarded — for his sake, the community’s sake, and my sake! I’m sick of hearing almost daily about how much people miss The Parkway! Oakland needs and deserves it, and frankly should never have lost it. I have faith in Moses, but he can’t part all that red tape without a little help from above ….

Will Viharo, Alameda

Good for Business

The absolute fact is that neighborhood cinemas and theaters bring business into the area, especially restaurants and specialty shops. The Parkway’s unique program was always a draw for my wife and I when we resided by Lake Merritt. Perhaps the mayor and city council can bring pressure on those sleepers, especially when the loss of more tax dollars are at issue!

Simon Overton, Port Orchard, Washington

Get the City Involved

I think the Chengs [owners of The Parkway Theater on Park Street] deserve to have their property revoked via eminent domain. The fact that they would keep the building empty and a community in blight is akin to an act of disgrace and poor citizenship.

Liat Zavodivker, Los Gatos

“Morning Becomes Informal,” Restaurant Review, 9/21

Birdsall’s Fall

After the last two editions of the Express, it’s become clear that John Birdsall has too much on his plate. His article on food trucks rambled, lacking the driving clarity that normally bolsters the full-length cover pieces. This week, his three contributions were weaker than usual.

“Morning Becomes Informal” begins with two whole paragraphs (and much of what follows) reliving Birdsall’s hung-over escapades back in the day. If we wanted self-adulating drinking stories, we’d eavesdrop on Cal students on a Sunday afternoon. Trust me, we don’t, any more than we can help it.

“A Lonely Voyage at Sea Salt” almost reads like an entry in a therapist-prescribed personal diary. It consisted mostly of Birdsall’s feelings: “neglect[ed],” “deserted,” “invisible.” He then contradicts himself in assessing the staff mood, criticizing an unsubstantiated sense that they were only there because they “needed the paycheck,” and then, puzzlingly, that “the cooks joked around” with each other. Which is it: dispirited culinary lumpen, or a crew engaged in playful banter? By the time he gets to the food, which all receives praise, we have to wonder if he was paying more attention to the body language of the busboys than to what was on his fork.

Finally, “Whole Paycheck Goes Well” reveals just how much Birdsall is overreaching. A third of the article is a bold-font, sarcastic, somewhat extraneous excerpt — a formatting tactic one would expect of Fox News, not the Express. Next, his failure to locate the new, expanded coffee bar (located opposite the Wellness Center he is purportedly reviewing), his miscount of the total number of Wellness Clubs (four, not three), and his skepticism about the 10 percent member discount (which covers the entire produce department, salad bar, and much of the bulk section) makes it clear that he probably did not even visit the store at all. In fact, his first sentence (“From the day it opened in 2007, Whole Foods’ Oakland store has done a bit of struggling to find itself”) is a backhanded compliment, belying the company’s efforts to respond to the needs of local shoppers, and would have made an interesting point of comparison to the edition’s cover story on Peet’s. That piece was journalism; Birdsall’s read like a tweet.

What Mr. Birdsall must understand if he is to develop his considerable talent is that great food critics — like Sam Sifton — do not place themselves at the center of their review. Personal anecdotes should be used to color the outline sketched of a restaurant’s atmosphere, service, and food, not to convince the reader of how cool the author is, regardless of how fastidiously he studies UrbanDictionary.com. John Birdsall has a knack for wordplay that flirts with the makings of a significant reviewer, if only he could stop giving himself rave reviews.

Owen Andrews, Oakland

“Oakland’s Food Truck Policy,” Editorial Cartoon, 9/21

Keep Mobile Food Rolling

It’s so good to laugh at the follies of Oakland — now let’s remove the boot and get the mobile food movement cruising.

Karen Hester, Oakland

Help Us Out, Oakland

Our customers enjoy street food and because of our great success with the burrito truck, we are opening our restaurant. We wish the City of Oakland would support food trucks and help us all out.

Cuauhtemoc Jimenez, Oakland

Owner, Casa Jimenez

First Parklets, Then Food Trucks

No doubt. Oakland is progressing well on parklets, so food trucks would seem the next easy opportunity!

Doug Johnson, Oakland

“US Teens Smoke More Pot Than Dutch,” Legalization Nation, 9/21

Know the Risks

David Downs is to be commended for a frank and factual story on teen use of marijuana. Perhaps he or someone else could also look into data on the National Institute of Alcohol and Drug Abuse website on documented, permanent damage to the brains of about 15 percent of teens smoking marijuana! Teen brains are still developing, so some teens are much more sensitive to marijuana’s well-known effects on memory — especially short-term memory. Parents of teens and teens themselves need to know about the physical risks of teens “enjoying” a joint.

Ruby MacDonald, El Cerrito

“My Afternoons with Marguerite,” Movies, 9/21

A Whale of an Observation

In reviewing My Afternoons with Marguerite, Kelly Vance states that Gerard Depardieu “may be fatter than Marlon Brando at his most whale-like….” Well, Kelly, your writing may be more hurtful than a weight-loss column in Cosmopolitan magazine. Does this comment serve any literary purpose other than to humiliate at the author’s whim? I sure don’t see one.

Rob Gross, Oakland

“Fixing a Berkeley Eyesore,” News, 9/14

Another Eyesore

Wow! The East Bay Express has just answered a question I have been asking (the wrong people, clearly) for more than twenty years. Admittedly, I figured the lot on Telegraph and Haste has sat empty for reasons of greed; I just wondered whose greed it was. Thank you for answering the question. I’m sure the City of Berkeley’s byzantine planning procedures have added to the problems of developing the lot, but the essential story seems to be about one person holding an entire neighborhood hostage to feed his own ego and pocketbook. 

I wonder if the Express would be interested in continuing the “empty lot” series with answers about another troublesome eyesore: The lot at the southwest corner of Hearst Avenue and San Pablo has similarly sat vacant for more than twenty years. The wild fennel and other weeds are now more than eight feet tall. I know someone must be aware of the lot’s existence, because every so often the weeds get cut down. Then the site is abandoned again for months. With the (apparent) completion of the Delaware apartment and retail complex, it’s looking like someone may be paying attention to the non-Fourth-Street side of West Berkeley. One can hope.

Terry Toczynski, Berkeley

“Food Trucks Prohibited,” Feature, 9/14

Look North

We should ease the food truck restrictions in Oakland provided that health and safety regulations are in place. We should let competition sort the rest out. I recently visited Portland and Seattle and the food truck business is thriving, but so is the restaurant business.

Sajeev Batra, Oakland

Even Brick-and-Mortar Businesses Support Mobile

I think it’s worth noting that I, for one, have never heard opposition to expansion of the ordinance from an actual Oakland restaurant owner. My guess is that this is because many (clever) restaurant owners are already expanding into their own mobile vending units, and many more are just waiting for the ordinance to expand so they can do it, too.

Elizabeth August, Oakland


In our September 7 food review, “Down-Home Izakaya,” we misstated details about the history of the space now occupied by B-Dama. It was formerly the home of It’s About Thyme, not Messob. Messob is still open, right next door to B-Dama.

In our September 21 movie review, “Baseball and the Abstract Truth,” we got wrong the name of the pioneer of Sabermetrics. His name is Bill James.

In our September 28 Taste dining listings, we misstated the name of Oliveto’s chef. It’s Jonah Rhodehamel. 

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