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Downtown Pleasanton restaurants, shops and real estate

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.

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