Friday, January 11, 2008

Panama Red boasts new quarters in BayLink ferry terminal in Vallejo

Panama Red boasts new quarters in ferry terminal
By RACHEL RASKIN-ZRIHEN/Times-Herald staff writer
Article Launched: 01/11/2008 06:52:17 AM PST

Concerns over lost views proved unwarranted as customers and officials appraised the Vallejo Ferry Building's newly remodeled Panama Red coffee shop on Thursday.

The cafe, which had occupied the octagonal waterfront building's west rotunda since September 2006, moved Monday into its newly renovated east rotunda space, said owner Steve Welty. It opened there at 5 a.m. Tuesday.

Welty, too, had expressed concern over the move, since the new spot lacked the natural waterfront patio the old space offered. But the new, larger location has already attracted more clients, and a new patio is planned, he said.

"I like it," Welty said. "It's a work in progress."

The new site still features a slightly tropical theme and soft background music ranging from reggae to big band to oldies rock 'n' roll. The new, larger space features a hand-laid floor tile logo, a "cupping" and conference room with comfy chairs and copper ceiling tiles, and a loft that will one day be a training area, Welty said.

Coffee, tea and other hot and cold drinks are sold, along with fresh-baked breads and pastries. Panama Red will soon expand its menu to include sandwiches and salads, Welty said.

"This is nice," said retired winery manager Art Johnston of
Vallejo Nissan
Vallejo. "I come down a lot, and the old space was nice, but this is better because of the size. It's better than I thought it was going to be."

Vallejoans Ray Sanchez and Roger Verano, a retired airline worker and a retired Certified Public Accountant, both agreed.

"This is a lot better, and the view is nice," Sanchez said.

"I like how they fixed this side," Verano added.

The city of Vallejo's real estate official, Steve England, said he's pleased with the way the ferry building's anchor tenant is faring, and sees Panama Red's success as a sign of better things to come. This despite the uncertainty created by the recent unexpected state takeover of the ferry and its assets - including the ferry building - by the state.

England said he's continuing to operate as though the city still owns the ferry and its assets. "I still have the leases," he said. "Until they take the leases away. ..."

England said he seeks other businesses to occupy available ferry building space, including the area vacated by Panama Red. "We'd like a sundry store. That would be my first choice," England said. "I'd like to see services that build on each other and serve the community."

Interest has been expressed by food purveyors, art galleries, an ice cream shop and a yoga place, he said.

Unseen are some of the "green" features incorporated into Panama Red's remodel, Welty said.

"We used all bamboo cabinets, a tankless water heater and a mix of flourescent and incandescent lighting that saves energy while still permitting a warm glow," he said.

Returning from vacation and seeing the new space for the first time Thursday, Panama Red employee Leah Mullen of Vallejo was impressed.

"There's just more space here, and we'll be able to make a positive difference for more people with the extra space," said Mullen, 18, a Napa Valley College business student. "And I'm excited about expanding our menu."

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