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New Wing for Natural Grocery with Cafe, Prepared Food

If you've passed the El Cerrito Natural Grocery recently, you may have seen drawings for a major expansion of the business into the empty store next door. They'll offer sandwiches, salads, pizza, baked goods, espresso drinks and tea.

The is growing in a big way.

It's expanding into the former paint store next door, where it plans to establish a cafe and food-service counters with a variety of natural meals and snacks that can be eaten on the premises or picked up to go.

"Basically we're going to be able to offer all the things we haven't been able to offer in the store," said Robin Valerie Low, the Natural Grocery's project developer for the expansion.

That includes a cafe with espresso drinks and tea, a bakery section, made-to-order and ready-made sandwiches, fresh pizza, salads, a cheese shop, a wine and beer shop, and an ice cream counter. There'll also be rotisserie chicken and daily "blue plate special" meals, Low said.

A lot of renovation and seismic work needs to be done to the space, formerly a Sherwin-Williams paint store, Low said.

The new wing is not expected to open until January of next year, said Low, who owned the French-style Post Meridian restaurant on Colusa Circle for five years until it closed a year a ago.

The new facility will be called the "Annex," not only because it will be an extension of the grocery but also because the new space, like the grocery, is located in a part of Richmond called Richmond Annex. The mailing address of the grocery – which sits on the west side of San Pablo Avenue at the intersection with Stockton Avenue – is in El Cerrito and the store's front sidewalk is El Cerrito. But the city boundary runs between the sidewalk and the building, putting the grocery itself in Richmond.

"It is an annex to the grocery store, but it's also the Richmond Annex," Low said. "So it's a nice nod to them."

Perhaps the most striking element of the expansion so far is the steel trellis recently built connecting the two buildings. It's for solar panels to supply green power.

"We wanted to link the two buildings," Low said. "We need a visual link." She said the business also wanted to lower its carbon footprint in a visible way.

"With this new addition, we're quadrupling our solar power," she said. "... We really wanted to be an example and encouragement to other people to have them consider installing solar power."

Preliminary drawings of the interior of the Annex have been posted in the window of the new space. There will be two entrances, a main one facing San Pablo Avenue and a secondary one for those entering from the rear parking lot. 

Seating in the front windows will provide a view of the El Cerrito hills, Low said. 

The employee-owned Natural Grocery Company has been in El Cerrito since 1988. It has an older-sister branch on Gilman Street in Berkeley.

Among additional offerings being considered for the Annex are school lunches to go, cheese-tastings, a flower stand with cut and potted plants, and a massage chair, Low said.

Also planned is specialty hot chocolate at the cafe, thanks to General Manager and company founder Bob Gerner.

"Bob is really excited about having multiple flavors of hot chocolate – Mexican, Peruvian," Low said. "It's all natural of course."

For a glimpse of what the Annex might look at, attached to this article are preliminary drawings of the Annex – some photographed in the window and some provided by Low.

Toni Mayer May 21, 2012 at 07:52 PM
I loved Post Meridian and was sad when it closed. I'm delighted that Robin will be so close w/ her lovely foods. I look forward to the opening in January. When I passed by this morning it looked as if the solar array is already up.
L May 21, 2012 at 08:49 PM
Awesome! So exciting to see the El Cerrito area developing in a way that reflects our values. I'll cross my fingers in hopes of vegan and gluten free menu options! That would be the BEST.
Chris Hanrahan May 21, 2012 at 11:42 PM
Here is to hoping it will be open late into the evening. SO many of us who work until 7pm in the City or oakland, would kill to have something like this stay open later. Especially for the coffee, and a place to walk to at night. El cerrito has so very little open past 9pm in the way of a nice cup of something warm.
Chris Hanrahan May 21, 2012 at 11:48 PM
I 100% agree. We had dinner there the last new Years Eve they were open, and it was one of the Best experiences I've had in years. Knowing Robin is involved gives me a lot more faith this is going to be "something"
juliet cs February 19, 2013 at 03:15 AM
Any updates on when it will open? We are patiently waiting...

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