BERKELEY -- Chez Panisse, the world famous Shattuck Avenue restaurant damaged by a fire in the early morning hours last week, started rebuilding Tuesday and has moved back its reopening date to at least March 30, according to a note on its website.

The restaurant previously said it would cancel all reservations through March 23.

Fire restoration crews, carpenters, designers and contractors were on site Tuesday, getting ready to rebuild the fire-damaged front porch area that served as a small dining area for the downstairs restaurant. Much of the front of the restaurant is covered in plywood.

Kip Mesirow, a carpenter who designed much of the original restaurant and who said he has been working for owner Alice Waters since 1971, said the new wood porch area will be similar to the original.

Kip Mesirow, right, who designed much of the Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, Calif., which was partially burned March 8, is there Tuesday, March 12,
Kip Mesirow, right, who designed much of the Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, Calif., which was partially burned March 8, is there Tuesday, March 12, 2013, getting ready to rebuild. In the middle is Hiroko Shirakata, who works on disability requirments and at left is contractor Gene Desmidt. (Doug Oakley/Staff)

"That's about all I can tell you," he said.

Mesirow said the planning, permitting and rebuilding process of the front porch area means it won't open when the rest of the restaurant reopens. It will be quite some time after that, he said.

Berkeley fire spokesman Avery Webb said the cause of the 3 a.m. fire March 8 is still under investigation, but it looks like an electrical problem with the possibility that some equipment under the porch may have started the fire.

On the morning after the fire a tearful Waters recalled a fire that started more than 30 years ago, as she cooked in the kitchen. "It brings up a lot of emotional sadness for me," she said. "I'm just glad nobody was in the building."

In a note to customers on the Chez Panisse website, Waters said she is still trying to figure out exactly when parts of the restaurant will reopen.

"Given that the main structure is in good shape, we hope that the cafe won't be closed for long," Waters said. "In the next few days, we will better understand the scope of the repairs and determine when we can reopen both the restaurant and cafe."

Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408.