KENSINGTON -- Changes and new faces have come to Colusa Circle, where new owners have taken over a popular corner pub and are being joined by a pizza place that opened across the street.
Scott McFadin has purchased the Kensington Circus Pub from longtime owner Graham Barclay Simpson. Adding to the dining choices is Benchmark Pizzeria, which opened across Colusa Avenue in mid-July.
Benchmark owners Peter and Melissa Simpson are serving dinner from 5 to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday and they hope to eventually expand to seven days a week with lunch hours as well.
"We always had a passion for pizza," Melissa Simpson said. "We were always looking for a good spot and we live around the corner. I think the area doesn't really have an upscale pizza joint. There's Little Star, there's Zachary's. But it's not like Oakland and San Francisco. There's not a place where you can get a really authentic pizza."
The couple met while working at Oliveto on College Avenue in Oakland. Peter Simpson has worked at Dopo Restaurant on Oakland's Piedmont Avenue and Melissa Simpson has worked at Chez Panisse in Berkeley.
They call their wood-fired pizzas "neo-Neapolitan," with a thin crust and the light toppings.
Peter Simpson makes the pizza dough every morning. Most of the ingredients are locally-sourced and organic from small family farms.
Melissa Simpson said the starter dough has to be "fed" three times a day or it becomes "temperamental."
Business, so far, has been good.
"The first week and a half was really, really busy," Melissa Simpson said earlier this week. "Then it kind of died down the last two days. I don't know if people are watching the Olympics or the kite festival."
Over at the Kensington Circus Pub, McFadin is working to have musical acts on a more regular basis.
"What they did before was more of a passive booking," he said. "When (performers would) get a hankering for fish and chips, they'd call. That's pretty much how it was booked. Now we're trying to be a little proactive."
There will be live music on Thursdays and Saturdays, he said.
The Harlan James Band will play its brand of bluegrass on Saturday. Band members are students of legendary banjo player Bill Evans from Albany and McFadin said there's a rumor that Evans may sit in. The pub has also added a 60-inch television, and is currently showing the Olympics every night.
A grand reopening is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 1. McFadin is looking at other possible additions, while also acknowledging that the regulars want the Kensington Circus Pub to remain as they've known it.
"Because the pub has been there for 24 years and has a strong community following, every change you make, you have to think about the base," McFadin said. "It's a luxury to have to worry about. In a sense we are the stewards of the club. I almost got a death threat if I took shepherd's pie off the menu."
And, of course, there's the matter of the beer selection.
"I've had a ton of people who said, 'We'd really like you to add Bud or Bud Light,'" he said. "And we have some other regulars who are adamant, 'You should never add Bud or Bud Light.' I don't want to create a civil war by bringing in a can of Bud."
McFadin said he is looking to add some lighter fare to the menu, such as more salads or grilled fish.
Another plan is to possibly hold a roast for Graham Barclay Simpson, who is planning to move back to England.
"We're going to do a going away thing for Graham," McFadin said. "I want to do something. Anybody who thinks they've got ammunition is welcome. Twenty-four years of running a pub, you've got to figure plenty of people will let him have it."
Both McFadin and Melissa Simpson agreed that the circle on Colusa Avenue has the potential to be a small but happening business district.
"I think so. I think the more food places here the better," Simpson said. "I think this area could be really fun. I know the farmers market has been doing really good on Sundays. I think it's a sign that people want good food around here."
Said McFadin, "What's good for the circle is good for the pub. We're 100 percent supportive of what they're trying to do (at Benchmark). We're pulling for them."