LAFAYETTE -- For more than 30 years, the Squirrel's Coffee Shop has been dishing up the omelets, BLT's, Cornish pasties and bangers that have made it a local institution.
But after serving countless patrons, manager Richard Poy and his family are shutting the popular neighborhood eatery for good on Aug. 15 to focus on renovations and make way for future tenants.
The closure is part of the city's effort to revitalize the historic block near the corner of Mt. Diablo Boulevard and Moraga Road that the Poys have owned for nearly three decades. A dry cleaning business that leases space from the family a few doors down from Squirrel's is relocating nearby.
"We're fixing up all the properties and bringing everything up to code," said Poy during a break from serving plates of scrambled eggs and hash browns.
The renovations include facade improvements to the row of storefronts anchored by the 1860s-era building known as the Pioneer Store. Upgraded water meters, electric service repairs, a new sewer line and major structural work are also planned, said property manager Craig Semmelmeyer, of Main Street Property Services. Poy said his family is investing about $1 million into the improvements as part of a deal with the city to help jazz up the small strip. The agreement will allow the family to participate in the "Plaza Way Overlay District" which the city established to preserve the block's historical character and draw people to the adjacent park via new restaurants and retailers.
The overlay district will also address a parking shortage that should make the area friendlier for drivers and pedestrians, city staffers say. A new parking lot will be added at the rear of Plaza Way. The cost of the new lot will be split by the city and property owners.
In exchange for their participation, the city is reducing the number of parking spaces businesses are required to provide. Their employees will also be able to park in a city-owned lot on Moraga Road, said planning director Niroop Srivatsa.
So far, the Poys are the only property owners who have opted into the district. No changes are coming to a nearby thrift store, barbershop or restaurant unless the owners of those properties decide to participate.
Poy said his family is looking forward to the revitalization. And although he'll miss all the families he's seen over the years, Poy said he's eager for something new; he's been working in the family business full time since he began washing dishes there in 1995. The job, he said, takes its toll.
Many customers have dined at Squirrel's since former hotel executive chef Bill Poy and his wife Sheu bought it from an English couple. While they repainted the blue walls a peanut-butter shade of tan, the Poys retained the diner's vintage feel and tavern-style menu.
Lafayette resident Jim Thomas has been eating nearly every week at Squirrel's for the past 30 years. He loves the French toast and the friendly servers.
"I just like the coffee shop atmosphere, it's not too fancy but it's very good," he said. "The service is outstanding. They will be missed."