Natural Café set to close downtown restaurant

Kelly Brown, owner of the Natural Café, has informed its owner, Jim Knell of SIMA Corporation, that starting next March he will be closing his restaurant on the 500 block of State Street after 30 years.

Both Brown and Knell have been particularly outspoken members of the business community in voicing their frustration with City Hall and the state of State Street. Brown was particularly impressed when explaining his decision to turn off the lights at his downtown digs in a missive to Knell earlier this week.

Founder and CEO of Natural Café, Kelly Brown. | Credit: Paul Wellman (from file)

Brown’s lease expires at the end of March. In his letter, Brown commented that the location – on a stretch of State Street known alternately as “the fun zone” or “the drunken and messy zone” for its crowded bars and rambunctious street scene – had always been difficult, adding, “Things have taken an extreme turn for the worse in recent years.

The homeless problem, Brown said, has grown from a mere problem to one of “outright crime.” He said the rat and vermin problem had “become intolerable” and blamed the town hall for not taking appropriate action. He said the space under downtown parklets provides too inviting an ecosystem for rats’ nests. “Food is falling on them from above,” he noted.

“Did I mention the bikes and skateboarders speeding down the closed street, running stop signs and constantly putting themselves and all pedestrians in danger?” Brown wrote.

Brown also lambasted the proliferation of parklets on State Street – The Natural Café used to have one, but Brown closed it a month ago, he said, because it no longer looked good . “This parklet program favors the few over the many,” he complained. “We need State Street back.”

Brown has several other natural cafes throughout the county and elsewhere in Southern California that offer a semi-contemporary riff on 1970s-style diet meals. Brown said many of his employees are college students who go and usually come; he expected them to move on and find other jobs. As for his longtime employees, he said, they would be catered for and offered positions at his other restaurants.

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