Oakland’s Camino will close in late December after 10 years of business.
Russell Moore, who co-owns the restaurant with Allison Hopelain, said though the decision was bittersweet, selling the restaurant was an idea they’d been mulling over for about a year. It all can be traced back to a financial shift in the industry over the last few years, Moore said, wherein businesses of Camino’s size really began struggling more often than not with higher operating costs and finding staff.
“The time for a place like Camino is over,” Moore said. “We could have made it easier on ourselves by making a fixed price menu or just raising prices. But I didn’t want Camino to be a place with like a $60 entree. It just seems wrong.”
So, with Camino at the top of its game, they’re walking away.
There is already a new operator waiting in the wings for the building. Moore declined to provide specifics, explaining that the new chapter for Camino’s space wasn’t his to tell, but said the restaurant’s liquor license is in the process of being transferred.
“It’s not going to be a Camino,” he said, adding with a laugh, “I’ve made peace with that.”
Oakland’s Kebabery, Camino’s year-old sister restaurant, will remain open.
At a time when the writing sometimes appears on the wall long before a restaurant closes, the Camino closure may come as a surprise, as it has been one of the most celebrated Oakland restaurants of the last decade.
A decade ago, Camino opened with its wood-fired menu and 20-year Chez Panisse kitchen veteran at the helm. The menu changed daily and through the years, was a perennial Chronicle Top 100 Restaurant.
The restaurant was also at the forefront of the Bay Area restaurant industry when it came to operations. For example, it was one of the first businesses to go tipless, a move that has been oft discussed in the industry over the last few years.
In a way, it was the accolades and recognition that played a part in making Camino untenable. Moore said the restaurant runs best when both he and Allison are in the building. Over the last decade, he said they were never able to find an alternative way to operate the business.
It led to them just getting burnt out.
“I’ve been cooking for 32 years now. We need a vacation. I have friends I want to see,” Moore said. “This will be the first break we’ve had in a while and I’m excited about that. We needed it.”
As for the Kebabery, business is good, Moore said. The restaurant is not only smaller and easier to operate, at least financially, these days than Camino, but it also represents a path forward in an unpredictable industry.
“We’re never going to open another Camino. It takes everything out of you every single day,” Moore said. “But with the Kebabery, I’d like to open another. It’s fun right now. It’s less expensive to run, too.”
Tiger Blouse Star Sweden White Of Niki Moore added: “More importantly, it’s easier on us. At this point, that’s really all that matters.”
This story has been updated to include Moore’s comments.
Justin Phillips is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twiter: @JustMrPhillips