Mountain View Voice

News - March 16, 2012

Eateries can't compete with Google's free food

by Daniel DeBolt

Since he started his North Bayshore sandwich shop with his brother 21 years ago, Victor Jadallah saw the neighborhood double in size, Sun Microsystems and Silicon Graphics rise and fall and the dot-com boom become the dot-com bust. But nothing really prepared him for Google.

Over the last five years the flow of customers to Country Deli has steadily declined by 10 percent a year, which Jadallah attributes to the displacement of his customers as Google comes to dominate the North Bayshore neighborhood.

"They feed their employees," Jadallah said of Google and its growing number of workplace cafes. "It's hard to compete with free."

From the car traffic, Jadallah estimates there are at least as many employees in the neighborhood as there were during the late 1990s dot-com boom, but he's only seeing a third of the business he saw then.

Illustrating the problem, the Country Deli had been catering regularly to the former Microsoft campus on Villa Street and Shoreline Boulevard, but that stopped last year when Google bought that campus too. And Google has not placed any orders to replace the lost catering business, Jadallah said.

He says he regularly hears from his customer that Google has bought their employer's building and they'll be leaving soon, such as the woman employed by Neuropace who gave him some bad news last week. The medical device company is on Shorebird Way where Google has bought most of the land for redevelopment into new Google offices.

"As you drive up and down the street these are all Google buildings now," Jadallah said. "All the businesses that used to be here, a slew of biotech companies, tech companies — some have moved out on their own but Google is basically inhabiting all these buildings."

Jadallah had some hopes that things would turn around until the "nail in the coffin" happened early last year. Google bought the building housing the Country Deli at 1674 North Shoreline Blvd. He said he was told by Google to relocate — his lease will not be renewed when it expires in four years. Jadallah said he asked a Google representative, his contact for the lease, if the Country Deli could serve as an official Google cafe. Jadallah said the reply was, "Not on my watch," from a Google real estate rep.

City records have since indicated Google's intent to build a cafe for employees directly behind the Country Deli at 1015 Joaquin Road.

"We've put our heart and soul into this, my brother and I," Jadallah said. "It's disheartening."

Moving out

Jadallah said he asked Google to "help us relocate in some way," perhaps by lowering the rent, but received "no cooperation whatsoever." Because of this story, Google has resumed talks with Jadallah and he hopes to be able to get out of his lease before it expires in 2016, as it would be "a miracle" if he stayed in business until then, he said.

A Google spokesperson told the Voice that on more than one occasion Google has offered relocation assistance in the past for businesses in "similar situations."

"It's an expensive proposition to move and very difficult to find a location," Jadallah said. He has five employees, all of whom have families to support.

"This neighborhood was good to us for many, many years," Jadallah said. "It doesn't seem right that a landlord can just empty out all your customers and collect your rent."

It's not just the Country Deli that's noticed a decrease in business.

"Google is really killing us," said Dervis Yuksel, owner of Falafel and Kebab on Plymouth Avenue, which he says has seen a decline in business over the last three years as Google expands. He said he's spoken with nearby eateries Hon Sushi and Sunny Bowl, and "all of us want to move out." But Yuksel has 10 years left on his lease.

A new downtown

The situation illustrates the challenges of planning a second downtown on North Shoreline Boulevard with outdoor cafes among the inviting spaces, as proposed by Google representatives and others during the city's general plan update. If the area continues to be dominated by Google, Jadallah said he doesn't see how restaurants, arguably the heart of any such community, could stay in business without a lunch crowd. Even if another 1,500 homes were built in the area, as Google has advocated, Jadallah notes that those residents would be mostly Google employees, who now number over 10,000 in North Bayshore.

A Google spokesperson said Google continues to be interested such a redevelopment plan for housing on North Bayshore with retail on the bottom floor.

"More than 2,000 Googlers and their families live and work in Mountain View, participating in the community and supporting local businesses and schools," said a statement from Google. "In addition to supporting the community through a variety of grants and sponsorships, we regularly engage with local vendors and contractors that are essential to helping the business run smoothly. As we continue to hire in Mountain View, we are committed to working closely with the city and the community through our growth."

The Google spokesperson added that Google cafes mostly serve breakfast and lunch, though dinner is also available at some of Google's cafes. Jadallah was skeptical that North Bayshore restaurants could survive on dinner business alone.

"How would I survive on a customer base that would not come in my store?" Jadallah said.

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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