End of the Mama Buzz era, new cafe Telegraph to open soon

Mama Buzz, Telegraph

The space that once housed Mama Buzz, a local, renowned coffee shop, is in transition until it opens as Telegraph on the next First Friday, Feb. 3.

While Oakland’s Uptown residents search for a place to pretend to do work while chain-smoking and listening to obscure punk, John Mardikian is busy scrubbing, painting, fixing plumbing, and doing general repairs on the space where Mama Buzz—and before that, Papa Buzz—had been in some form or another for over a decade.

Mardikian is doing quick renovations with plans to reopen the spot under the name Telegraph, possibly as soon as the next First Friday, which falls on February 3. He will be selling homemade sausages, pastries, beer, and coffee, all for under $10.

Mardikian took over Jade Benetatos’s lease on Mama Buzz and bought all the equipment and the liquor license after some brief negotiations that took place after Benetatos closed Mama Buzz’s doors on December 17. Benetatos had run Mama Buzz for a little over four years as a café and art gallery that was notable for being the one of the original art galleries during the beginning of the Art Murmur event and for hosting up-and-coming bands like the tUnE-yArDs and the Big Kids.

“This one fell into my lap in a sort of way,” Mardikian said, which is certainly true. In fact, his father is a partial owner of the building, which rents residential space above the café where Mardikian lived when it was Papa Buzz back in 1999.

According to Benetatos, when she decided to sell Mama Buzz, she went to her landlord Haig Mardikian—who is John Mardikian’s father—with buyers who were interested in keeping the business, along with the clientele and the cafe’s artsy personality. Her intent was to ask the landlord to renew her 5-year lease, which was set to expire in August, with the new buyer’s name.

Jon Schroeder, Jason Lujick

Jon Schroeder and Jason Lujick are painting all the walls of Telegraph, formerly Mama Buzz, before the soft opening on the next First Friday, Feb. 3.

However, Mardikian said that he and his father decided not to renew the lease, because the space needed an extensive amount of repairs before a new owner could take over. It needs new floors, new plumbing, and new electric work, and the entire kitchen needs to be reworked before the space is ready to house a business, Mardikian said.

The building had already been dilapidated before Benetatos took over Mama Buzz in 2007, Benetatos said. Since then she has redone the patio, which included rebuilding the moldy, disintegrating walls and installing a roof. She painted the floors, replaced the windows, doors and toilets, and did work on the plumbing issues and the art gallery, she said.

Despite her efforts, which were largely done by herself, the older building still needed a lot more work. And with residents living above the café space, Mardikian said that his father weren’t comfortable letting the new buyers do that kind of invasive work. The landlord decided to not renew the lease with Benetatos’ buyers, and instead Mardikian took over the lease, and began doing renovations. Though Benetatos offered to sell him the Mama Buzz business so that he could continue to run it under that name and keep the reputation that comes with it, he opted out and decided to open a new business in the same spot.

“My intent and my father’s intent was not to take away someone’s business. And that’s certainly not what happened here. We relieved her of the terms of her lease. It was the best-case scenario in a worst-case scenario kind of way,” Mardikian said.

But Benatatos said she is still confused about the situation. Benetatos’ impression from her conversations with Mardikian is that the space needed to be gutted entirely before it was in any condition to open to the public. If the needed renovations aren’t that extensive, and Mardikian is able to open within weeks of transferring the lease, Benetatos wonders why he didn’t buy Mama Buzz as a business.

“Their excuse was that they didn’t want me or my buyers to renovate because they are particular about their building. That was a lie,” she said. “I could have sold the business, which is not just the space, but it’s the notoriety and clientele. I could have sold it, and walked away with something. But now I just walked away with debt and I have nothing.”

Markidian and the new manager, Jason Lujick, do plan to keep some of the characteristics that made Mama Buzz what it was and what kept the customers coming back, Lujick said. The art gallery will continue and they will serve crafty, homemade food with special attention to the quality of the coffee. The menu won’t be entirely vegetarian, but if the neighborhood demands vegetarian options, Lujick said he will gladly provide them.

There will no longer be live bands and musical shows, though. The noise was a nuisance for the residents of the building, Markidian said, but added that he thinks it would be fun if someone wants to pop in with an acoustic guitar every now and again. But no more metal shows and drumming at one in the morning, he promised.

Markidian and Lujick have even hired a few of Mama Buzz’s old employees to help open the new space. “It’s going to be familiar and different all at once,” Markidian said.

21 Comments

  1. J.

    Gotta say, that sounds pretty shady. She had a buyer lined up, and they decided to just open their own spot? So she couldn’t sell her business. Not clear how that’s really a “best-case scenario” for anyone except that landlord’s son, who now gets to open a business .

    • jawsh

      Whoa! Under $10! Wow! What a deal! Seriously – little privileged people get their hip little business in a location that a whole community started from. Rad! Thanks Dad! Isn’t it great that the whole myth of hard-work getting you something is becoming dispelled?! Its always been this way – the rich figure out a way to screw everyone else out of every good thing – cooptation and recuperation.

  2. cwm

    I live nearby and walk by that place all the time. I wish I could feel more sympathetic, but I found the staff there to be unbelievably rude. They always seemed to be out of (self-serve) coffee and creamer and yet the wait people would seem totally insulted if you asked them to deal with it. I made a point of avoiding the place because of their rudeness. . . . I hope the new proprietors treat their customers a little better.

  3. Nine T. Nine

    “We relieved her of the terms of her lease.”

    What a pig. They relieved her of a chance to avoid walking away destitute.

    Haig Mardikian is John’s dad and he’s not just the 1% but the 0.001%. He’s the one who really puts the dick in Mardikian. These pigs rented Mama Buzz for too much, let is struggle and help the neighborhood get better and when it got better they took it back for themselves.

    Boycot this 1% pig and his son. Occupy Mama Buzz. D0x the Mardikians.

  4. I’m pretty sure that Mama Buzz shows ended by 10pm maybe 11pm at the latest. 1:00am drumming? Maybe at The Stork Club?

  5. BM

    Cool. After around what was likely a thousand shows I’m glad they’re doing the building, block, and neighborhood the favor of riding it of the “nuisance” of music. Also, 10 p.m. and 1 a.m. are three hours apart. There were never metal shows. The loud ones were what some of those damned kids call “punk”, a genre of music that’s been around in varying forms for roughly thirty five years.

    The only good thing I’m seeing here is that a few people didn’t lose their jobs. However, the cynic in me wonders if that was false charity motivated by a desire to save face. Regardless, I am happy for those that are remaining employed.

    Ultimately, I’m glad that this piece blatantly exposed the new owner’s transparent excuse for not wanting to buy the business from Jade. He wants to keep some of the aspects that “kept customers coming back”, but without paying for it, and subsequently putting one of the people that made it what it was in a terrible position. Decent ethics are just so hard to incorporate into a small business! This sounds petty and Yelp-esque, but I’d adamantly suggest going elsewhere for eats and drinks.

  6. KMc

    “We relieved her of the terms of her lease” by lying. How is this a best case scenario for anyone other than the building owner? I think a Jade debt relief show is in order, maybe up the street at the Stork club.

  7. JONATHAN P.

    WHITE PEOPLE
    FUUCCCKKK, THAT NAME ISSS SO CREATIVE.”TELEGRAPH” ITS ON THAT STREET.
    THE STREET NAMED TELEGRAPH. TELEGRAPH. AIDS.

    IM SO GONNA HIT THIS PLACE UP WITH MY BROS FROM MY TECH JOB. IT’S GONNA FEEL SO AWESOME WEARING URBAN CLOTHING AT THIS LOCAL CAFE. I LOVE LOCAL SHIT. I HOPE SOMEONE ASKS ME ABOUT MY NEW TOE RING. I HOPE ALL THE CRACKHEADS SEE HOW CHILL THE PLACE IS NOW AND NEVER WANT TO GO INSIDE AND MAKE ME FEEL GUILTY ABOUT MY DAD’S JOB. I HATE MY DAD. I HOPE THE CRACKHEADS IN THAT NEIGHBORHOOD DON’T EVER MAKE EYE CONTACT WITH ME WHILE I’M CHILLAXING WITH MY BROS WHILE WE SIP AT OUR AWESOME INDEPENDENT PALE ALES AND MAKE POP CULTURE REFERENCES. I HOPE MY BUDDY MIKE GETS ALL SHIT FACED AND DOES THAT THING HE DOES WHEN HE FAKE DANCES WITH SOME CRACKHEAD BITCH ON THE STREET. MIKE IS LIKE THE FUNNIEST GUY AT THE TECH JOB.

    FUCK.

  8. Mickey Mouse

    “My intent and my father’s intent was not to take away someone’s business. And that’s certainly not what happened here. We relieved her of the terms of her lease. It was the best-case scenario in a worst-case scenario kind of way,”

    This is an example of one of those things that looks like a sentence but turns out to make absolutely no sense.

    Thanks for killing a business and substituting it with your own crappier knockoff!

    • G

      No, no one here GETS it. Mama Buzz owner was legally responsible for the remainder of the lease AND making repairs on her own dime. By “relieving” her of the lease (cancelling without penalty or litigation) the building owners and yes, his son, told her that it’s okay to not do these things she was legally required to do. Any money she may have made in selling the business would have gone away because she had to pay out the remaining lease AND make all the repairs herself

      • BM

        You make it sound as if some reckless collegiate tenants thrashed a townhouse apartment and weren’t entitled to their security deposit. She wasn’t kicking holes in the walls and breaking windows. Fucked up plumbing and like matters are the landlord’s responsibility. File under commercial wear and tear.

        • digs

          A commercial lease holds the tenant responsible for the entire facility including plumbing and electrical and everything. That’s why people do inspections before they sign a lease. I don’t like what happened but if she couldn’t afford to fix the place then she is lucky to have gotten out.

        • G

          No, it’s NOT a residential lease. The TENANT is responsible for the plumbing, structural problems, etc. This is NOT wear and tear. Truthfully, the landlord could have gone after ALL her personal assets when she refused to pay out the remainder of her lease and not fix the building. You just DON’T get it, do you?

  9. I hate articles like this. It makes me want to break their fucking windows. I actually was a long term customer of Mama Buzz and did not like when Jade took over. The tenor of the cafe changed under the new ownership. Though of course it sounds like it will be even worse now, but hard to tell what is being left out here. Total hatchet job.

    • G

      You need to stay away from the cafe if you’re actually threatening property damage. This is the real PROBLEM: It’s not that the cafe owner was doing a bad job. It’s that she didn’t have enough money to do major repairs and gets loans to fix them. Her accusation that there WERE no major repairs and that she just got shafted is an allegation. YOU don’t know if it’s true or not.

  10. Jade!

    Jade here. Just to clarify about the lease: I was hoping for a lease Renewal which meant getting another 5 or 10 years for the people who wanted to carry-on Mama Buzz and buy the business from me. Because I bought the business “mama buzz” I needed to be able to sell “mama buzz” in order to get back the initial investment and pay off my investors and bank loan. Because I was already planning to transfer the business to the new owners in January, when Mardikian told me there was no chance of renewal and that him meeting with my buyers was a “waste of time” I proceeded to turn the remaining seven months of the lease over to them instead of my new buyers. I was already planning the transfer and the word was already out that Mama Buzz was changing hands. It made the most sense for everyone involved, so that’s how it went down.

    As per repairs: when I initially approached Mardikian about selling the business and renewing the lease, he had said that he didn’t want to renew to my buyers, who were planning on renovating, because he was “particular about his buildings” and didn’t want anyone but his guys working on the place. That’s what I am referring to when in the article I say: “that was a lie.” I said that was a lie because in my experience he was not particular about his buildings. In fact, when the floor collapsed two years ago, I closed and got some of my contractor friends to open up the floor and investigate. It turned out that the foundation of the building was collapsing and I proceeded to make the property manager privvy to the situation. Though I had continually taken responsibility for the dilapidated nature of all the things inside of mama buzz, (ie. constantly doing repairs) the foundation of the building, per my lease, was the responsibility of the landlord. However, I was told to my face by the property manager Rod Kiracofe after revealing to him the collapsing foundation that they would not be addressing the issue and I was left to fend on my own. I had to get a lawyer and pursue the matter legally. This is one of two MAJOR examples of Mardikian NOT being “particular” about his buildings. That was just an excuse for not renewing the lease. The fact of the matter is that they did not renew because they had plans to take over the space.

    Fine. That’s what happened and its all water under the bridge now. Mama buzz is closed and telegraph is open. It didnt go down the way me, my buyers or the mama buzz community hoped it would– and I could say to take that (big?) sausage and shove it — but the truth is that I hold no animosity toward John and wish him and his telegraph team all the best.

    The moral of the story is that that’s what happens in business. That’s the way of capitalism and America: people are greedy and private property laws trump everything. Did you know that if you own land in a nationally protected forest and want to cut down all the trees that you are legally able to do that despite the protections? They could be the older trees in the world with endangered birds loving up there but it doesn’t matter. Why? Because its YOURS. I think this is a messed up idea. I believe in community spaces. More than anything that is the reason why it’s sad to see mama buzz go, because Oakland has lost another rad community space. Go to RPS! They are still holding it down. Thank you wendi for writing the article and Thank you mama buzzards for many fun years of art and music, beer, food and of course – coffee. I love you guys!

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