I need to get back to Buttercup Grill and Bar. There's the one of Ygnacio Valley Road, next door to Walnut Creek's courthouse, and there's one on Clayton Road in Concord. The restaurant chain has been getting some interesting press lately.
The press is not related to Buttercup's own casual dining offerings or service, but over the controversy-making activities of recent customers at its Concord location and visitors to the parking lot and sidewalk outside its Walnut Creek location.
Of course, you know that old adage in public relations. There is no such thing as bad publicity--or something like that. But, again to be clear, Buttercup Griill has received no bad publicity itself. It was an innocent bystander to the headline-making activities of others.
I can't remember the last time I ate a full meal at Walnut Creek's Buttercup on Ygnacio Valley Road but I did meet some friends for dessert once a couple years ago, and had the most incredible, decadent piece of chocolate cake.
Actually, I had kind of hoped to hang out at the Buttercup Grill on the afternoon of July 19. I was thinking of grabbing some lunch there before covering a planned demonstration by people wanting to show support for former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle. The demonstration was to start at 2 p.m. and take place in the parking lot in front of the courthouse--a parking lot shared by Buttercup Grill.
My plans for demonstration coverage included securing a table at the Buttercup, where I would keep my laptop and my Sprint mobile internet connection card.. I would get a friendly waitress--I'm sure they have friendly wait staff there--to keep an eye on my stuff. I'd and reward her with a big tip. Once I was done with lunch and the protest started, I'd pop in every once in a while to upload pictures and update my story on the protest.
But news had come in several days earlier that Oscar Grant supporters also planned to come to the Walnut Creek courthouse and stage a counter protest. The police at some point suggested that businesses in the area around the courthouse, including Buttercup Grill, close for the afternoon. Police were preparing for the worst: that the dueling protests would get really heated and out of hand, that fights might break out or that someone would take out their anger by smashing in the window of the courthouse, or the Valero gas station across Ygnacio Valley Road, or of Buttercup Grill..
So Buttercup Grill closed sometime after lunch in preparation for the demonstration's scheduled 2 p..m start time. The Oscar Grant folks showed up about an hour earlier--clever strategic move to get the jump on the pro-Mehserle people. Over the next several hours, some 500 people, on both sides of the racially charged issue, waved signs, yelled at motorists passing by along Ygnacio Valley Road--until the road was shut down--and yelled at each other.
During all that time, the Buttercup Grill was closed. I saw some guy who was either the manager or the owner sitting in a chair outside his shuttered business looking forlorn. It turns out that the Buttercup Grill lost several thousand dollars in business from being closed down that afternoon, according to the Contra Costa Times.
Actually, because the protests, although loud, turned out to be non-violent, with participants keeping things legal, the Buttercup Grill probably could have remained opened. And, it probably could have done a brisk business.
No one would have been able to drive in, because Ygnacio Valley Road was shut down for several hours during the event. But some of those protesters might have wanted to take a break from yelling at each other, and grab an ice tea or salad--or a big piece of chocolate cake. Also, there was plenty of media covering the event,including yours truly. After several hours of standing out in the hot sun that afternoon, taking notes as people yelled at each other, I would have loved to have stopped into the Buttercup for a Diet Coke and water. So would other reporters, some of whom would have also happily gone for a beer--even a cocktail.
The forlorn looking on the guy from the Buttercup? Maybe he looked so bummed because he too realized that he should have stayed open and earned some well-deserved money from this disruption outside his restaurant.
Within a week after Mehserle Situation pass, another Buttercup Grill, this one in Concord, wound in the news again: this time at the center of what one participant in this brewing political scandal is calling Buttercupgate.
The scandal, or controversy, or dispute--what have you--involves Mt. Diablo Unified School District's dealings with Chevron over a plan to install solar energy at 51 sites within the school district. The controversy erupted after the Contra Costa Times reported that the district backed away from plans to award a no-bid $70 million solar project to Chevron Energy Solutions after the Times raised questions about "secret meetings" between the district's superintendent and Chevron.
District Trustee Gary Eberhart was a participant in at least two of these so-called secret meetings and went on the Mt. Diablo Blog Thursday to dispute allegations that he and two other board members violated the Brown Act when they stopped by Concord's Buttercup Grill to have a bite to eat after a Community Advisory Meeting. (The photo here is of Eberhart, and snapped by his 7-year-old daughter).
In a post, titled "Buttercupgate," Eberhart writes:
"With all of the challenges that we face in our school district, astronomical budget cuts, serious reductions to student programs, and a requirement to find new ways to generate needed dollars to provide for our students, there is a guy that is running around telling anyone that will listen to him that Sherry [Whitmarsh], Paul [Strange] and I, along with the Superintendent [Steven Lawrence], had a secret meeting at the Buttercup restaurant in Concord."
Eberhart said this guy, who calls himself Dr. J, has likened Eberhart and his "friends" to "Nixon and Haldeman." "Nixon and Haldeman," Eberhart says. "And he claims that I'm paranoid.?" Dr. J accused Eberhart of participating in secret meetings that violate the Brown Act and of allowing Chevron to buy him lunch.
Eberhart said there was no violation under the Brown Act when he and other board members met at Buttercup restaurant or on at least one other occasion, at Eberhart's house for dinner, because the Brown Act exempts social events, "providing that legislative members do not discuss amongst themselves business of their legislative body."