Kelly Brown, owner of the Natural Café, notified his landlord, Jim Knell of SIMA Corporation, that as of this coming March he’ll be pulling the plug on his restaurant on the 500 block of State Street after 30 years.

Both Brown and Knell have been notably outspoken members of the business community in expressing their frustration with City Hall and the state of State Street. Brown was especially so in explaining his decision to turn out the lights on his downtown digs in a missive to Knell earlier this week.

Natural Café founder and CEO 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 drunk and disorderly zone” for its crowded bars and rambunctious street scene — had always been challenging, adding, “Things have taken an extreme turn for the worst the last few years.”

The issue of homeless people, Brown stated, has veered from being merely difficult to one of “straight up criminality.” He said the problem of rats and vermin has “become intolerable” and blamed City Hall for not taking appropriate action. He said the space underneath the downtown parklets offers an all-too inviting ecosystem for rats’ nests. “Food is just falling on them from above,” he noted.

“Did I mention bicycles and skateboarders speeding down the closed street, running stop signs and putting themselves and all pedestrians at constant risk?” Brown wrote.

Brown also blasted the proliferation of parklets on State Street — The Natural Café had one, but Brown shut it down a month ago, he said, because it no longer looked good. “This parklet program favors the few at the expense of the many,” he complained. “We need State Street back.”

Brown owns multiple other Natural Cafés throughout the county and elsewhere in Southern California, which offer a semi-contemporary riff on 1970s-style health-food dining. Brown said many of his workers are students who typically come and go; he expected they’d move on and find other jobs. As for his longtime employees, he said, they’d be taken care of and offered positions in his other restaurants.

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