(This post has been updated from the print edition.)
Carter’s Biz Cafes, a membership cafe based around providing individuals with home-based businesses a venue to work in a professional setting with other people, has lost its lease at the historic Commanding Officer’s Quarters, CEO and Founder Carter Rankin announced in an email.
Rankin said that the Carter’s Biz Cafes team had been working with Economic Development Manager Mario Giuliani over the lease for the building, which is owned by the city, as the company had fallen behind on its lease payments. Eventually, the city informed the company that they would need to the vacate the building at the end of the month.
Rankin understood the city’s motives, especially with the difficulty business startups and brick-and-mortar businesses are facing in the current economic climate, but felt that Carter’s Biz Cafes should continue to be supported in the future.
“They have a right to do what they have to do,” he said. “We have no animosity to the City Council and we appreciate everything they’ve done to allow us to have the opportunity to build the business model. If it’s not going to be here, then we’ll be back.”
The idea for Carter’s Biz Cafes came a few years ago, and the team was approached by Mayor Elizabeth Patterson to view the Commanding Officer’s Quarters as a potential space.
“I had a chance to meet with the mayor at the Waterfront Festival, and she asked me to take a look at the building here,” Rankin said.
The building itself has a long history. It was established in 1860 as the home of the family of the U.S. Army’s commanding officer of military installation, back when the Arsenal was operated by the Army. One of the most notable families was that of Col. James Walker Benet, who helped establish a literary enclave in the building. One of those to break out was the colonel’s son, Stephen Vincent Benet, the later author of such works as “The Devil and Daniel Webster” and “Western Star.”
After the Arsenal was closed by the Army in 1964, the building was converted into an eatery called the Commandant’s Residence Restaurant, until 1986 when a fire damaged the kitchen, resulting in the closure of not only the restaurant but also the building itself. For the next 20 years, the building underwent repairs and renovation. It was reopened in 2010, and the first tenant was Carter’s Biz Cafes after Rankin was able to secure a use permit in 2015. Since that time, the business has provided 16 meeting spaces to its members with wi-fi and video conferencing capabilities. It also has been host to several events since its inception, including business retreats, the Chamber of Commerce’s After Hours Business Mixer, the North Bay Art & Film Festival, a Biz Camp for teenagers in conjunction with Solano Community College and Small Business Development Center, the launch of the Carquinez Village and a series of TED Talks moderated by Carolyn Plath. It has also accommodated people taking pictures on the front deck for prom and wedding parties, which were mostly celebrated at the nearby Clocktower.
Additionally, Rankin noted that staff had pointed visitors to First Street merchants and purchased thousands of dollars of goods from stores like the local Raley’s and Ace Hardware and utilized the catering services of several restaurants ranging from First Street Cafe to Pizza Pirate to Sprankle’s Village Deli.
Initially, Rankin said the business would be able to continue all of the events in its pipeline through Jan. 27, but an exception was made for Lois Bogue, who is hosting an 80th birthday party for her husband Gary on Jan. 28.
“A call was made directly from Lois to the mayor to see if they would at least allow them to host the event on the 28th,” he said. “They had been planning this for the last three months, and they also had members of their family coming in from as far as South America for this birthday celebration.”
According to Rankin, the city was able to honor Bogue’s request.
Rankin would like to continue the business, and he said they had already gotten enthusiastic responses from cities like Concord and Vallejo, although the team would ideally like to remain in Benicia. In the meantime, Rankin wrote a letter to Patterson, the City Council and City Manager Lorie Tinfow regarding the highlights of the cafe’s time in the building. He is also encouraging others to contact the above officials regarding how they feel Carter’s Biz Cafes has benefited the community.
“At the end of the day, we think we’re a great asset to the city of Benicia and we’d like to be able to continue to go on with the support of the city,” he said.