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Why Did Union 76 Close?

We wanted to find out why the owner of the Union 76 decided to close the doors and leave Benicians with no option for buying a deep fried Twinkie.

A Sprouts and Shutters article published November 9 announced the closing of the Union 76 Gas Station at East Fifth and Military East and generated this comment:

Freedomisntfree123

8:00 pm on Friday, November 9, 2012

The city limited their ability to advertise and expand the food eating area on their property. Benicia's unfriendly business policies ran them out. They are going to open again in vallejo.

According to Community Development Director Charlie Knox, Union 76 needed a conditional use permit in order to have outside seating.  The parcel where the station is located is zoned general commercial.

City staff had been patiently waiting for the station’s owner, Musto Gunan to provide documentation and money needed so the permit approval process could move forward. 

A copy of the letter sent to Gunan by the city is attached to this article.  The checked items have been provided to city staff.

The permit fee is $1,275, but according to Knox he has the authority to reduce or wave those fees.  In this case, Gunan never appealed to Knox to have the fees reduced.  The fees are meant to cover staff time required to review the use permit application.

The county, which is responsible for inspecting establishments that serve food doesn’t have any regulations regarding outdoor seating near gas pumps.  “The only regulation we have is that the preparation be done in an enclosed area,” said Ricardo Serrano, an inspector with the Solano County Environmental Health Department.

If Freedomisntfree123 is correct and Gunan does plan to open a gas station with a grill in Vallejo, he better get ready for some sticker shock.  According to Bill Tuikka in the Vallejo planning department the cost of the use permit will be about $3,600.

A call to Gunan has not been returned.

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If there’s something in this article you think should be corrected, or if something else is amiss, call editor JB Davis at 707-628-0051 or email him at benicia@patch.com.

Karl Voigt November 15, 2012 at 02:19 PM
So your conclusion is that it's all his fault ? That the city did everything it could to keep this business in Benicia.
Mirna Umbenhower November 15, 2012 at 03:01 PM
It is their own fault, because for two years that I was with the paw they tried to pull a fast one on us when we offered to sell them advertising. Also when checked their "fresh burgers" were just frozen patties they had taken out and left ready to cook. It is a shame that another business has left, but that business was not of good quality to fret over.
John Baker November 15, 2012 at 04:47 PM
According to Yelp they had the best burgers in town.... as a regular customer I agree. I don't know the official legal definition of "fresh" in terms of burgers, but to me it means they are cooked to order not taken from under the warmer, and they were cooked to order. I'm unclear on why the city has to get a fee to permit outdoor seating or why it is regulated in general, maybe just cause they can and get a fee? How much outdoor seating do you think we might expect between November and March? What exactly would the staff be doing if they weren't processing paperwork, isn't that part of their job? And if the fee is arbitrary and was a point of contention, who on the city's staff makes the decision to loose the revenue for the city that having the business close causes? Yup, we sure showed them! Vallejo is such a more desirable place for business? Who knows what the real or even all the reasons they closed, but one thing is sure. A lot of us here in town will miss them for the service and products they provided and the city will have another empty building from which there will be no revenue at all. The chain stores seem to be able to survive, maybe the plan is to drive all the small business' out and just have chain stores.... how quaint is that?
Kenny November 15, 2012 at 04:53 PM
There may be a different side to this story and I would like to hear it.
Stan Houston November 15, 2012 at 04:55 PM
I think Wiengarten owns the property. Just a guess.
JB Davis (Editor) November 15, 2012 at 06:19 PM
There is a new owner who will be opening relatively soon, but alas, without a grill. When I talked to the folks at city hall they seemed sort of stunned that the previous owners didn't get the use permit and move forward. While reporting this story, one city hall staffer told me Union 76 was the first place he and his fiance went to eat after she accepted his marriage proposal.
JB Davis (Editor) November 15, 2012 at 06:21 PM
So would I, but until Mr. Gunan decides to return my phone calls, I won't hear it and won't be able to report it.
Robert Livesay November 15, 2012 at 06:36 PM
It is not a shame at all. Eat at a gas station? We all do
"The Black Panther of Poetry" November 15, 2012 at 07:15 PM
Good Riddance to bad Rubbish!!!
JB Davis (Editor) November 15, 2012 at 09:04 PM
My conclusion is the city didn't throw up any barriers. It took one phone call to the county food inspector for me to find out that there isn't a prohibition on outdoor seating near a gas pump. The city gave the owner many extensions in order to get his paperwork done. At some point, business people have to be responsible for getting their end of things done. Collecting the money and making bank deposits is the fun part of owning a business, but there is a lot more to it.
Scott Burford November 15, 2012 at 11:15 PM
My very thoughtful and intelligent 11 year old son just came up with a great idea (when I explained, sadly, that our much-lauded "76Burger" was moving to Vallejo) : "Hey Dad, so what if Benicia gets Buds Burger to move to Benicia? That would mean we get an even better burger place and we wouldn't miss 76Burger as much." "Well said, I replied, "it appears you are my son after all."
"The Black Panther of Poetry" November 17, 2012 at 12:29 AM
This man was the Dinesh Dsouza of Benicia and he ran his business the same way!!!
Clarisa Morales Roberts November 17, 2012 at 12:47 AM
What was the Burger joint that use to be at Southampton and Military West? I remember it was a bit of a shack and that we went there right after the Loma Prieta quake in '89.
Lindsay West November 17, 2012 at 02:18 AM
Morgans grill was the place you're thinking of! It was popular. Moved to first street sometime in the early 90's.  I find it odd that none of the regular customers even to the day prior to Union 76 closing were told of it by the owner or employees? You would think they would have complained to their patrons? I'm pretty sure they are using the city as an excuse and possibly planned on moving long ago.  Is it typical that the day after a business closes, there is already a new owner?  There's no way $1,275 was all that was standing in the way of keeping his business here. Furthermore, I can't see why the city would in any way try to drive this business owner out of town or any other small business owner for that matter.   As far as the cities so called "unfriendly business practices"; from what I've seen they are more than friendly with businesses and even more fair with all of their business related fees.  One thing I have always loved about our town is the dedication to all of our small businesses and the fact that most Benicians will patron one of our businesses before going to a chain store or driving to Vallejo or Pleasant Hill to any one of their chain stores or restaurants. 
Babaloo November 17, 2012 at 07:07 AM
Criminal. the fees are ludicrous. to "evaluate" paperwork ? Really ? This is one prime example of the City of Benicia Mismanagement. Those who can, Do. The " Peter" Principle.
JB Davis (Editor) November 17, 2012 at 02:04 PM
I believe if you go to any other city in Solano County, you will find we have the lowest staffing level of any planning department and the lowest fees. While you may not like the idea of zoning requirements, they are reality and they serve an important purpose and having competent staff who can review competently review applications saves business owners and the city a lot of money in the long run. We should be glad we have low fees, good zoning, especially in the industrial park and a staff that is both hardworking and competent.
"The Black Panther of Poetry" November 18, 2012 at 04:39 AM
Dude change your Obama picture. Any sane and rational person is aware that he won!!!
Stan Houston November 23, 2012 at 06:27 PM
I agree with JB. I have several businesses in other towns and Benicia's fees are at par or below what other cities charge for business fees. I've always had positive experiences with staff even when turned down for something I've proposed.
Marlon Ostil November 26, 2012 at 05:01 PM
I've had my run ins with the place. 75% good but the bad out weighed the good even though it was 25%. The owner can be an ass sometimes when you let him know somethings not right. I stopped getting gas there for the simple fact he never updated the pump handle to code and I would always have to shove a water bottle into the pump handle. The indian food was really good but he wasnt fooling anyone by serving Trader joes frozen garlic naan which are good but the problem I had was that he claims them to be his own. His burgers were all bad. The meat used just never tasted right and always had a funny after taste (tired them twice). I was a regular though for Indian food at least once a week. The owner can be an ass but his staff was always cool. Well... there was one time the lil short Indian worker gave me some cold garlic fries and tried to argue that they are served better at room temp. Then on the new batch he straight used his bare ass hands not even washed to mix in the garlic dressing for the fries! I was like WTF! The next time I went in my veggie paneer was freaking so spicy I couldnt eat it. I think that was done intentionally. Benicia has decent food for as small as our city is. Between the Japanese, Mexican, or Thai spots only one of each is good and ive tried them all.

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