For more than a year as it underwent repairs for water damage and sat vacant, the space formerly occupied by Champagne French Bakery Cafe was at the center of the Mill Valley rumor mill: What was going to move into the prominent space at 41 Throckmorton Ave., where Champagne had been since 2002 and where the legendary deli/cafe Sonapa Farms had been from 1959 to 1995 (with a Noah’s Bagels stint from 1998 to 2000 in between)?

Mill Valley has its answer, as Karen Goldberg, whose TamalPie Pizzeria has become a fixture on Miller Avenue since it opened in May 2011, plans to open Playa, a “modern Mexican serving authentic Oaxacan cuisine,” Goldberg says. 

Goldberg says she’s excited to bring a new restaurant to downtown, particularly into the former Champagne space. 

“I’ve always loved that space and I feel like it’s been under-utilized,” she says. “We need healthful, local, organic Mexican food in town – something that is family-friendly and casual yet sophisticated.”

The moniker, the Spanish language word for beach, reflects the fact that “when you walk in, you’ll feel relaxed and able to just hang out,” Goldberg says, noting that she hopes to make some use of the outdoor space behind the building as well. “Put your feet in the sand, have a beer or a margarita (Playa will have a full bar) and a taco and relax.”

Goldberg plans to submit a conditional use permit (CUP) application to the City of Mill Valley for the 2,000-square-foot space later this month and hopes to get a hearing within the next two months. 

Goldberg, whose sister Susan Griffin-Black is the co-founder of EO Products, which has a retail shop in downtown Mill Valley, is no newcomer to the restaurant business. More than two decades ago, she opened Rustico restaurant in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill district. A native of Pittsburgh, Pa. who has lived in Mill Valley for nearly 30 years, Goldberg closed Rustico in 1996 and then bought Annabelle’s, in the space that is now Vasco on Throckmorton Ave. at Bernard Street.

“I only had it open and running for a year and then I got pregnant and I couldn’t stand the smell of food,” Goldberg says with laugh. She sold Annabelle’s to chef Chris Majer, who then opened Vasco predecessor the Frog and the Peach.

In 1998, Goldberg took a break from the restaurant business and started flipping homes – buying houses, remodeling them and selling them. When the bottom dropped out of the real estate market, she eyed a return to the restaurant business.

“The real estate drop forced me to go back to what I really know,” Goldberg said.

Stay tuned for more details on Playa as Goldberg and her team navigate the permit process.

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