Berkeley restaurants

Jerry Budrick, original Chez Panisse server and former co-owner, dies at 78

Jerry Budrick, one of Chez Panisse’s first servers and a longtime presence as the Berkeley restaurant’s maitre d’, has died aged 78.

Budrick died July 24 after a five-year battle with esophageal cancer.

Born Gerald Budrick on February 23, 1944, to Alphonse Budrick and Anne Walanga of Chicago, Budrick developed an affinity for hospitality at a young age, serving beers and bourbon at his parents’ South Side Tavern in the middle of his homework, as he later wrote.

But before Chez Panisse’s opening night on August 28, 1971—a watershed moment that marked a before and after in American food and culinary culture—Budrick had no formal experience as a server, aside from a short concert in an Austrian cafe by a lake.

This did not prevent him from dazzling the guests.

In her book “Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook”, Chez Panisse founder Alice Waters recalls Budrick’s flair in the dining room. He had, she wrote, “a flamboyant delivery, almost as if he were performing in a theatrical performance, with exaggerated gestures, a face full of lips, handsome and expressive, like Malcolm McDowell in ‘A Clockwork Orange’. Jerry was notorious – he exuded an air of sophistication, but he could also be very funny, cracking jokes with customers and other servers and cooks.

Jerry Budrick helped open Chez Panisse in 1971 and later served as head waiter and co-owner.

Courtesy of Rick Wise

In a preface to Budrick’s 2021 memoir, “Waiting at Chez Panisse”, influential Chez Panisse and Stars chef Jeremiah Tower wrote that Budrick “balanced Alice in the dining room beautifully”. As a server, Budrick “brought professional service to a dining room, sometimes strained by the pressure of a different menu every night and a kitchen that reacted to this a little differently than other restaurants in the city. Bay Area”.

In his memoir, Budrick acknowledges both Waters and Tower as the “parents” of California cuisine, but also highlights the roles played by lesser-known figures inside the flagship restaurant.

Budrick became the restaurant’s head waiter and co-owner in 1975 when the restaurant formed a corporation. He left the restaurant in 1987 and moved to Amador County, where he opened a bottled water business. In 1992, when this company was in financial difficulty, he sold his shares of Chez Panisse to Waters. Budrick then operated the Mediterranean restaurant Via D’Oro in Sutter Creek with his wife, Deborah Budrick.

He is survived by his wife and two children.

Mario Cortez (he/him) is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]