ALBATROSS PRESS ROOM
Portrait of a Pub Owner
Wendy Halambeck and Linda Zsilavetz hadn't necessarily intended to go into the pub business. The two longtime friends were working along separate career trajectories, Wendy in her multiple roles as licensed psychotherapist, City of Berkeley public health nurse, sound engineer, and floral designer for weddings and events, and Linda as antiques and curios collector/seller, real estate entrepreneur, and courier for an international shipping company. One day, while skating together at Berkeley's Iceland rink, the two hatched a plan to start something new, together.
Their first business was Sluggo's, a Berkeley coffee-cart, turned lunch-cart, turned catering business, (named after Linda's tabby cat) which the two ran together for a couple of years. "We took that business as far as it could go," says Linda. And then one day, Wendy saw an ad in the Chronicle about the Albatross being up for sale. She called right away.
“I've always been attracted to the hospitality industry,” says Wendy. "My grandmother owned a restaurant in Cleveland, so I grew up around it. I had a role model. I saw that a woman could run a business like that." Her behind the scenes experiences also extended to a previous and overlapping career as a sound engineer for local Berkeley bands in the 70s and 80s, including The Natives and The Portables, among others (after first having learned the trade from the sound man for Jefferson Airplane).
(The two friends also have a coincidental affection for feathered creatures. Wendy rehabilitates injured and abandoned birds in an aviary in her back yard. Linda used to keep chickens until raccoons made off with them; now she houses a collection of chicken art in the coop.)
The day they took possession of The Albatross, "it was like a movie," says Wendy. The two sat in a car outside the pub, cell phone in hand, waiting for the go-ahead, a long line of beer delivery trucks parked and double-parked along the street behind them. "When we got the call, we went right in, took deliveries, and opened that night. We didn't want to close even for one day, because we wanted the regular customers to know we would be there for them."
They worked hard during those first 6 months, refurbishing the bar during the off-hours: Linda working her courier job from 4:30am, both women meeting work crews at 8am to supervise the process throughout the day; Wendy seeing clients in the early afternoon and both returning to the bar to work from 8pm till closing at 2am. Wendy says, "I remember falling asleep standing up."
They painted the ceiling a rich burgundy, replaced Formica tables with wood, refurbished old light fixtures and added "new" antique fixtures, lowered the bar 6 inches to make it more drinker-friendly, and moved it out to make room for more than one barkeep, cleaned 33 years of tobacco residue from every surface and crevice, added the pool table, a bar mosaic, gallery space for local art exhibits, notched out spots on the wall for standing a pool cue, installed purse/jacket hooks under the bar, increased the menu from 4 tap beers to 14 and added a selection of 50 international beers, plus a selection of name-brand and top shelf liquors and mixed drinks (but no fluffy blender concoctions), added a snack menu, created a dogs-on-leash-welcome policy, and later instituted their extremely popular pub quiz night on Sundays.
Linda is no longer a courier, however she is still involved in real estate, and collecting – her periodic garage sales are extremely popular. Wendy continues to see a few therapy clients in her Albany office. Both are very content with the turn their careers have taken. "It would be nice to be a lasting legacy in Berkeley," says Linda of their plans for the pub's next 40 years. "I wouldn't want the Albatross turned into a disco bar!"
"We're proud to be a Berkeley tradition," echoes Wendy, "and we're planning to stay that way!"
Linda Zsilavetz and Wendy Halambeck, owners of the Albatross, Berkeley's oldest pub.
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