Commercial burglary spike in Berkeley; Creekwood hit again

"It impacts customers’ perception of safety," said Creekwood Restaurant owner Greg Poulios. "People may not come in."

Commercial burglary spike in Berkeley; Creekwood hit again
A burglar breaks into Creekwood Restaurant in Berkeley on Friday, Jan. 5, 2023. Creekwood

Burglars broke into Creekwood Restaurant in Berkeley for the second time in about a year, shattering the glass front door and stealing cash from the closed business.

The burglary happened early Friday morning, the restaurant told The Berkeley Scanner in a recent interview.

Several other local businesses were hit around the same time, according to police and community members.

In one of those incidents, thieves rammed a vehicle through the front wall of a smoke shop to get inside. They abandoned the vehicle and fled in other cars when police arrived.

"It impacts customers’ perception of safety," said Creekwood owner Greg Poulios. "People may not come in."

These latest incidents are part of what appears to be a troubling trend in Berkeley, where commercial burglaries have climbed steadily since 2016.

That year, there were 210 commercial burglaries in Berkeley. By contrast, in 2023, there were 565 commercial burglaries, a 169% increase citywide since 2016.

Commercial burglaries in Berkeley, 2016-23. BPD Transparency Hub

Put another way, back in 2016, the earliest year available, Berkeley averaged one commercial break-in roughly every two days.

During last year's spike, Berkeley saw an average of 1.5 commercial burglaries a day.

This year's stats are already inching even higher, with an average of nearly 2 commercial burglaries each day in 2024.

As of this week, limited information was available from police about the recent spate of commercial burglaries.

According to a report on Reddit, however, and some additional context from Creekwood and BPD, Friday's commercial burglaries started just after 4:20 a.m. in the 2900 block of Sacramento Street (near Russell Street) in Berkeley.

That's when someone drove through the front of a closed business identified as Puff N Go Smoke Shop.

BPD said several people then burglarized the shop.

As officers arrived and attempted to arrest them, Berkeley police said, members of the group fled in multiple vehicles.

Officers tried to stop one of those vehicles but it "failed to yield to patrol vehicles," BPD said. "The vehicle driven through the front of the building was left behind."

That investigation is ongoing.

Subsequent commercial burglaries took place Friday at 5:30 a.m. at Helacio’s Deli & Cafe (formerly Mo'Joe Cafe) at 2517 Sacramento St. (at Dwight Way), and at 5:56 a.m. in the 2100 block of Dwight Way (near Shattuck Avenue), about 1 mile away.

The Creekwood burglary took place Friday at 6:15 a.m., Poulios said.

According to surveillance footage he reviewed, two men broke the glass front door and entered the restaurant while another person waited in the car.

"They ransacked everything, looking for money, and made a big mess," he said.

The men also broke a solid wood office door, kicking the lock out: "They kinda just ransacked our storage area looking for anything they could get," Poulios said.

Poulios said he had just been considering going entirely cashless at Creekwood "to make it so there's nothing we can lose," he said.

Commercial burglaries in Berkeley in 2023. Lines demarcate council districts. BPD Transparency Hub

That's largely the case already, he added: The little cash there is on hand is used primarily to pay out tips.

He's already researched cash-free alternatives for distributing tip money and will likely make the switch in the near future, he said.

Poulios said Creekwood was able to get a repairman out Friday to cover the broken front door with plywood and is now looking at a several-thousand-dollar repair to fix the glass door permanently.

Installing the plywood alone cost $900, he said.

"If you don't do it the right way, you can screw up the doorframe," he said.

Creekwood was able to open for dinner service Friday, but the burglary still dealt a demoralizing blow. A loss like that can take a serious chunk out of earnings, Poulios said.

And it's not the first time in recent years the business has been hit.

About a year ago, one Sunday in December 2022, burglars broke into Creekwood shortly before opening, stealing thousands of dollars in cash.

Video: Burglars hit Creekwood restaurant in Berkeley
The circumstances were unusual, as the restaurant generally does not have much cash on site, said Greg Poulios, one of Creekwood’s owners.

Poulios said he and his business partner opened Creekwood in Berkeley about five years ago because it felt safer than some surrounding cities.

That's still largely the case now, he said, but repeat break-ins nonetheless create challenges for small businesses, which may be operating on a thin margin.

Poulios said he also doesn't want customers — particularly older people and those with young families — to worry about safety when they come in.

"We can't hide it," he said. "We've got a plywood door."

Poulios said people who want to support Creekwood, at 3121 Sacramento St., are always welcome to dine there.

According to the related thread on Reddit, Dream Fluff Donuts on Ashby Avenue and East Bay Spice Company, on Oxford Street downtown, were also burglarized recently.

The Scanner has attempted to reach both businesses for confirmation.

Did you know? Berkeley police and city staff have a program to help local businesses determine what kind of security improvements they can make to reduce the risk of crime. Learn more about Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, including how to request a free assessment, on the city website.