Sunday, February 22, 2004
Speakeasy dishes up Italian food in vintage bus -- in secret -- in East Bay
Restaurant confidential:
"Locked behind a razor-wire fence, hidden deep within an East Bay industrial zone, lies a secret restaurant where patrons need a golden key.

Part diner, part speakeasy, Joe's 'Bustaurant' is an underground boite the Sicilian chef has operated inside a converted 1947 Metro bus for the last six years. You have to know somebody who knows somebody to get in.

Joe serves traditional Italian food under the cover of darkness, on Monday nights during winter, to elude busybodies, food snobs and health inspectors.

'This is the kind of place where you walk in, and everyone says hello,' said 41-year-old Joe, a musician who prepares about 35 meals a night. 'In here, that's what it feels like you should do.'

Joe couldn't operate legally if he wanted to -- there's no fire or health department around that would allow a chef to cook inside a bus on a gas range with people crammed around five tables. He's checked into it.

'The ceiling is too low, the exits are too narrow. The walls are too thin, ' Joe said. 'I'd have to rip it apart and turn it into something it's not. It would no longer be an antique bus.'

Regulations aside, he must be doing something right, because no one has complained, and the lines are getting longer and longer for a seat on the bus.

Joe has passed out about 40 golden keys to neighbors and friends, who each are allowed to bring somebody if they call first and make a reservation. His six-degrees-of-separation system netted actor Cheech Marin, who is the most famous person to dine at Joe's."

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