Witnessing the Birth

As someone who spent the majority of his working career in tech, I cannot help but consider Redwood City’s place within Silicon Valley (which, according to Wikipedia, now includes San Mateo County). While communities such as Cupertino or Sunnyvale or Palo Alto are noted for being the birthplace of well-known technology companies, for much of its history Redwood City seemed to be more about logging (hence the name) and about being a bedroom community for neighboring municipalities. In recent years, however, Redwood City has emerged as a strong center of innovation in its own right. Indeed, products and companies are being incubated here today that may well turn into household names in the near future. And while those companies may or may not remain in Redwood City, we’ll at least be able to point to them with pride and note that they were born right here in little ol’ Redwood City.

Not all technology is battery powered and silicon based. You may have heard about Impossible Burger, a new plant-based product that looks, feels, acts, and tastes like hamburger. Wondering why the world needs such a thing? Compare Impossible Burger’s production process to a conventional beef burger: Impossible Burger requires 95% less land and 74% less water, and emits only 13% of the greenhouse gases. And it is free of hormones and antibiotics, and includes no artificial ingredients.

So Impossible Burger is an interesting, innovative product that is great for the environment. But did you know that it was created—and up until now has been manufactured—right here in Redwood City? Head out to Seaport Boulevard and turn on Chesapeake Drive, and shortly you’ll come to a cluster of one-story light industrial buildings that house, among other small companies, Impossible Foods—the creator and manufacturer of Impossible Burger.

Impossible Foods’ headquarters are located at 525 Chesapeake Drive. In addition to the usual elements you would expect of a biotech startup, right there at that address they also have the ability to manufacture a small quantity of their product: enough to satisfy the needs of a handful of restaurants around the Bay. Unfortunately Impossible Foods’ website doesn’t list any Redwood City restaurants as selling their Impossible Burger; you’ll need to head out of town if you want to give it a try. However, you don’t have to go far: Vina Enoteca, in the Stanford Barn at 700 Welch Road in Palo Alto has Impossible Burger on their lunch and happy hour menus. Heading to a Giant’s game? Public House at AT&T Park serves Impossible Burger (on their menu, it’s under “Sandwiches”). And if you are in the East Bay, know that KronnerBurger, at 4063 Piedmont Avenue in Oakland also has Impossible Burger on their menu (available for lunch and dinner on select days; see their menu for details). If none of those suits, note that there are a handful of other restaurants where Impossible Burger can also be found, including San Francisco favorites Cockscomb and Jardinière.

Impossible Foods’ limited manufacturing capability at their Redwood City headquarters, coupled with the positive reception that their product has thus far received, has highlighted the need for a much larger production plant. Accordingly, they’re opening a full-scale production plant in Oakland that will be capable of producing one million pounds of Impossible Burger per month. But while production may be moving out of town, it appears that the company headquarters will remain, for now, here in Redwood City.

On the more conventional tech front, two new companies have popped up recently in Redwood City. Both are very new and thus there is not a lot of information about them, but what is known is very intriguing. The first is Redwood Materials, who for now, at least, are located in this building on the Highway 101 side of Veterans Boulevard in Redwood City (at 617 Veterans, between Whipple and Brewster):

Redwood Materials’ rather skimpy website says that they are about “advanced technology and process development for materials recycling, remanufacturing, and reuse.” What makes them especially interesting is that the company’s SEC filing lists JB Straubel (Tesla’s Chief Technology Officer) and Andrew Stevenson (Tesla’s head of Special Projects) as executive officers. And whether or not this new company is actually connected to Tesla, it aims to develop new and better ways to recycle the kind of materials used to construct electric cars.

The second new Redwood City company also has a rather interesting connection to Tesla, although this time the connection is a tenuous one. The company, InEVit Inc., apparently will be developing drivetrains and energy storage components (that is, batteries and their associated electronics) for electric vehicles. InEVit won’t be making the cars themselves, but will license their creations to companies who do. As for the connection to Tesla, the Chairman and CEO of InEVit is none other than Martin Eberhard, who was one of the original founders of Tesla (and was its CEO, until he was ousted by current Tesla CEO Elon Musk).

As of this writing InEVit doesn’t really have a website, but they do have an address right here in Redwood City—in this building, which is also on Veterans Boulevard (at Jefferson):

Before you get too excited about this particular tech company adding to Redwood City’s cachet, however, I need to point out that although the company lists the address of the above-pictured building on their website, when I went by and peeked in it quickly became clear that this is just the office of a law firm—White Summers—who represents budding tech companies like InEVit. Indeed, White Summers apparently helped to get Tesla themselves started. So while InEVit currently sports a Redwood City address, that address will likely change once the company becomes more established. As to whether they’ll end up in Redwood City or elsewhere, we’ll have to wait and see.

So, we have two new companies with some possible connections to Tesla. Wouldn’t it be great if we had Tesla itself? In case you weren’t aware, Tesla was once headquartered in San Carlos, just a few blocks north of the Redwood City border. These days they are located in Palo Alto, and as far as I know they won’t be moving to Redwood City. But how about a sales center? Ask, and ye shall receive! Although nothing is final until it is, if you’ve heard the rumors, it seems that they are indeed true: we are on tap to get a Tesla sales showroom at the corner of Whipple and Veterans—here, in fact:

Although I don’t yet know what is going to become of Crunch Fitness, they presumably will be leaving this location. Tesla has apparently come to an agreement with the property owners (which includes the family of Dennis Nelson; before Crunch this fitness center was the “Dennis Nelson Health Club”). And from city staff I’ve been told that Tesla has met with the city about their future plans, and that the city expects Tesla to submit a development application any day now. So this prime corner, which is right next door to Land Rover Redwood City (which itself abuts a Lexus dealership and an Infiniti dealership) may soon be displaying and selling various Tesla electric cars. While this doesn’t entirely make up for the forthcoming loss of Honda Redwood City, at least it softens the blow somewhat.

Lastly, I wanted to briefly mention one innovation that was being discussed for San Carlos, but apparently isn’t happening. Amazon, who is making moves in the grocery business, has been thinking about creating a few drive-up grocery stores at which you can pick up groceries you ordered online. One such drive-up grocery outlet was being proposed for the warehouse-style buildings at 380 Industrial Road in San Carlos, directly across the parking lot from San Carlos’s new Orchard Supply Hardware:

Unfortunately, before the conditional use permit that was submitted for the building could be considered and approved by the city, it was apparently withdrawn by the applicant. I paid the site a visit and indeed there is no sign of any Amazon-related activity. Based on the signs on the doors, nearly all of the building is occupied by a small Belmont-based tech venture called CelLink Corporation. CelLink is apparently working on ways to cut the manufacturing cost of high-efficiency solar cells, which frankly has a lot more potential to positively impact our world than a drive-up grocery store. So while an Amazon-related business here might have seemed a bit more exciting to some, I’m glad to see small startups like CelLink Corporation occupying these buildings.

Over the last few decades Redwood City has been home to a handful of famous technology companies—most notably, Oracle. Lately, however, we seem to be giving birth to an increasing number of small start-ups some of who just might, one day, grow up and show the world that one of the key cities within Silicon Valley is none other than Redwood City.

Walking downtown the other day I stood and watched a couple of workers mounting permanent signs outside of Broadway Masala (replacing the fabric ones that have been there for a couple of weeks now). Peering inside, the plastic was off the windows and the tables were set. When I checked their website (which includes their menu and allows you to make reservations via OpenTable) I was greeted with a prominent “Opening May 10”! I went by again on the 11th to get the above picture, and as you can probably see they are indeed open again! If you were a fan of theirs before their disastrous fire, it’s time to pay them another visit. And if you like Indian cuisine but have never eaten at Broadway Masala, you should definitely give them a try. Assuming that they are as good as they were before they abruptly shut down (and I have no reason to think they are not), you are in for a treat…

While wandering downtown to see what was new, I was absolutely delighted to see that our downtown Post Office was at long last getting repainted. This cute but highly functional little building, which was apparently built in 1934, has been looking very shabby for some time now, with peeling paint and dirty windows. While chatting the other day with Aaron Aknin (our Assistant City Manager) I noted the poor condition of the Post Office, and was told that there was little the city could do: because the Postal Service is an arm of the Federal government, the city’s hands were tied. But it seems that, by sheer coincidence, the U.S. Post Office decided that it was finally time to give our “Downtown Station” a little love:

It’s a small thing, one that many Redwood City residents won’t even notice, but cleaning up this building will help to keep our downtown looking attractive and inviting for residents and visitors alike.

12 thoughts on “Witnessing the Birth

  1. Pingback: A Creature of Habit | Walking Redwood City

  2. I have been a member of Dennis Nelson Health spa since 1965 to the present Crunch which is closing it’s doors on January 28, 2018. I have been 50 years at this place — so many memories, so many good friends —- the City should have a Farewell Reunion in honor of the many people who have attended the health club — not only were we gym friends — we were FAMILY….

    Very, very sad — — let’s have Farewell Party to wish all members — good memories and good health….

    Daniel Petelin

    December 2, 2017

    • Although I’ve never been a member, I’ve been in that gym a time or two. I can imagine that it is going to be a real wrench for those long-time members like yourself who are now having to find a new gym. I have a very good friend who is a member there and is agonizing over this very issue. A Tesla dealership and service center will likely be a positive addition to the city, but there is no question that Crunch will be a loss on a number of levels.

  3. Pingback: Take a Walk on the Water Side | Walking Redwood City

  4. I realize it’s buried within this article. But I had no idea there was an OSH in San Carlos. My usual go to is HD off of Howard. I can’t stand the traffic congestion getting into the OSH next to Costco.
    I’m happy to learn of this new location.

    Keep up the good work on the Blogs. I learn something with each new one.

    • Thanks – I wrote about that OSH some time ago, when it first opened, but I’m learning that I probably need to repeat some things from time-to-time; new readers and those who don’t read every week’s post miss stuff.
      FYI, my initial go-to, when it comes to hardware, is the Ace Hardware in Woodside Plaza. I, too, find the traffic getting to and from OSH in Redwood City rather frustrating.
      Thanks for reading!

  5. Mr. Wilson,

    I look forward to your blogs every week! I quit my tech sales job (New Relic) a year ago to redevelop 1690 Broadway street to a 4 story hotel. My family has had the existing motel for 40 years. We will be having our AAC hearing on Thursday evening.

    I actually sold to all the tech startups in RWC so I’m familiar with ImpossibleFoods. I’m actually interested in working for them in some capacity (my mom makes vegan Indian food). I wanted to mention Innit and Clear Labs. They are in the same space as Impossible Foods and based in RWC!

    I also recently joined the Chamber of Commerce which has been a great experience. I’m also involved in cleaning up downtown San Jose as a property owner.

    Have a great week!
    Viren Patel

    • Thanks for the feedback. I’ll have to look into Innit and Clear Labs. Coincidentally, I was already planning on mentioning your hotel project in this week’s blog post. I’ll be interested in seeing how the AAC meeting goes. Good luck!

  6. RWC has been the home of startups for decades. Ampex was an early innovator – with Bing Crosby as a VC investor before the term existed. Oral-B was born here. As a child in New Jersey in the 60s, I wondered where Redwood City was – this place where my toothbrush came from!

    • I didn’t know that about Oral-B; good to know! Technically Ampex was started in San Carlos and moved to Redwood City after a couple of years, but it was in Redwood City for most of its existence, and we still have the Ampex sign (for now; Stanford owns the property upon which the sign stands, and I’m not sure of their intentions for it), so although it may not have been what we consider a “startup” by the time it moved here, Redwood City is indeed the place with which Ampex is most closely associated.

      Thanks for the feedback!

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