Berkeley restaurants

As Michelin-starred chefs march, Bay Area mom-and-pop restaurants persevere in the face of COVID-19 challenges | Company

KATIE LAUER Bay Area News Group

Viviana Masarweh threw more pots of coffee down the drain at Doyle Street Cafe than hot cups in March 2020.

Barely two weeks had passed during the first COVID-19 lockdown before she and her husband, George Masarweh, returned to unlock the doors of the Emeryville restaurant they’ve owned for more than three decades – just at the case where.

Every time Viviana, 56, saw someone walking past the restaurant, she would rush over to offer them a cup of coffee, a sandwich or whatever she could whip up.

“I cried every day. Every time I saw someone – oh, sweetheart – it was moving,” Viviana said.

A lot has happened in the two and a half years since those abandoned coffee pots.

Tucked away in a cozy residential corner of Emeryville, the story of Doyle Street Cafe isn’t a tragic closure, a grand reopening, or a hip new menu, designed with delicious virality in mind.

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On the contrary, the continued legacy of this classic breakfast and lunch spot – known for its range of made-from-scratch scrambles, benedicts, salads and sandwiches – is one of the examples of how whose Bay Area family restaurants have persevered during the pandemic to stay open through dedication, teamwork and a bit of luck.

According to the National Restaurant Association, the pandemic closed about 90,000 – or 14% – of restaurants in the United States in May 2021.

But just as two of the Bay Area’s most celebrated chefs — David Kinch of Manresa and Aaron London of AL’s Place — make the news by walking away from their Michelin-starred restaurants and others like Carlos Carreira of Michelin-starred ‘Adega in San Jose. -dining destinations as a “dying breed”, some family restaurants like the Doyle Street Cafe continue, despite the odds, to be the heart and soul of their communities.

Vincent McCoy, director of the East Bay Small Business Development Center, said the group’s research shows most small restaurants only have enough cash on hand to stay afloat for 45 days without the cash coming in. . But when a beloved neighborhood joint is about to close, tight-knit local communities often rally behind them.

“People love being able to see the owner of a business – they love knowing their story and will trust them with their money if they’re connected to the community,” McCoy said.

Nina F. Ichikawa, executive director of the Berkeley Food Institute, said communities should prioritize keeping family restaurants alive and thriving over any glitzy, overpriced tasting menus.

“Those Michelin-starred restaurants, very few people will ever eat there,” Ichikawa said. “We should pay more attention to our local restaurants because they are economic engines in our community, they employ our friends and family, and – if they pay decent wages – they contribute to the prosperity of the community.”

At Doyle Street Cafe and other family restaurants, the focus is not on rare ingredients or the art of meticulous dishing, but on fostering connection and conversation over comforting meals.

“When you put your food on a table and see that happiness, that’s our life,” said George, whose brother Albert jovially manages the dining room operations alongside Viviana. “It’s a joy for us. It’s our home.”

The restaurant was able to avoid laying off staff, eventually welcoming diners back thanks to several citywide business initiatives and – perhaps most importantly – word of mouth.

Delivery and takeout saved the day until some in-person dining started flowing around August 2020, and in August 2021 a parklet ushered in more business. But it took until this month for the Masarwehs to feel confident they were truly back to where they were before COVID-19 hit.

“When we got back to work, we didn’t know if we were going to have customers or not, so for me it was like we had just opened a new restaurant again,” said George, who will be celebrating his 60th birthday in September. .

Globally, restaurant reservations are at 98% of pre-COVID levels. George sees regulars – but also new faces.

Ricardo Aguayo, 49, dropped by Doyle Street Cafe for a mimosa and turkey rush as he visited his old neighborhood for the first time since 1999.

“I didn’t know they had this parklet, but it’s perfect – laid back, not crowded, not pretentious – that’s my type of vibe,” Aguayo said.

But word of mouth, parklets and delicious food aren’t always enough; East Bay foodies lamented earlier this month when Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe failed to live up to its name and abruptly closed its doors permanently in Emeryville.

“I still want Emeryville to stay competitive and full of great restaurants, so it doesn’t feel good,” George said.

Emeryville Mayor John Bauters first stumbled across the Doyle Street Cafe when he started renting a place around the corner a decade ago. He has been a loyal customer ever since.

Between bites of his staple Heavenly Hash — add bacon, too-easy eggs — and sips of orange juice or mimosa on special occasions, Bauters said the personal relationships he’s formed with staff and the other guests brought him back.

“It’s a place where the community gets to know each other, it’s a place for people to come together,” Bauters said. “It’s the product of their labor and their investment in the East Bay – not a faceless company.”

In May, the Emeryville City Council voted to allow restaurants in the city to permanently set up tables on sidewalks, parking lots and parklets.

While these “streeteries” haven’t won universal approval, Emeryville’s handful of now-permanent parklets are far from alone in embracing the off-the-shelf solution in the Bay Area; Oakland, for example, is home to around 140 sidewalk cafes and parklets.

Bauters is pleased to see the 31-year legacy of Doyle Street Cafe continue.

“It’s one of those places where you can’t go anywhere else,” he said. “I think it’s one of the places that makes Emeryville a great place to live.”