Bette Kroening, owner of popular Fourth Street eatery Bette’s Oceanview Diner, died this month at the age of 71. She is remembered by family and friends for her warmth and generosity.
Kroening was born in New York City in 1945 and grew up in New Jersey. She later moved to California and completed her master’s degree in social work at the University of Southern California.
Kroening worked as a social worker for about seven years but found the work emotionally taxing, according to her daughter Lucie Kroening. In the meantime, she met her husband and decided to explore a different field of work.
Lucie Kroening said her mother, who had a love of cooking, began working at The Fourth Street Grill, a restaurant located in West Berkeley. Eventually, Bette Kroening and her husband decided that they wanted to have a restaurant of their own. They were offered a space across the street from where she was working.
Bette Kroening grew up on the East coast, where diners were a staple of life and “pretty much every exit had a diner or two,” her daughter said. This inspired Bette Kroening to open a diner at a time when, according to her daughter, there were few diners in California and in Berkeley.
“It was ideal to have something that was open … for breakfast,” Lucie Kroening said. “(Eventually) all of (these) things basically came together.”
Bette Kroening’s other interests included reading and farming for the restaurant. She loved to harvest pumpkins and apples, according to her daughter. Lucie Kroening added that while cooking and farming were a part of her mother’s work, they were also her hobbies.
Family and friends remember Bette Kroening for her role as a businesswoman and entrepreneur, as well as for her generosity and warmth. Lucie Kroening said that at the diner, her parents were “not typical bosses.” Their aim was to create a restaurant where people could foster a career and form a community.
“She was just very funny and lively. She was just a really, really sweet person and she’s going to be dearly missed,” said Vince Bennett, who has worked with Bette for the last 31 years. “(She was) very great to talk to, almost like a therapist — which we all could use in a busy restaurant.”
Bennett added that Bette Kroening was like a mother or a sister to him. He said that she was always helping anybody that worked with her, in case they had issues.
Maggie Klein, co-owner of Oliveto, a restaurant located in Oakland, said Bette Kroening will be remembered for her down-to-earth approach to food and the community and for her generosity, spirit and unpretentiousness.
“It’s just … really kind of an end of an era,” Klein said. “And it was really beautiful.”