Alice Waters arrived just before noon Friday to say goodbye to employees and customers as her small cafe in West Berkeley prepared to close its doors one final time.
Cafe Fanny, which is co-owned by Waters, marked the end Friday of almost three decades of serving the community at the cafe’s location of 1603 San Pablo Ave.
“I’m really sad. It’s been 28 years,” Waters said. “It has a lot of memories, this little place. It’s the same age as my daughter. She came here as a baby. It was named after her.”
Waters, also the owner of Chez Panisse Restaurant in Berkeley and known as a proponent of organic and local food, stood at the end of the counter in Cafe Fanny with her friend Sharon Jones. Waters alternated between squeezing Jones’s hand and holding back the tears as customer after customer walked over to shake her hand and tell her how much they will miss her and the little eatery that has been so much a part of the community for so many years.
A local news blog reported reported that a senior staff member said Cafe Fanny is closing because “the cafe was not financially viable.” A letter posted at the restaurant reads, “It is the right moment in time to explore new possibilities for this small space that can still house the romance and idealism of the original.”
Jennie Doyle, a pastry chef who has worked at Cafe Fanny for a little over two years, said when she heard the news Thursday she was surprised to learn the cafe would be closing the next day.
“We knew things were going to be changing we just didn’t know how, Doyle said. “We are just kind of letting it sink in and enjoying today, celebrating the end.”
At the corner of Cedar Street and San Pablo, nestled between Acme Bread Company and Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, Cafe Fanny has just one bench running along the back wall. But customers do not mind standing at the counter conversing with the staff while drinking what many of them described as a “to die for” cafe au lait that is sipped from a bowl instead of a cup.
Waters said it was because of Steven and Suzie Sullivan and Kermit Lynch, owners of the bread shop and the wine store, respectively, that she came to the West Berkeley location. The cafe used bread supplied by Acme Bread Company and wine from Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant.
“It was originally supposed to be a couple of barrels and a board. We were going to serve bread and maybe a little sliced ham and some wine,” Waters said. “But from the very beginning, it became a fantasy of ours — cafe au lait in bowls.”
Now famous for simple but elegant menu items, the owners established a reputation for supporting local ranches and farmers that practice ecologically sound and sustainable agriculture.
Paula Skene, who has lived nearby the cafe’s location for 35 years, said she eats lunch at the cafe every day. On Friday, she thanked Doyle for teaching her about how to make healthier food choices that have contributed to a healthier lifestyle for her.
“There are so many people who consider this place part of their identity,” Skene said. “It’s the last shred of quality. I like the idea of local, and I think people should eat healthy.”
Waters said that she, Lynch and Steven Sullivan — who began this journey together — will be involved in the process of determining what happens next. They want to maintain the legacy of Cafe Fanny and of caring about the food and the community.
“We considered keeping the name of the cafe but decided against it,” Waters said. “This is Cafe Fanny.”