Vegan restaurant Cafe Gratitude to close after 10 years of service in Berkeley

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After nearly a decade of service, Cafe Gratitude, a restaurant on Shattuck Avenue known for its all-vegan menu, will be closing at the end of the year.

Cafe Gratitude owners Matthew and Terces Engelhart — who supervised several locations throughout Northern California, the majority of which were closed in 2012 — announced their decision to close the Berkeley location in a statement released Wednesday, expressing a desire to focus on business elsewhere. The Engelharts plan on shifting attention to farming in Vacaville, California, and to six other restaurant locations in Southern California, operating under an umbrella company, Love Serve Remember LLC.

UC Berkeley freshman Izzy Davis and senior Kayla Briones said the cafe fulfills a role in the community — catering to diets for students and residents — that will be hard to replace.

“There are a lot of people who like to eat raw, vegan meals throughout the day,” Davis said. “It was important that you could get raw things at Cafe Gratitude.”

Davis reviewed Cafe Gratitude positively in April on her YouTube channel, which has more than 30,000 subscribers.

Briones said she enjoyed the atmosphere of the restaurant, especially the “question of the day,” which she said makes customers feel grateful and gives them something to ponder while they wait for their food. Some of the past questions include “What are you grateful for?” and “Who can you forgive?”

“I liked the fact that it made people occasionally uncomfortable but in a good way, because it’s not something you usually think about,” Briones said.

Despite the closure of the long-standing business, several nearby business owners said the closing of the cafe would not affect business in the area.

“I’ve been in the area for 30 years. I’ve seen a lot of businesses come and go,” said Lars Lucker, owner of North Berkeley Frame, which neighbors Cafe Gratitude on Shattuck Avenue.

Lucker added that the neighborhood — and the city of Berkeley, in general — is a competitive place for restaurants to thrive.

A Cafe Gratitude customer, Jeff Levi, said he had experienced several issues with customer service at Cafe Gratitude’s Berkeley location. According to Levi, he waited to be serviced at the bar for 10 minutes while two employees chatted in front of him, and he witnessed a fellow customer who was waiting get frustrated and leave.

“There’s not a lot of gratitude with the service,” Levi said, adding that he often visited the cafe’s locations in San Francisco; San Rafael, California; and Kansas City, Missouri but did not experience the same issues there.

In 2011, one of the company’s bookkeepers filed a lawsuit, alleging that the company did not pay overtime wages or maintain accurate records of hours worked.

That same year, another employee, who worked as a server and bartender, alleged that the company did not pay wages on time and did not allow her to take meal or rest periods, among other allegations.

The company reached out-of-court settlements with both parties in early 2012, according to Cafe Gratitude spokesperson Marta Macbeth. In the aftermath of the lawsuits, the cafe’s management issued an official statement announcing that it would sell its Northern California locations to pay for the lawsuit.

But the Berkeley location remained open. Macbeth added, however, that the Wednesday decision to close the Berkeley location was unrelated to the lawsuits in 2011.

Looking forward, the cafe is hoping to open a location in Newport Beach, California, in January and one in San Diego in July.

Contact Haruka Senju at [email protected] .