The space formerly occupied by Shakespeare & Co. bookstore, one of the oldest independent bookstores in Berkeley, will retain a piece of its literary namesake with the opening of Romeo’s Coffee this fall.
Located on the corner of Telegraph Avenue and Dwight Way, the building has been vacant since June 2015, when Shakespeare & Co. — a bookstore that specialized in the sale of used books for 51 years — closed because of a decline in revenue. Romeo’s Coffee will occupy one of four spaces left vacant by the closing of Shakespeare.
Dino Micheletti, who partnered with Terry Martinez as co-owner of the new cafe, said that the choice of name was only partially inspired by the bookstore but he hopes it will act to further represent the corner’s history.
“I know many people, generations who went to Berkeley — and they all knew Shakespeare’s Books — it was an institution, it was a location,” Micheletti said. “And then, to have Romeo’s going there, I think it’s an extension of something that was great. It was part of the culture there.”
The cafe’s theme, according to Micheletti, will also be featured in the menu of beverages — which includes drinks with names such as “Straight to Heaven,” “Love Potion #9” and “Cupid’s Arrow,” a hot beverage containing pumpkin spice flavoring and whipped cream. Caffeinated drinks will be listed under a rating system ranging from numbers 01 to 03 — 01 representing the least caffeinated, and 03 representing the most caffeinated.
Micheletti added that he intends to draw customers to the cafe by providing a space where students can “kick back,” with plans to incorporate a lounge area and coffee bar into the design.
“It just adds another vibrant corner where you can go meet your friends, you can go before a game or before class or something like that and just have a place to gather,” said Ito Ripsteen, the developer of the project.
In April, Berkeley City Council voted to pass an ordinance removing a quota policy, which places numerical limitations on the amount of food establishments that could open in the Telegraph Avenue commercial district. The elimination of this policy was a contributing factor to Micheletti’s decision to move forward with plans to open shop.
“It’s one of the reasons why it was so challenging for businesses to survive there — was the quota — and now they’ve eliminated that, we believe that Telegraph is just going to take hold there,” Micheletti said.
Jerry Nickel, a 30-year resident of Berkeley and frequenter of Cafe Mediterraneum, located two stores down from the vacant building, said he believes it is unclear whether the opening of an additional coffee shop between Cafe Mediterraneum and Peet’s Coffee & Tea will be successful.
“I don’t think another coffee shop, especially across from Peet’s, is really going to fly unless they have something really special,” said Nickel. “And it’s really tragic because it’s a great location.”
Micheletti said he intends to begin construction by the beginning of June and open the doors of Romeo’s Coffee by the end of this year — in time for UC Berkeley students’ return for the fall semester.