Crosta Panini Bar closes 5 months after opening, chef plans to continue

Deborah Chen/Staff

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Crosta Panini Bar, located inside Highwire Coffee Roasters on 2049 San Pablo Ave., closed Sunday five months since its opening after two of Crosta’s three owners departed. Highwire Coffee co-founder Robert Myers said Crosta’s partners “wanted to go in different directions.”

In a few weeks, Sincere Justice, formerly Crosta’s chef, will be serving up his own revamped menu.

Highwire Coffee invited Crosta to share their space, formerly home to Local 123, earlier this year. Myers said they hoped that outsourcing their food production would allow them to support another small business and focus on what they were truly passionate about: coffee.

“Food was their passion and coffee was ours. And that felt like the better way — better than trying to do everything ourselves,” Myers said.

Highwire Coffee had been searching for the right establishment to share its space and Crosta’s “Italian roadside”-inspired menu seemed to be the perfect fit for Highwire, Myers said. Crosta served a small menu of soup, salads, crostini and paninis.

“I am excited to see what Crosta’s chef, Sincere Justice, will come up with in that space,” said Ariel Platt, Crosta’s operations manager in a Facebook message. “His food is fantastic and very creative … Asian Latino fusion and incredibly flavorful.”

When Justice steps up to the chef’s table in a few weeks, he plans to keep Crosta’s menu staples with his own variations — mostly because of the kitchen limitations.

“There’s no hood, no gas. It’s only electric. We have an oven,” he said. “I am essentially making it work.”

Justice currently operates a taco pop-up truck in Oakland. He has taken on multiple catering gigs since he arrived in the Bay Area and started cooking.

Justice’s experience working in Crosta allowed him to become a familiar face with the customers and develop his own style. His cooking philosophy is to cook with love and intention and to “take care of ingredients regardless of what it is.” He hopes to source from the diverse options around him, referencing Berkeley Bowl, the Middle Eastern market across the street and the South Asian market on University Avenue.

Amy Leventhal, a regular customer of Highwire Coffee, recalled how Justice was “really accommodating and very sweet,” when she wanted the highly recommended cauliflower sandwich made vegan.

Crosta’s disappearance after only five months was swift.

“I had no idea they were gone. I think it was two days ago, I popped in there — just for the sandwich — and that’s when they told me,” Leventhal said. “I didn’t even stay for the coffee; I just left. But I’m looking forward to what comes next.”

Luca Rocci, the owner of Luca Cucina Italiana two doors down from Highwire Coffee, had yet to hear that Crosta had closed, but he was not surprised. He said he had struggled with his business since he opened in January 2011, trying to balance low prices, employee pay and turnover and low foot traffic on the street.

Sincere is still planning the specifics of the new space, including when it will open and what he can serve in the limiting kitchens.

Contact Alicia Kim at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @aliciackim.