BERKELEYSIDE — Eateries in Berkeley are finding creative solutions to build community and attract customers during the COVID-19 pandemic as the Bay Area enters its second month under a shelter-in-place order.
Restaurants, dispensaries, wine shops, markets and other stores that sell edible goods have transitioned into delivery services, with some offering special treats for locals who order online. Donkey & Goat Winery in the Gilman District has developed a “Shelter in Place (SIP) Happiness Pack” including wine pairings to accompany cheese, honey, jams, charcuterie, crackers, and other food from local merchants. They deliver the curated package locally. Vintage Berkeley in the Elmwood and North Shattuck, which also runs Solano Cellars on Solano Ave., has also closed its in-store wine room experiences and begun deliveries paired with food, offering local home delivery and shipping with a minimum $50 order.
CupCakin’ Bake Shop on Telegraph Avenue is whipping up “quarantine cupcakes” to brighten spirits and adding new delivery cities in the East Bay every day, along with its regular in-store pickup in Berkeley and Oakland. Deliveries currently cover Berkeley, Oakland, San Ramon, Walnut Creek, Lafayette, Orinda, San Leandro, and Castro Valley. La Marcha Tapas Bar on San Pablo Avenue is tapping jugs of sangria with cut peaches and strawberries for takeout dinner orders, and collaborating with local chefs on Instagram at @guestchefmondays to create new menus.
Downtown Berkeley’s Triple Rock Brewery is putting their own spin on things, offering a free roll of toilet paper with meal and beer orders over $50 and uses its professional-grade brewery cleaning system to clean patrons’ beer growlers for free. West Berkeley’s Lanesplitter Pizza also offers two free rolls of toilet paper and a one-gallon bottle of water with pizza orders over $30.
The service changes are as much a bonus for customers as they are a necessary pivot for business owners, who are seeing drastic reductions in sales after Berkeley joined county health officers regionwide on March 16 to institute the shelter-in-place order to curb the spread of COVID-19. Takeout restaurants were deemed “essential” under the order and allowed to remain open, but many have closed altogether. Those who are able to stay open have incorporated service and food donations into a primary part of their business, like the Double Helping Hands collaboration with Revival Bar + Kitchen, La Note, Cornerstone and JazzCaffè/ACT Catering to feed homeless residents.
Poke Parlor in the Telegraph District launched a fundraiser on GoFundMe in March to repurpose its catering business and deliver meals for front-line hospital workers — while simultaneously keeping its workers employed. Jeff Wang, owner of the restaurant, said sales have dropped by about 80% this month compared to last year, resulting in layoffs for several employees who have been with the store for two years or more.
After raising about $1,000 with the fundraiser, Poke Parlor has been able to hire back three employees and deliver 80 meals to hospital workers at San Leandro Hospital’s Emergency Room, Dignity Health-Golden Gate Urgent Care in San Francisco, and Concentra Urgent Care in Oakland. The restaurant is adding one meal to hospitals for every five donated, and donors can suggest hospitals that need support, along with organizations that have essential workers such as the Berkeley Police and Fire Departments.
“Even though we started this and we’ve done a little bit, we really want to grow this further. There are still a lot more people to help,” Wang said. “These people are going through so much and risking their lives and the health of their families. If we can make their lives easier for one day, it means a lot to us.”
Other businesses are focusing on making their products as accessible as possible with new ordering options. Cannabis dispensaries around the city that sell edibles and CBD-infused snacks have opened up for online orders with curbside pickup, including Patients Care Collective, Cannabis Buyer’s Club of Berkeley, Hi-Fidelity and Farmacy Berkeley – and Berkeley Patients Group is ramping up for delivery soon.
West Berkeley’s Standard Fare is offering preordered pickup meals on Tuesdays and Fridays in compostable containers, and Iyasare on Fourth Street is offering a contactless curbside pickup program where diners pay over the phone, roll up to the restaurant, open their trunk or window, and a have a gloved employee drop in their meal. ReGrained, a West Berkeley ingredient manufacturer that upcycles the nutritious grains leftover from beer-making into food, has launched a new line of puffed chips (pictured in the lead photo above) through direct-to-consumer channels during shelter-in-place including their website, Amazon, and Imperfect Foods—in addition to donating bars to healthcare workers on the frontlines.
For diners who want to make the best of multiple businesses at once, Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream, which has a store on College Avenue, is teaming up with Bay Area-based Boba Guys, Rooster & Rice and Manila Bowl to create the “Nom Nom Bond.” The $200 gift card offers a 20% discount for the restaurants, and comes with perks for a post-coronavirus world far in the future – like a private party for the first 1,000 people who purchase a bond.
With the shelter-in-place order extended until the first week of May throughout the Bay Area, food businesses will continue to innovate to reach their customers, and hopefully be able to keep their doors open. The city’s Office of Economic Development is collaborating with the Berkeley Chamber, Visit Berkeley and many of the local business district associations to support local merchants through this critical period.
This story was paid for by the City of Berkeley’s Office of Economic Development which helps new and established Berkeley businesses build strong connections to the community, navigate local policies, find affordable financing and real estate, and become more sustainable. OED staff help entrepreneurs, artists and community organizations feel welcome in Berkeley.
Visit We’re Open: Eat & Shop Berkeley from Visit Berkeley for information about other restaurants and retailers that are still serving customers, complete with listings by Berkeley neighborhood.
Visit Discovered in Berkeley to find more stories about innovative local businesses.