Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Charlie Hallowell's Former Employees Demand He Divest From Restaurant Group

by Janelle Bitker
Tue, Jan 30, 2018 at 11:49 AM

Jessica Moncada speaks about her experience working for restaurateur Charlie Hallowell. - JANELLE BIKER
  • Janelle Biker
  • Jessica Moncada speaks about her experience working for restaurateur Charlie Hallowell.

Amid sexual harassment allegations, former employees of Boot & Shoe Service, Pizzaiolo, and Penrose are demanding that owner Charlie Hallowell immediately divest from his Oakland restaurant group.

Nine former employees held a press conference with their attorney Mika Hilaire this morning to further discuss their experiences working for Hallowell. They described a work environment rife with sexualization and fear.

“Employees need to feel safe and know they have someone with whom to discuss issues of abuse in their workplace,” said former employee Sydni Skorich. “In Charlie’s restaurant, to survive was to avoid him.”

Skorich and others stated they felt compelled to speak out in the hopes of creating long-term change in the industry.

“There have been attempts to bully and smear us but we will not be intimidated,” said former employee Jessica Moncada.

Hilaire, who represents roughly a dozen women, outlined their list of demands. They want Hallowell to completely divest from the company — even though he’s stepped away from day-to-day operations and doesn’t collect a paycheck, he’s still a primary stakeholder. They want new policies that “have teeth,” including implementing an anonymous hotline for employees to report harassment. Hilaire also said the company should provide counseling to employees who experienced harassment as well as neutral job references for those looking to work elsewhere.

At this point, Hilaire said that the restaurant group’s response, which includes hiring an investigator, bringing on a human resources professional, and updating the employee manual, has not been enough. If Hallowell does not meet these demands, Hilaire said she and her clients will discuss a way to move forward and that she can't discuss legal strategy.

“We have a right to fair treatment,” said former employee Molly Surbridge. “We have a right to the opportunity to thrive in healthy work environments that allow us to do the work that we love with dignity.”

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Monday, January 29, 2018

In Berkeley, Barclay's Pub Closes Again

by Janelle Bitker
Mon, Jan 29, 2018 at 1:25 PM

  • Photo courtesy of Barclay's via Facebook

The rebooted version of Barclay’s Pub in downtown Berkeley didn’t last long.

After nearly 25 years in Rockridge, Barclay’s Pub got pushed out of its home in 2016 when the landlords abruptly decided to bring in The Golden Squirrel. The dismay in the community was somewhat short-lived, though, when Barclay’s moved into a new location on Shattuck Avenue last year.

This month, Barclay’s closed once again. Calls and emails sent to the Barclay’s team went unanswered, but general manager Derek Bromstead shed some light on the situation in a Barclay’s Facebook group. He stated that the move took a toll on Barclay’s owner, Gene Bromstead.

“He was expecting more of the regulars to come out in the beginning, but the location just wasn't as convenient as the old one, so visits were infrequent,” he wrote. “And that's understandable, but then it was essentially like starting from scratch, new customers had to be made, and that was taking longer than he thought, too."

Apparently, the new Barclay’s wasn’t profitable enough to be sustainable, and it became time to move on. In retrospect, Derek stated that he wishes the family hadn’t moved their family-friendly watering hole to that specific Berkeley location after all.

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Friday, January 26, 2018

The Halal Guys Opens in Berkeley Today with Free Food

by Janelle Bitker
Fri, Jan 26, 2018 at 10:25 AM

From left to right: platters of chicken, gyro meat, and falafel with red and white sauce. - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE HALAL GUYS
  • Photo courtesy of The Halal Guys
  • From left to right: platters of chicken, gyro meat, and falafel with red and white sauce.

The Halal Guys finally opens in Berkeley today with its second brick-and-mortar in the Bay Area. The first people in line starting at 11 a.m. will get free meals, and swag and other freebies will be handed out all day long.

For many former East Coasters, the migration of The Halal Guys to the East Bay is not only exciting but downright necessary. The street cart chain has been going strong since 1990, famed for fueling New Yorkers with extremely affordable gyro sandwiches, chicken over rice, and falafels. In recent years, expansion has been swift, with more than 200 locations in the works across the United States, Canada, and Southeast Asia. Folks go crazy for their creamy white sauce and red hot sauce.

With its location so close to the UC Berkeley campus, at 2126 Center St., expect lines full of students in its early weeks.

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Thursday, January 25, 2018

Berkeley Declares February Pizza Lovers Month

by Madeline Wells
Thu, Jan 25, 2018 at 1:53 PM

A selection of Berkeley pies. - MADELINE WELLS
  • Madeline Wells
  • A selection of Berkeley pies.

Feb. 9 is National Pizza Day, but the city of Berkeley has decided to take it one step further by dedicating the entire month of February to the dish.

Berkeley mayor Jesse Arreguin, councilmember Kate Harrison, and Downtown Berkeley Association CEO John Caner all gathered yesterday to celebrate that Harrison will officially declare February of 2018 as Pizza Lovers Month at the next city council meeting.

“Pizza is something that unites us all,” Arreguin said.

Pizza Lovers Month includes a month-long Downtown Berkeley Pizza Lover’s Crawl, in which diners are invited to collect punches on Pizza Lover Cards for the chance to win a raffle for prizes from local businesses. Customers can earn one punch for a pizza order, two punches for ordering a drink with their pizza, and three punches if they’re wearing something pizza-related while ordering.

Downtown Berkeley is home to a whopping nine local pizzerias: Arinell Pizza, Barbarian Pizza Bar, Bobby G’s Pizzeria, Gather, Gio’s Pizza & Bocce, Jupiter, Lucia’s, PiQ, and Red Tomato Pizza House. They all bring something unique and delicious to the table, but a few are particularly worth checking out.

Gio’s Pizza & Bocce, a hip restaurant that opened last summer, pays homage to Giovanni, the Sicilian pizzeria that stood in the same space before it burned down two years ago. Gio’s boasts a rectangular thin-crust pizza called "the grandma pie," which is distinctive for its reversal of the cheese and sauce order (mozzarella goes on the bottom, marinara on top).

Lucia’s is another relative newcomer, modeled after Brooklyn Neopolitan pizzerias but with creative topping choices, such as Brussels sprouts and ghost pepper maple syrup. PiQ, a trusty old favorite, serves hearty, thick-crusted “pizza al metro,” meter-long focaccia pizzas that remain airy despite their thickness.

“We are super excited to celebrate our Downtown Berkeley pizza culture all February long,” Caner said in a statement. “I’m hungry just thinking about it.”

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New Alameda Beer Bar The Rake Is All About the Malt

by Janelle Bitker
Thu, Jan 25, 2018 at 10:59 AM

  • Janelle Bitker

Hops get all the glory in today’s craft beer culture, but there’s no beer without malt.

At The Rake (651A W Tower Ave.), a new Alameda pub opening next week, malt takes center stage. The bar comes from — and is attached to — Admiral Maltings, California’s first floor-malting facility since Prohibition.

“This is a way to show off what we’re doing here, which is making malt,” said Ron Silberstein who co-owns The Rake and Admiral Maltings with Dave McLean (Magnolia Brewing Company) and Curtis Davenport. He also owns ThirstyBear Organic Brewery. “You can’t just take barley and make beer.”

Located on Alameda's old naval base, the 2,000-square-foot bar sports a clean, classic feel designed by Ben Frombgen (Arthur Mac’s Tap and Snack, Drake’s Dealership). It uses a mix of modern and original industrial features — local railway tracks along the bar, timber ceiling beams, forest green booths, gleaming white tile, succulents — and overlooks Admiral’s facility, so folks can drink while observing the malting process in action. It’s a wholly unique experience, paired nicely with cured meats, cheeses, sandwiches, and fun snacks like pickled quail eggs.

On tap are 20 beers brewed with Admiral malt. The lineup features some of the most respected breweries in California, including Russian River Brewing, Drake’s Brewing, and nearby Faction Brewing. While you might expect all the beers to be, well, malty, there are actually a wide range of styles available that still highlight the quality of the malt, including light lagers, boozy saisons, and hazy IPAs. Not only does Admiral represent a rare opportunity to source malt locally, but Admiral sources barley from farmers in Northern California.

“We wanted to work with California farmers to reinvigorate a crop that was once grow here,” Silberstein said. “To have the option that has terroir… we think is truly special and truly unique and we think we can make some truly interesting stuff.”

Editor's Note: This article originally stated The Rake would be opening Friday, Jan. 26, but that has since been delayed.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Alameda's Pierreclos Imports Links Small French Wineries with the East Bay

by Janelle Bitker
Tue, Jan 23, 2018 at 9:38 AM

Gamay grapes in southern Burgundy. - PHOTO COURTESY OF PIERRECLOS IMPORTS
  • Photo courtesy of Pierreclos Imports
  • Gamay grapes in southern Burgundy.

A new Alameda company is bringing French wine country a
little bit closer.

Last month, Paul Duroussay and Alejandro Brambila launched Pierreclos Imports. The pair met as harvest interns for Jeff Cohn Cellars in Richmond back in 2015. Duroussay, who is from the village of Pierreclos in southern Burgundy, one of the most prized wine regions in France, lamented the fact that typically only large wineries with high volume and lower-quality blenders can export to the United States. He wanted to give the same opportunity to small wineries, so now he spends his time seeking out the best family-run wineries in the area. Bay Area native Brambila, meanwhile, works the local side of the business, distributing the wines to restaurants, wine shops, and individuals. Juanita & Maude in Albany is the first restaurant to carry their wine.

Pierreclos currently stocks two wines from Duroussay’s own family winery, one Gamay and one white Burgundy, which uses Chardonnay grapes. Gamay is tough to find in California, and Duroussay describes this particular version as a spicy, light-bodied, and fruity red. And while wineries make a lot of Chardonnay in and around the Bay Area, the ones coming out of southern Burgundy might taste totally new. To many wine experts, white Burgundies are considered the best white wines in the world.

“They’re more delicate, lower alcohol wines — very different from what you can get in California,” Brambila said.

“It’s the same varietal but we don’t make it the same way and the weather is totally different,” Duroussay added.

In other words, it’s all about the terroir.

The plan for Pierreclos is to start off with wines from the villages of southern Burgundy. Duroussay has a network of winemaker friends to draw from, and he’s excited to send over more Chardonnays — and potentially some sparkling wine — from different appellations in the region. But he also has friends making rosé and Grenache in the south of France as well as varietals in Champagne and Bordeaux who might be interested in finding an audience in the Bay Area.

Brambila currently delivers wine directly to customers who order from Pierreclos’ website, but he envisions expanding the service to become a core part of the business in the future. It might look like an app, linking up with a different licensed distributor, or at the very least, a subscription service. Without any middlemen now, though, Pierreclos is able to keep prices quite low. A bottle of Chardonnay, for example, currently goes for $17.

“We’re trying to bring as much wine as we can,” Duroussay said. “It’s just the beginning.”

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Monday, January 22, 2018

Pal's Takeaway Finds Temporary Home at The Kebabery

by Janelle Bitker
Mon, Jan 22, 2018 at 2:49 PM

Aunt Malai's Deep-Fried Lao Sausage Sandwich from Pal's Takeaway. - BERT JOHNSON/FILE PHOTO
  • Bert Johnson/File Photo
  • Aunt Malai's Deep-Fried Lao Sausage Sandwich from Pal's Takeaway.

Starting Tuesday, it will be slightly easier to get a sandwich from Pal’s Takeaway.

Jeff Mason’s cult sandwich pop-up is going on eight years of hopping from venue to venue — a liquor store, bakery, and commercial kitchen among them — and has been homeless since its year-long stint at Forage Kitchen wound down in 2017. Now, the next phase begins. Pal’s Takeaway will pop-up at The Kebabery (4201 Market St., Oakland) for lunch every Tuesday from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Mason’s sandwiches are widely beloved for their unique flavor combinations. One of his most popular, for example, features sour Lao sausage with a cucumber-cilantro relish and yuzu mayo. Critics, including those from the Express and San Francisco Chronicle, have praised them, too.

Related: Mason just launched his first crowdfunding campaign in an effort to finally find a permanent home.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Stay Gold Deli to Open Second Location in Temescal

by Janelle Bitker
Wed, Jan 17, 2018 at 3:30 PM

Stay Gold Deli's meatball sub. - ANDRIA LO/FILE PHOTO
  • Andria Lo/File Photo
  • Stay Gold Deli's meatball sub.

West Oakland’s beloved Stay Gold Deli is expanding to Temescal.

Stay Gold, known for its creative sandwiches as well as Texas-style barbecue, is taking over the former Sacred Wheel Cheese & Specialty Market space (4935 Shattuck Ave.). It’s exciting news for the neighborhood, given that Sacred Wheel was one of few remaining places to get a quick, quality sandwich, particularly after the closure of nearby Genova Deli, which is set to become a Noah’s Bagels. Temescal’s other barbecue restaurant, Boss Kat Kitchen, also recently closed.

Co-owner Jason Herbers told the Express that he plans to feature favorites from the original West Oakland location as well as create some new, only-in-Temescal dishes. Britni Mills will be the executive chef and general manager — she headed the barbecue program at the first Stay Gold before moving on to work at Juhu Beach Club. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Stay Gold’s opening date might be as early as Feb. 15.

As with the first Stay Gold, the Temescal location will feature a strong selection of wine and beer. And carrying over some of those Sacred Wheel vibes, Herbers promises to stock lots of cheese in the deli case.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Kensington's Benchmark Pizzeria Expands to Oakland

by Janelle Bitker
Tue, Jan 16, 2018 at 3:41 PM

Benchmark owners Peter and Melissa Swanson. - BERT JOHNSON/FILE PHOTO
  • Bert Johnson/File photo
  • Benchmark owners Peter and Melissa Swanson.

Kensington’s Benchmark Pizzeria is gearing up to open a second location in Old Oakland.

The Cal-Italian restaurant has taken over the former Desco space (499 9th St.). Co-owner Melissa Swanson said she plans to open Benchmark Oakland this summer after some kitchen and bathroom renovations.

Benchmark Pizzeria in Kensington has been open since 2012, earning a rave review from the Express in 2016 for its excellent, unpretentious food. Chef-owner Peter Swanson and his wife Melissa met while working at Oakland’s Oliveto Restaurant, and Peter went on to help launch Piedmont Avenue’s Dopo as its opening sous chef.

At Benchmark, they specialize in neo-Neapolitan pizza with blistered, sturdy crusts alongside rustic pastas and starters that sometimes break the typical Cal-Italian mold.

Benchmark Oakland will have the same menu as the original location, with the addition of some new sandwiches and a full liquor license.

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Where to Eat for Berkeley Restaurant Week

by Janelle Bitker
Tue, Jan 16, 2018 at 11:33 AM

A spread at Saha, one of the participating restaurants for Berkeley Restaurant Week. - ANDRIA LO/FILE PHOTO
  • Andria Lo/File Photo
  • A spread at Saha, one of the participating restaurants for Berkeley Restaurant Week.

Now in its sixth year, Berkeley Restaurant Week celebrates the city’s dining scene with special prix-fixe menus for 10 days, starting Thursday, Jan. 18, and continuing through Sunday, Jan. 28.

Many of the participating 30-plus restaurants are on the more upscale end of the spectrum, but the cuisine options are fairly diverse, including Korean, Middle Eastern, French, Italian, Spanish, and Japanese. Across the board, lunch menus are $20, dinners cost $25 or $35, and making reservations is highly recommended. Some deals ares a better value than others, so here are our top five recommendations:


If you aren’t already privy to Lucia’s (2016 Shattuck Ave.), just know that it makes some of the best Neapolitan pizza in the East Bay. For Berkeley Restaurant Week, Lucia’s is offering a three-course dinner for $25 with a few options for each course. The main prize is pizza or handmade pasta, paired with a starter and dessert. This is also a great option for vegetarians.

La Marcha Tapas Bar

Where else but a tapas restaurant can you get 10 courses for $25? At La Marcha (2026 San Pablo Ave.), this special feast includes a bone marrow and clam croqueta; wild boar meatballs with sherry tomato cream; and what appears to be a fun riff on In N Out’s animal-style fries in the form of patatas bravas.


With modern Middle Eastern fare, Saha (2451 Shattuck Ave.) stands out in part for its sheer volume of choices. For appetizers and mains, for example, you have roughly a dozen items to pick from. A three-course meal will run you $35, which is a $5 or $10 savings depending on if you go with vegetarian or meat dishes. This is a particularly excellent option for vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free diners.

Donato & Co.

Elmwood’s Donato & Co. (2635 Ashby Ave.) is offering the same menu for lunch and dinner, except it’s only $20 instead of $35 at lunch. If you can make it for lunch, it’s a real steal: wild prawns with chickpea fritters on a sesame bun; risotto with beets; and a creamy, chocolate dessert with mandarin sorbet.


An upscale, California-French restaurant from a Chez Panisse alumnus, Pompette (1782 Fourth St.) will showcase two different three-course menus for lunch and dinner at $20 and $35, respectively. The lunch is a particularly great opportunity to try out Pompette if you’re normally shy about its prices. It includes cauliflower soup, pasta with pork ragu, and ricotta ice cream.

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