Alice Liu, at the bar of Berkeley's Café Gratitude

Alice Liu is the general manager of the Berkeley branch of Café Gratitude, a position she’s held for about a year.

Originally from Taiwan, Liu has owned her own café, Cones N Cakes, in the Excelsior District in San Francisco, and ran Baci, an upscale Italian restaurant in Vallejo, before becoming involved with Café Gratitude through her boyfriend, who also works for the local chain, which has five restaurants in the Bay Area.

The vegan, organic, mostly raw and largely gluten-free “living foods” café features communal tables and a menu sporting dishes that go by positive affirmations such as “I am Thankful” (Coconut Curry Soup), “I am Cheerful” (Live Sunburger) and “I am Marvelous” (Raw Cacao Mocha).

Diners can play the board game “Abounding River” designed by the company owners, which encourages self-reflection, as do the cards found on every table. Servers ask customers a question of the day, such as “What are you grateful for?” and “Who is your hero?”

Owners Terces and Matthew Engelhart on their Be Love Farm

Café Gratitude is owned by Matthew and Terces Engelhart. Almost half of all produce for the restaurants comes from their biodynamic Be Love Farm in Pleasant Valley, California.

The café has its devotees and its detractors. The company began offering their “I am Grateful Bowl” in January 2009, as a response to the recession. More than 200 customers request this community-funded, pay-by-donation dish every day.

Last year the East Bay Express reported that a Café Gratitude employee was fired from a San Francisco location, in part for refusing to attend Landmark Education, an offshoot of the controversial Erhard Seminars Training, founded in San Francisco by Werner Erhard.

(In the 1970s and 80s EST, as it was known, held intensive and not inexpensive seminars — no bathroom breaks legend has it — that focused on personal responsibility and transformation. It was dissolved in the mid-80s following allegations around its aggressive recruitment efforts.)

A graduate of the Landmark Forum who also attends like-minded Café Gratitude workshops, Liu has a background in finance and lives in Oakland.

I met the 33-year-old last week at the restaurant on Shattuck Avenue in North Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto, where I noshed on “I Am Grace” (Coconut Smoothie) and “I Am Insightful” (Spring Rolls).

As they have for five years, three Café Gratitude locations, including Berkeley, will open their doors for free on Thanksgiving between 12 p.m. and 3 p.m.

Cafe Gratitude's version of nachos with flax chips and cashew nacho cheese

How would you describe Café Gratitude to someone who has never been there?

It’s a magical place where you’ll have a completely different and unique dining experience. Everyone is positive and happy. There’s a good vibe here. The food is sustainable, eco-friendly, and vegan. We’re known for our raw desserts. We celebrate abundance and practice sacred commerce, which means we believe you can be in business and treat your employees in a kind and caring way. And we call the café a school of self-transformation.

Café Gratitude has its skeptics; some think it’s almost cultish. How would you respond to that charge?

We’re not a cult, this is not a religion, and employees aren’t brainwashed here. People are often fearful of something new and different or are afraid of change or moving forward.

So people can come in here to eat and not feel like someone is going to try to sign them up for a self-empowerment workshop?

Yes, of course. We even ask people now if they’d like to hear the question of the day. Most people are open to it. Employees are encouraged to take the Landmark Forum training, which is subsidized by the company, but it’s not mandatory. Company workshops, which draw on Landmark concepts, are run on a donation basis and employees are encouraged to attend, but they’re only mandatory for restaurant managers.

Berkeley's Café Gratitude at 1730 Shattuck Avenue

Has the dispute with the former employee, chronicled last year, been resolved?

Yes, after some time passed the manager of that restaurant met with the ex-employee and that process has been completed. There has been a clearing. Both sides have moved on.

What impact have Landmark and Café Gratitude workshops had on you?

They’ve helped me focus on abundance, rather than dwell on resentments or negative things in my life. I’ve been able to repair my relationship with my mother and have better communication with my family in general. It’s been nothing but a positive experience for me, all my relationships, and my attitude towards life. I see things differently now, in a forgiving and more giving way.

Does Café Gratitude belong in the Gourmet Ghetto?

Absolutely. Our focus is on fresh, organic, sustainable food, which is the exact same premise as Alice Waters and her California cuisine. We make everything from scratch. You won’t find a can opener in our restaurants or our central kitchen.

What’s your clientèle like?

People who don’t know us assume we serve “hippies”, but the truth is we welcome everyone.  I would say people who dine with us are mostly very health-conscious and advocates for the earth. We have a number of customers dealing with a major chronic illness like cancer, diabetes, or heart disease who want to change their eating habits for the better.

Does the restaurant have any celebrity diners?

The singer Jason Mraz is a regular and the actor Jake Gyllenhaal came in every day for a week when he was here. The singer Alanis Morisett is an advocate of what we stand for, as is the actor Woody Harrelson, who is good friends of the owners. They’ve both eaten in this location.

Raw, vegan desserts: A house specialty

Where do you like to eat in Berkeley?

Corso has great food; the flavors in their pasta dishes are vibrant and alive. I like the Pakistani place Kabana and Taste of the Himalayas, the Nepalese and Indian restaurant next door, which is another advocate of sustainable eating and generosity to the community. Every Sunday they run their Karma Kitchen, where they offer a family-style combination plate with a zero bill attached (donations are accepted). There’s a line out the door for that lunch.

What are you grateful for?

My community in the Bay Area, both professionally and personally, they’re pretty mixed together. I’m part of a very supportive and loving community.

May I Be Frank, a documentary chronicling how Frank Ferrante, a 54-year-old Brooklyn transplant improved his physical and mental health in a month of eating at Cafe Gratitude, screens at the Berkeley restaurant on Friday, December 3 at 8 p.m. One critic described the film as preachy but inspirational and Ferrante as looking like “the last person who would wander into a Cafe Gratitude and stay there without the use of handcuffs.” Filmmakers include Ryland Engelhart, son of the Cafe Gratitude founders.

Sarah Henry is the voice behind Lettuce Eat Kale. You can follow her on Twitter and become a fan of Lettuce Eat Kale on Facebook.

18 replies on “Giving thanks with Berkeley’s Café Gratitude”

  1. This appears to be the business of a Matthew Engelheart I knew in Spencer, NY… and if it is I can vow that only the best and kindest intentions are meant when it comes to the community and family. Employees are considered family. If I am ever in Berkley, I will eating at this place.

  2. I agree that it may make sense to close this thread at this time.

    May I remind folks that I cover the food beat for Berkeleyside. Cafe Gratitude is a restaurant in North Berkeley. Anecdotally I knew that many people weren’t aware of the cafe’s connections to the Landmark Forum, and I thought that was worth pointing out to our readers.

    Some people will be drawn to such a place and its philosophies, others will decide to never go to the restaurant at all or again.

    In a short article about the cafe, it’s not possible to go into all the allegations swirling on both sides.

    People can click on the links in the body of the story and read more about the controversy surrounding Werner Erhard as well as here:

    My intent was to inform readers and allow them to reach their own conclusions. Berkeleysiders are well versed in voting with their feet — and their wallets.

  3. Please, all – knock off the personal insults.

    Maybe this thread should be closed? Seems to have degenerated a lot from the original post.

  4. And hey, Howard, why can’t you live your life without “training”? The Greatest Generation did. What’s the matter with you? Are you so broken inside you need someone to lead you? That doesn’t sound American. And, if you are broken, who are you to be giving advice?

    You say you’re “not here to debate the merits of EST or Landmark or that of Werner Erhard” but, considering he was found to be a fraud, you’re not talking anyone out of it, either, so are you a good witch or a bad witch, Howard? You cultists can always get away with saying “you know nothing about The Landmark Forum” because you know NORMAL PEOPLE DON’T TRY OR JOIN CULTS, so that’s an easy out for your deliberately slippery butt.

    Yes, Howard, I know all the tricks.

    What’s important here is you’re not promoting anything approaching normalcy, nothing to do with freedom, and everything to do with you and others controlling someone’s life. You can’t imagine telling anyone to learn to stand on their own two feet without a seminar, or “training” or whatever else you losers use to entrap the unwitting. You’re all cripples, looking for new bodies to prop yourselves up on.

    You ought to be ashamed.

    Oh, and one last question:

    EST and Landmark have been around since the ’70s – with the millions of people who’ve been sucked into it since then, why has there been no obviously miraculously enlightened people or discoveries or changes in mankind after all this time – except to Landmark’s bottom line? I’ll tell you:

    Because you’re lying.

    And that’s the sure sign of a cult.

  5. I wrote about these lying weirdos long before the story broke about what they do to their employees and knew even then they were a cult. You’ll never get them to admit anything because hiding behind a billion euphemisms – AKA lying – or attempting to turn the blame for what they do around on others – like saying the problem is “People are often fearful of something new and different or are afraid of change or moving forward.” – is all they’re trained to do. As you can see from such mind games, the so-called “search for truth” they have for you is a dead-end.

    Anyway, as I can see from many of the comments here, only a few are fooled. If you need to know more about cults and how they work, come find the appropriate tag, and click some links at The Macho Response:

    We don’t play with zombies.

  6. As always, follow the $$$ if you can with these cults, as in the end it’s always about the money, power, influence, isolation and thus control.

    Landmark Education LLC (LE), is an international employee-owned for-profit private company headquartered in San Francisco, California which offers self-development courses and trainings. Its introductory course is titled “The Landmark Forum”.

    Many of the techniques used in Landmark Education’s courses were purchased from Werner Erhard’s Est/Erhard Seminars Training. Landmark Education LLC operates as an employee-owned company. Landmark Education employees own all the stock of the corporation,[23] with no individual holding more than 3%. The company does not distribute dividends; any profits go to increase the company’s assets, to expand the operation, or to subsidize courses in developing countries.[citation needed]As of 2005 70,000 to 80,000 people take the Landmark Forum annually, and around 50,000 take other courses offered. [citation needed]

    Landmark Education reported revenues of $70 million for 2004; $76 million in 2005[24]

  7. Ephemerol – I am not here to debate the merits of EST or Landmark or that of Werner Erhard since you obviously have not taken the course and do not know anything about it other than what you have read from other people who have not done it.

    If you choose to believe the lies you just spouted, that is your prerogative. All I know is that the value that I received in my life from Werner’s programs was enormous as was the contribution both of my sons and their wives received and nothing you nor any of the anti-cult crusaders can say can ever take that away from me or my family.

    Werner Erhard and his programs have made a difference not only in the lives of my family but of hundreds of thousands of people around the world. That a program could still be in existence today, 39 years after it first began, is a tribute to its lasting value.

  8. Puttiplus – I was not promoting or trying to convince anyone to do The Landmark Forum. I was simply trying to set the record straight and refute the inaccurate comments made in the article.

    I cannot compare the effectiveness of the Omega Factor with EST or Landmark since I haven’t done The Omega factor and do not know what techniques are used and what results are produced. In the same way, you know nothing about The Landmark Forum and are in no position to say one is better or even equal to the other. The only way you would know is if you did both. Then you would have a basis for comparison. Otherwise, it’s just talk.

  9. For me, the acid test for a restaurant has nothing to do with EST, but the food. Gratitude’s is unusual and reasonably tasty. It’s not totally my style, but I’m glad it’s around on the streetscape.

  10. Why are Amanda C and Howard S ….sooooooooo defensive and write so long an explanation ? Doesn’t results speak for itself ? Why aren’t even 50 out of the 50,000 jumping in and share their good experience? I am sure there are good intentions, good experiences mostly … but there is no 1-set of magic training for the entire humanity, for all generations … except the highest truths and ultimate purpose of humans ! Alice’s experience has apparently helped her in her work at Cafe-G and she is shining bright and doing good and helping many more….that’s all it matters !

    Besides, there are MANY organizations GLOBALLY doing what Landmark may be doing (I don’t have that experience by choice) even bigger, better, deeper and FOR FREE !! since 1978 has trained way larger people needing help …. entirely at no cost ! by pure giving and passing on the baton to the next-gen ! By inspiring, not “suggested donation__”, by being authentic and not by “if, then or else” attitude. There is the Center for Attitudinal Healing ….. Hundreds of Eastern Cultures quietly serving communities…..many not even known to the West.

    Enrollment should be by example, by action, by being good role models. (Oops…. my response got sooooo long ! = I guess am as human as Amanda C, Howard S = LoL). All is well and will be well. HAPPY THANKSGIVING EVERYBODY. Peace !

  11. “(In the 1970s and 80s EST, as it was known, held intensive and not inexpensive seminars — no bathroom breaks legend has it — that focused on personal responsibility and transformation. It was dissolved in the mid-80s following allegations around its aggressive recruitment efforts.)”

    Your claims about EST are wrong on almost every count. If you think the cost is “not inexpensive”, I ask you to compare it to the cost for other disciplines. The EST training as well as Landmark today is given all over the world. The cost of flying trainers to the various countries each week and the cost of renting hotel ballrooms is enormous, yet each individual was only asked to pay a reasonable amount.

    The truth is that in 1974, I paid $250 for the two weekends and even today the Landmark Forum costs $450.00. Putting 250 people in a hotel ball room for a weekend at $250.00 each is not as lucrative as putting those same people into individual 12.5 Intensives at $5,000 each as did Scientology, but no one complains about Scientology.

    As far as the facts of the training, you are wrong there too. There was one dinner break usually occurring around 7:00 PM that lasted 1 1/2 hours. The training did not have any specified duration but was over when the result was achieved. It could be as little as ten hours or as long as 20 hours. Bathroom breaks were scheduled every six to eight hours (changed to every four hours in The Forum). People with special needs were seated in the back rows and could go to the bathroom whenever it was necessary.

    The reason for the long time between breaks was part of the training. It allowed participants to realize that they often allowed distractions to prevent them from being in present time, experiencing what came up. It also told us that we were not our bodies, that we were beings in control of our body, not the other way around. For me, it was one of the most valuable parts of the training.

    You are also entirely incorrect about why EST was ended and became The Landmark Forum. There were no allegations about any recruitment efforts that caused it to change course. Werner simply felt that the training needed a new focus which was more appropriate for the 80s because people had moved into a different place from when EST started in 1971, not because of any complaints.

    You obviously are picking up bits and pieces of the distortions and misinformation about EST and Werner. The truth is that over 50,000 people a year take these programs and 95% report a significant improvement in how their life works. In a country where 1 out 5 people has some sort of mental illness, I would think you’d be celebrating what EST and Landmark have accomplished rather than writing untruths.

  12. Yaaaaaaaaaahoo Alice !

    Congratulations on your contributions to rock Berkeley-Cafe-G… Located on the fault-line, you send good shock waves all round !

    I knew this day would come when I told our COO, Chandra about your skills and expertise last year and I am so proud of you. Wait…..I KNOW THE BEST IS YET TO COME ! And… behind every successful powerful woman, there is a man (my Amigo buddy Miguel !). You go girl…..(Oprah!)………light a bigger fire at Berkeley-CG and rock the County.

  13. Fuzzymerkowitz, can you provide some documentation for your claim? “Posting a claim with no documentation makes me doubt your claim.”

    I’ve never been a big fan of Cafe Gratitude; it’s just a bit too “new age” for me, but they are certainly unique, and covering the unique is something I appreciate about Berkeleyside.

  14. Dear fuzzymerkowitz~

    Thank you for your feedback but I would love it if you would actually ask one of us before making blanket accusations and generalizations regarding Cafe Gratitude. The truth is, no one is “pressured” to do anything they don’t want to do here. We are actually founded on principles quite the opposite: that we all have dominion over our own lives and our own experience.

    It’s true that we may for part of the Landmark Forum (not EST), but employees choose that only of they want to and only because they may have witnessed another person in their lives having benefited from that program (like Alice, in this article, who created a better relationship with her mother and her family). And really, why would you demonize a group of people because they value their employees and create opportunities for them to have even better lives?

    I encourage you to come in and talk with us about it. Landmark is a tiny little aspect of who we are. We are doing REALL amazing things in the world: we buy and sell and grow 100% organic food, mostly locally sourced, we provide an organic, healthy pay-what-you-can bowl to anyone who wants it, every day, every hour that we are open, we participate in our community, we encourage vendors to eliminate the use of plastics in their products, and we are, in so many ways, representative of what people love about the Bay Area: we have forward thinking ideas, we are queer and straight, DIY, incredibly progressive, action-oriented, urban homesteading, bike-riding, biodiesel-driving bright people of all colors and ages and languages and sizes and backgrounds…and we are really proud of the work we do in the world.

    Amanda C

  15. Giving these mind control, quasi scientologists great press makes me doubt this entire website. They pressure their employees to take expensive, and worthless, seminars with EST.

  16. Sarah,

    what a wonderful ‘Giving Thanks’ blog post!

    I made a mistake on the Thanksgiving meal hours, it’s between 12 – 3 this year!

    I’ll see you soon,


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