They’re back: and just in time for the passing of Fogest (that’s August to the uninitiated) and the arrival of real summer in Berkeley and elsewhere around the Bay. Sketch returns today — three years to the day that the popular ice cream spot shut up shop (and as tipped by Berkeleyside in June).
A culinary couple with a fine-dining pedigree, Eric Shelton and Ruthie Planas-Shelton opened Sketch on the busy shopping strip along 4th Street back in 2004 (in the slip of a space that’s now home to a Chocolatier Blue outlet). At the time, the store was one of the first small-batch, organic ice cream purveyors in the area — before gourmet cup and cone businesses took off around the Bay.
The pair weren’t planning to return to Berkeley — let along the same street — when they started scouting around for a new location for their signature sweet treats last year. Shelton, 44, and Planas-Shelton, 31, who live in Jack London Square, had their sights set on an Oakland location, but when a deal fell through, they agreed to check out a space in the new 4th & U complex on the quieter end of 4th Street. It felt like a good fit. So, yet again on the food front, Oakland’s loss is Berkeley’s gain.
The partners in life and work spent the past three years on other projects. Shelton, who hails from a high-end pastry chef background (Aqua, 5th Floor), managed the Whole Foods bakery department in Oakland. A first for him in the corporate grocery world. Planas-Shelton, who met Shelton when she went to work for him at Aqua, consulted with Blue Bottle on their pastry line. Oh, and the couple debuted their most important product to date: daughter Audrey, who turns three on Monday
Berkeleyside spoke with the duo, who are delighted to be working together again in their own edible enterprise, at their new store this week.
What do you like about your new location?
The openness, natural light, and patio area are all perfect for us. It’s also a corner location on a main thoroughfare — it’s not a big shopping district — but there are a lot of offices here, bicycle traffic, and good exposure. We hope we’ll be a destination spot.
The landlord has been very accommodating, including putting money into the build-out. And we’re paying about half what we paid for our previous store for a space more than four times the size.
What can customers expect?
We’ll have five or six flavors: vanilla, burnt caramel, Sightglass coffee, Earl Gray tea, and a seasonal fruit. And we’ll offer fixings: our salted caramel sauce, our chocolate sauce, sea salt, olive oil, a fruit compote, our candied nuts, and our candied cocoa nibs.
We’ll also serve Sightglass coffee and pastries like our olive oil cake, coconut macaroons, chocolate chip cookies, chocolate pudding cake, and lavender shortbread. And we’ll have our salted pecan toffee, burnt caramel sauce, and caramel popcorn.
In the morning we’re going to do a Belgian waffle with fresh fruit and frozen yogurt.
We plan to have savory offerings too. We’re starting with empanadas — wild mushroom, classic chicken and potato, and a pastor [pork] with pineapple. Down the track we may have a simple sandwich too, like some boccalone on a crusty baguette. A grab-and-go lunch.
What have you learned running a food business in Berkeley?
Customers are very particular about what they want to spend their money on. They’re not into trends. Change is something new for a lot of residents here who have lived here a long time and like the same things. But we knew that once we got people to try our product, appreciate the consistency and quality behind it, and our passion for what we do, we’d develop a loyal following and we did. People have an appreciation for artisan food products here; they just get it.
How do you distinguish yourself from other Bay Area ice creameries?
Well, to start with we’re soft-serve: not for novelty reasons for consistency’s sake. It keeps the ice cream at the right temperature, anything too cold and it freezes the palate. And if there’s too much fat it coats the tongue and that affects the taste too. We make our ice cream with low fat, very little air, and just the right temperature. We make our own ice cream base from scratch. We use Straus milk and local, seasonal fruit.
Where do you go when you eat out in Berkeley?
We really like Riva Cucina; the simplicity of their food appeals, in particular their calamari sandwich, bolognese, and hand-cut pasta. And we enjoy Tacubaya for its mole and their taco al pastor [pork] and torte al pastor are just delicious.
Bette’s Oceanview Diner serves a consistently good corned beef hash. We love consistency. If you’re going to spend money on food, it’s not so much about the fluff and flair, it’s about producing really consistent, flavorful, well-seasoned dishes.
What’s the story behind the store’s name?
To us the beauty of any pure idea begins with a sketch, which is the philosophy behind how we produce our product: pure and simple.
The details: Sketch, 2080 4th Street (at Addison). Today’s hours: 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. or until ice cream runs out. The store will open from 7:45am-3:45pm during the week, closing for a half hour for a staff meal at 10 a.m. Saturday hours: 11:30 a.m.-6:00 p.m.
Sarah Henry is the voice behind Lettuce Eat Kale. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
Shop Talk: The ins and outs of Berkeley businesses [06.12.12]
Shop Talk: The ins and outs of Berkeley businesses [03.20.12]
The verdict is in: Berkeley’s best ice cream (and gelato) [07.27.11]
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