On Sept. 10, a small crowd gathered at Emeryville’s new Dee Spot Café for its grand opening party. An oversize character from the Minions movie stood outside for selfies as diners gobbled down sandwiches, pork ribs and Cambodian bread pudding. The event marked a quick turnaround for the space, which operated as the third location for Farley’s Coffee until it closed Aug. 30.
Dee Spot’s owner Channarith Vanthin, an engineer who has worked for Apple, Cisco and Intel, hopes to build on the community that Farley’s cultivated since it opened its Emeryville location in 2010. To that end, Vanthin has kept “every single Farley’s employee” on staff and has left much of the café’s menu intact.
Vanthin has added new menu items to Farley’s lineup of breakfast items, soups, salads and sandwiches, as well as dinner service, which started Sept. 12. There’s an emphasis on healthy choices, with many items listed as gluten-free, low salt, low sugar and low fat.
New items include an eclectic mix of the aforementioned ribs and bread pudding, build-your-own salads, turkey-lettuce wraps, chicken cacciatore and pasta salad. The breakfast menu has also been reformatted a little to encourage diners to order just the items they plan to eat.
Behind the new menu development is Vanthin’s sister, “a wonderful chef, who makes a drop bucket of what I used to make,”Vanthin told Berkeleyside. “I wanted a place for my sister to work, and to start saving money… Eventually I will give the business to her.”
Vanthin said he chose to take a break from Silicon Valley to open a restaurant because he wants to give back. “Being able to give and run a business that can help the community as well as get my sister to a position of running something of her own, makes me content already,” he said. “I don’t need [a] big bank account, mansion or fancy clothes. I prefer [a] work life balance with good eats that can promote longer life.”
In the next few weeks, Vanthin plans to add online ordering and catering services in the hopes of making the business more successful. “I just want it to be more profitable so my employees can benefit,” he said.
Indeed, operating a small business in Emeryville, with a minimum wage currently set at $13 for small businesses and $14.82 for large businesses (over 55 employees), with plans to increase both to $16 by 2019, is not without its challenges. When The E’ville Eye broke the news last month that Farley’s owners Amy and Chris Hillyard were selling their Emeryville location, it speculated that much of the reasoning behind the sale had to do with the rising minimum wage.
For his part, Chris Hillyard told Nosh that operating cafés in three cities was “too complex, not allowing us to give each café, and community, the attention we feel it deserves.” Hillyard had been a strong supporter of Oakland’s Measure FF, a voter-supported measure that raised that city’s minimum wage to $12.25 in March 2015, but worried about the effects of Emeryville’s quickly rising wages on small businesses.
The problem, Hillyard told Nosh in 2015, is that the rapid changes don’t account for the small profit margins at a café like Farley’s, and that he would not be able to raise prices high enough to account for the increased labor costs.
Vanthin said he is most concerned with helping his employees maintain their standard of living and to keep them happy at work. He said he is planning on hiring additional staff to help cover the new operating hours.
In addition to keeping Farley’s staff employed, Vanthin also hopes to maintain the Farley’s emphasis on “community in a cup.” For each hot drink sold, he is donating 20 cents to a local charity, which will rotate every month. Currently, donations are going to the Friends of Alameda Animal Shelter; Vanthin has a suggestion box at the café for future charities.