Shuttered PiQ pictured on the morning of Nov. 26. The popular downtown Berkeley coffee shop closed over the Thanksgiving break. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Downtown Berkeley workers heading to PiQ Monday morning for their usual coffee and pastry fix were probably disappointed to find the place closed, its decorative metal gates tightly shut. The centrally located Italian coffee shop — full name Pane Italiano Qualità — is a favorite meeting place and unofficial town square, but general manager Massimo Covello left abruptly a few months back and it’s been struggling since then.

The place closed over the Thanksgiving break much to the chagrin of its regulars. One surprised, unidentified former customer said, “Just like that? But this was my spot!” and, judging from the Berkeley café’s consistently filled tables, she’s not alone. The former PiQ location at SFO has also permanently closed.

However, a new Italian café, Passione Caffe, will be opening in the PiQ space, possibly as soon as next week, according to Fabrizio Cercatore who is taking over the business. Cercatore, a native Italian, pizzaiolo and co-owner of local enterprises Hot Italian, Passione Pizza and the upcoming Emporio Passione, told Berkeleyside he plans for the new incarnation of 91 Shattuck Square to be an Italian coffee bar by day with light bites as well as heavier dishes such as pasta and his well-known pizzas (he has long been involved with PiQ’s pizza program). Come evening, the spot will morph into an Italian wine bar. 

Passione Caffe will be open as soon as the city turns PiQ’s business license over to Passione Caffe, said Cercatore, who also expects his new Passione Emporio restaurant on Fifth Street to be open by the end of January.

Passione Caffe will serve Italian Musetti coffee as well as roasts from CoRo Berkeley. The wine bar will offer a selection of Italian and Californian wines, including Prosecco, which will be “at the center of the list,” according to Cercatore, to accompany Italian salumi and cheese plates during happy hour.

Before he left, Covello was also overseeing the build-out of a new restaurant, Radici, that was to have opened sometime this year in the vacated Cyprus Restaurant space right next door to PIQ. Covello told Berkeleyside in 2016 that he planned to serve an entirely organic menu, heavy on pasta dishes and vegetables sourced from local farms. Cercatore said plans for Radici have been scrapped, but he may explore opening a new Passione Emporio there, but not before summer 2019.

This story was updated after receiving new information from Fabrizio Cercatore.

Passione Caffé will be at 91 Shattuck Square, Berkeley 94704. Follow the new venture at newly created @passionecaffeberkeley accounts on Instagram and Facebook.

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Freelancer Joanna Della Penna has written about food, people and the arts in the Bay Area since moving here from the East Coast in 2001, and was Gayot's Northern California regional restaurant editor for...