North Oakland vegan café Donut Farm is moving to Jack London Square in August. Owner Josh Levine told Nosh that his business is taking over the space at 247 Fourth St., which Chop Bar recently vacated for a larger site just down the street. At the new space, Donut Farm will have a similar format to its current iteration at 6037 San Pablo Ave., where it serves breakfast, lunch and brunch, and its signature vegan donuts. The San Pablo storefront will remain open, but will pare down its focus to donuts only.
Levine started a wholesale vegan donut business in 2006 under the name Peoples’ Donuts, which he later changed to Pepples Donuts. He opened his first retail location at the San Francisco Ferry Building in 2010; that same year, he opened the daytime café on San Pablo Avenue in Oakland, the city where the San Francisco native lives today.
In its early years, Pepples, which changed its name again to Donut Farm, quickly grew a fan base for its dairy- and egg-free, organic donuts, including pastel-glazed flavors like blueberry, orange creamsicle and salted caramel. In addition to being vegan, Levine’s sweet fried treats were some of the first in the area to be made with high-quality, sustainable ingredients, like organic palm shortening, aluminum-free baking soda and powder, and organic fruit and other natural flavorings. Meanwhile, the Oakland café became a destination for diners near and far who were searching for savory animal-free offerings, like scrambles and other hearty breakfasty dishes made with fresh produce and faux meats.
Donut Farm’s ethos for veganism and sustainability has strong roots in Levine’s other passion. Before he got into the donut business, he was already a fixture in the Bay Area’s early punk scene, which has long had a strong activist bent. He played with legendary San Francisco punk bands like Flipper and The Insaints and was a founding member of Berkeley’s all-ages venue, 924 Gilman; at the same time, he was active in community groups connected to, but outside, the music scene, like Food Not Bombs and Berkeley Needle Exchange. Today’s he still active in the community. In 2016, Levine founded the Oakland Burrito Project, a collective that prepares and serves food to people experiencing homelessness.
Levine also owns Coffee Conscious in Berkeley’s Westbrae neighborhood. Opened in 2014, the café serves donuts and other vegan pastries and is a community gathering space for art, music and local pop-ups. In 2016, he opened a Donut Farm in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles; he plans to open another L.A. locale next year.
In the new Jack London Square restaurant, Levine said he’ll start off offering a similar daytime menu as the current San Pablo café, including donuts, which will continue to be produced in North Oakland. Once established in the space, though, Levine plans to take advantage of its larger kitchen.
“Later on this winter, we will open with a new concept,” Levine told Nosh. “It’s going to be a fancier concept, more fitting for the space, with beer, wine and liquor.” He added that this new iteration of Donut Farm will move away from fried foods, focusing more on fresh fare, like big salads.
Levine is the main force in the kitchen at Donut Farm, but he said he’s open to the idea of bringing in someone new in the future, if need be. But for now, he feels prepared for the challenge of the new restaurant.
“I have a wealth of inspiration myself, and some amazing people that inspire me that I work with.”
One thing he will definitely be bringing to Jack London Square is vegan milkshakes — especially now that veg diner Saturn Café in Berkeley has closed. Made from coconut-based ice cream, the shakes come in chocolate, strawberry, and peanut butter banana flavors and “whatever we can dream up,” Levine said.
In July, the East Bay lost two longtime vegan outposts — Saturn Café and Sanctuary Bistro, both in Berkeley. Levine said he’s had some staff from the former businesses interview for, and in some cases, join Donut Farm, which he says remains a stalwart in the vegan community.
“Everything we’re doing really works, especially here in the Bay Area,” Levine said. “There’s only room for growth. People love our donuts and it’s so often that people say that they’re the best donuts they’ve ever had.”
Donut Farm aims to open in the next couple weeks at 247 Fourth St. Its location at 6037 San Pablo Ave. will continue to operate as a donut shop without other food service when the Jack London Square restaurant opens.