Limited capacity indoor dining returns
Today, Alameda County, including the city of Berkeley, moved into the red tier of California’s COVID-19 reopening plan. The plan to transition to the less restrictive tier was first announced last week as COVID-19 cases and positivity rates decreased. As of 8 a.m. this morning, restrictions on several indoor business activities have been lifted, most notably, restaurants (and food courts) can once again seat people inside with a maximum 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer. Grocery stores can open at full capacity, but bars without meal service are still unable to reopen.
This is the second time that Alameda County tried reopening dining rooms at limited capacity; the first time was on Oct. 26, when the county hit the orange tier, but the coronavirus surge that followed caused the county to backtrack and close indoor dining again in November. A study from the CDC, conducted from March to December 2020, correlates an increase in COVID-19 cases and deaths to on-site dining. Based on these findings, the CDC recommends “restricting any on-premise dining” to limit community transmission. (The study does not differentiate between indoor and outdoor on-site dining, nor does it take into account that more people, including food workers, have been vaccinated in recent months.) In a press release about the lifted restrictions, Alameda County Health Officer Nicholas Moss also echoed warning that people should still err on the side of caution at this time, stating: “As more activities and businesses open indoors and more people from different households mix, the risk of becoming infected increases. The majority of Alameda County residents have not been vaccinated, so we must continue to take precautions to keep each other safe.”
Cosecha’s last stand at Swan’s Market
For the past decade, Cosecha has been an anchor at Swan’s Market. In 2011, when chef Dominica Rice-Cisneros first opened her Mexican restaurant at the historic building at Ninth and Washington streets, Swan’s was not yet the dining destination it is today, but her fish tacos on housemade tortillas, pozole and other fresh, seasonal Mexican fare brought crowds of food lovers to Old Oakland and inspired other restaurateurs to open there. Now, after nearly 10 years, Cosecha will be closing up shop at Swan’s Market at the end of this month. Rice-Cisneros told Nosh her lease ends on March 27. With the restaurant’s hours limited to Thursday through Saturday these days, Cosecha fans only have a few more opportunities to get their fix. But don’t worry, Rice-Cisneros isn’t leaving Oakland entirely — diners will have to travel to the Dimond, where her new restaurant, Bombera, will open. Rice-Cisneros told Nosh she hopes to open Bombera’s doors — or at least its garden patio — by April 27.
As Nosh reported in September 2019, Bombera takes over a former fire station at 3455 Champion St. While the restaurant will be a new concept, Rice-Cisneros plans to bring some of Cosecha’s favorites, like its salad and homemade tortillas, with her to the new restaurant. Cosecha is currently open for takeout and outdoor dining from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Thursday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday. Hours may change, so keep an eye on Instagram for the latest schedule. Cosecha, 907 Washington St. (at Ninth Street), Oakland
Celia’s is now El Talpense Mexican Restaurant
Over on Northside Berkeley, Celia’s Mexican Restaurant has undergone a quiet transition. Celia’s was part of a larger collection of restaurants owned by various family members related to founders Perfecto Lopez and Celia Lopez-Rodriguez, who opened the first Celia’s in San Francisco in 1960. The Berkeley location opened at 2040 Fourth St. in 1977, but due to the construction of a 173-unit condominium project, it eventually moved to its current space on Euclid Avenue in 2008. Last August, owner Salvador Lopez transferred ownership to brothers Pedro and Jesus Madrigal, who have worked at Celia’s for the past 38 and 25 years, respectively.
Although the sign for “Celia’s Mexican Restaurant” is currently still up, the Madrigals have renamed the restaurant El Talpense, which means a person from their hometown of Talpe De Allende in Jalisco, Mexico. Pedro Madrigal told Nosh that his family and the Lopez clan were from the same area. “Our two families met because the first-ever owner of Celia’s was a ‘compadre’ of one of our uncles and the two families have worked together ever since,” he said. The brothers’ uncle was a chef at Celia’s for 37 years, so many of the menu items at El Talpense are similar to what’s been served at Celia’s over the years. “I would like to thank the Celia’s family, specifically Salvador Lopez, for giving us this opportunity and allowing us to keep serving our community in Berkeley,” Madrigal said.
The new owners have made some menu updates, too. “What makes El Talpense different is that we are now way more vegan friendly. We have vegan enchiladas, quesadillas, burritos, nachos and even ceviche,” Madrigal told Nosh. The ceviche features soy protein, rather than the shrimp you’ll find in the standard version. El Talpense has also added some more traditional Mexican dishes, such as tamales, chiles rellenos, birria and quesabirria. Featuring stewed beef in adobo spices, as is the traditional Jalisco-stye, the birria recipe comes from their mother.
El Talpense is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday; and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday for takeout and delivery via DoorDash, Grubhub and Ubereats. There is no outdoor dining space, but El Talpense will be open for indoor dining at 25% capacity starting today. El Talpense Mexican Restaurant, 1841 Euclid Ave., (near Hearst Avenue), Berkeley
From BurgerIm to iniBurger
BurgerIm was once the fastest-growing restaurant franchise in the U.S. Founded in 2008 in Tel Aviv by Oren Loni, the burger chain began opening locations across the nation in 2016, and by the end of 2019, it had 200 locations in 39 states and the District of Columbia. But according to Restaurant Business, BurgerIm was flagrantly mismanaged and run like a pyramid scheme, leaving more than a thousand franchisees to fend for themselves as the founder cleaned his hands of the business and the company teetered precariously into financial ruin. BurgerIm was eventually restructured under new ownership, but some franchisees say that even under new ownership, the company has offered them no support and little reason to stay with the brand.
Abdul Popal ran three BurgerIm locations in Pleasant Hill, Pleasanton and Fremont. Unlike many other BurgerIm operators, his restaurants were doing extremely well. Although he had never run a food business before, Popal had some business knowledge from his past career in the tech industry; he started opening franchise operations as a hobby. Popal grew up in Berkeley, where his family landed after immigrating from Afghanistan in 1980. These days, he lives in San Ramon, where he’s part of a growing Muslim community. Popal saw an opportunity to create a business that met the needs of people seeking halal food. Popal chose to open BurgerIm franchises because it was one of the only food chains that allowed him to offer a halal menu. Popal said his BurgerIm restaurants were the first to offer an all-halal menu, and because of this, became the top-earning locations in the nation, with the Pleasanton outlet being number one. But as the company began to disintegrate, Popal decided to cut ties with BurgerIm in Pleasanton and Fremont (Popal’s Pleasant Hill location remains a BurgerIM due to his lease agreement). He now operates the locations under his own independent brand called iniBurger. “Ini” is the Indonesian word for “the,” so the new name translates to “The Burger.”
In the midst of the pandemic, Popal quickly rebranded the two locations, reopening in Pleasanton in July and Fremont in September with the new name, new look, new 100% halal menu and new operating systems. Popal said that since reopening as iniBurger, he’s seen a 30-40% increase in sales. While the menu focuses on burgers (and even includes the sliders that BurgerIm was known for), Popal said the sauces and flavorings are new, and iniBurger is trying out menu items based on what’s on trend, like its halal Nashville Hot Chicken sandwich.
Over time, Popal hopes to grow the iniBurger brand, perhaps even working with other BurgerIm franchisees looking for a way out. He’s in the process of registering with the state of California to sell iniBurger franchises, and in the meantime, has a form on his website for interested individuals to get updates when he’s ready for expansion. Popal said his experience with BurgerIm has made it clear that his priority will be setting up franchisees for success. “Because I own other franchises, I kind of see corporations can be an evil entity or friendly entity. Doing good for franchisees will do good for the company,” he said. iniBurger, 44029 Osgood Rd., Fremont; 4233 Rosewood Dr., Pleasanton
Gilman Brewing, Fieldwork Brewing expand
Gilman Brewing Company added a bit of square footage to its flagship West Berkeley brewery and taproom. With an additional 2,000 square feet of outdoor seating and another 3,000 square feet of indoor space (for better social distancing, and for private events, when those are allowed again), Gilman Brewing now stretches the entire 900 block of Gilman Street. The brewery is also working on sprucing up its bar bites this spring; expect an updated menu featuring fries, wings and chicken and waffles.
The brewery’s Tri-Valley fans will be glad to visit Gilman’s newly opened taproom in downtown Pleasanton, where it’s pairing its beers with lunch and dinner fare from Brava Garden Eatery and the brewery’s own snacks, such as handmade pretzels, beer cheese and other bar bites. The taproom is 2,500 square feet, with a 900-square foot outdoor patio. (Not in the East Bay, but Gilman Brewing’s other location in Daly City also boasts a new outdoor seating area.) Gilman Brewing Company, 912 Gilman St., (at Seventh Street) Berkeley and 706 Main St. (at Spring Street), Pleasanton
Meanwhile, another Berkeley-founded brewery, Fieldwork Brewing Company is also expanding its presence in the Tri-Valley. Fieldwork will add an additional 900 square feet of indoor capacity at its City Center Bishop Ranch location. In a press release shared with Nosh, co-founder and owner Barry Braden said, “We are excited to expand our indoor space at City Center Bishop Ranch to add 40 additional seats and a kitchen so we can offer our patrons high-quality foods from our Culinary Director Jeffrey Amber’s new menu.” The City Center taproom remains open during the expansion, which will be completed for its spring 2021 grand opening. Fieldwork Brewing Company, 6000 Bollinger Canyon Rd. (at Camino Road), San Ramon