For a brief, optimistic period in early summer 2021, the term “post COVID” was trotted out and toasted liberally, usually by unmasked groups inside reopened venues. Now, a little wiser, a little quieter and tucked back behind mandated masks, Nosh has recently heard a more accurate description of our current status: We’re in long COVID. Societal symptoms include ongoing uncertainty, division, stasis and continued threats to public safety, and we might still be a long way from any real healing.
For the restaurant industry, a full year and a half of pandemic measures across the supply chain continue to take their toll. The cost of ingredients keeps increasing, especially those that require processing or shipping, from meat to condiments. Venues might be open, but, vaccinated or not, customers are tense, and maintaining staff and their well-being remain struggles throughout the industry.
The following are the businesses we know of that have made the choice to exit stage left at this time. As always, tips are appreciated at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IMPERIAL TEA COURT On August 28, while Chez Panisse held its 50th anniversary party nearby, Imperial Tea Court quietly shut its Berkeley doors for good. The lovely Chinese tea, noodle and dim sum shop overlooked one of the East Bay’s prettiest garden courtyards, and was a North Berkeley neighborhood staple for 16 years. Owner Roy Fong’s announcement on Instagram was poignant and humble — “Most of all, we thank you for your willingness to forgive our shortcomings as we tried to iterate and improve.” (The customer memories and words of gratitude that poured in didn’t seem to mention any shortcomings.) In good news, Imperial Tea Court’s Ferry Building location in San Francisco remains open, as does its online retail tea site. Stay tuned to Nosh for an interview with Fong later this week. Imperial Tea Court was at 1511 Shattuck Ave. in Berkeley.
STELLA NONNA The website has gone dark, and Yelp and other sites are firmly marking this former bright spot on the Berkeley dining scene closed. With still no word from its owners, despite the intact interior, we’re moving it from temporarily closed to shuttered. Stella Nonna was at 1407 San Pablo Ave. in Berkeley.
BATCH PASTRIES A Nosh friend tried securing breakfast pastries from here on Sept. 26 — the day after the beloved Montclair bakery closed for good. “You’ll never believe this,” she said, lamenting the surprise. Alas, Nosh had already confirmed the sad news with Batch owner Emily Buysse earlier this month. “The reasons are complicated and varied and it’s not just one thing, but a whole combination of factors, as with most businesses I imagine,” said Buysse. “Thank you to our community, our customers and most of all our staff, both past and present. I’m proud of the shop we built and the beautiful products we made. Our customers have been amazing at helping us weather this past 18 months — we are sorry to disappoint them and will miss them.” The bakery first opened as a wholesale business in 2013, and moved into the Montclair shop in 2016. Batch Pastries was at 2220 Mountain Blvd.
BIERHAUS OAKLAND The Bierhaus Oakland beer garden, closed for the length of the pandemic, has now shuttered for good. Stay tuned for updates on the prized 40th Street bar and restaurant (and its handsome streetside outdoor patio). Meanwhile, Bierhaus Walnut Creek is open and thriving. Bierhaus Oakland was at 360 40th St.
THE BUSY WIFE After spending a year and half as a long term pop-up inside the still-shuttered Dyafa, chef Michauxnee Olier’s Creole soul food spot The Busy Wife will be moving on. Olier tells Nosh that Dyafa owner Daniel Patterson emailed her in early September, saying that Jack London Square property management company CIM Group said that Olier’s pop-up must end as “the lease specifically states that the space will be used for a first-class restaurant.” The news came as Olier was completing meal obligations with World Central Kitchen and planning to briefly close the restaurant so she could take a long-postponed vacation. Olier has yet to announce her next move or location. The Busy Wife was at 44 Webster Street in Jack London Square — Nosh contributor Brandy Collins
THE HUMBLE SANDWICH Sadly, that’s a wrap on Homestead Restaurant’s pandemic pivot, as first reported by Jessica Yadegaran of the Mercury News. The gourmet sandwich shop was first launched by Homestead Restaurant chef-owners Fred and Liz Sassen as a popup in April of 2020, and it became the dominant business when Homestead closed this June. Though humble sandwiches were served all the way until Sept. 30, the Sassens and their young family apparently moved away from the Bay Area earlier this summer. Props to the chefs for their graceful exit, easing their way out of our hearts, and here’s one final farewell to their lovely Piedmont Avenue destination after eight years. The Humble Sandwich, formerly Homestead, was at 4029 Piedmont Ave.
REEM’S FRUITVALE As first reported in the SF Chronicle, chef Reem Assil’s famous Arab bakery is moving its Oakland operation, which for the pandemic has predominantly comprised a commissary kitchen, wholesale and catering businesses, down the street to 1419 34th Ave. (There is also a potential new Oakland Reem’s brick-and-mortar to come, timing and location TBD.) Meanwhile, the original Reem’s Fruitvale space has been sold to Native American chef Crystal Wahpepah. Note: Reem’s California Mission at 2901 Mission St. in San Francisco remains open (and very popular!). Look for more details on that intriguing opening to come soon. Reem’s Fruitvale was at 3301 E. 12th St.
THAI CORNER EXPRESS The restaurant remains under the same ownership but has morphed into new concept Saap Wing, featuring Thai-style chicken wings and sides. Thai Corner Express was at 435 19th St.
BROTHERS PUBLIC KITCHEN The cover shot of our April openings is reportedly no more. Brothers Public Kitchen, in Orinda’s Theatre Square, has apparently closed, despite a still-active phone and website, and no announcement of closing or temporary hiatus on social media. Readers have alerted Nosh that the restaurant has gone dark, and we received no response otherwise by press time from the owners. Brothers Public Kitchen was at 2 Theatre Square in Orinda.
KATSU SUSHI HOUSE Alameda’s Katsu Sushi House appears to have closed for good. Though the website says the dormancy is only temporary, Google and Yelp mark it as permanently closed, and there has been no activity or update for months. As always, we hope we’re incorrect; thanks to a reader for the tip. Katsu Sushi House was at 1465 Webster St. in Alameda.
MAMA LAMEES Thanks to tipster “zippo1” of the Hungry Onion for notice of this closure: When chef Lamees Dahbour moved her halal Palestinian eatery Mama Lamees into the Public Market Emeryville in 2019, the La Cocina supported chef took over the same kiosk that previously housed chef Fernay McPherson’s Minnie Bell’s, and before that chef Nite Yun’s Cambodian standout Nyum Bai. Those two women-owned businesses moved on to bigger spaces and fame — Nyum Bai to Fruitvale and Minnie Bell’s across the market. Now Mama Lamees is also moving on, and we hope chef Dahbour, who is looking for a fresh start, lands the same fate for her celebrated food. For now, Mama Lamees was at 5959 Shellmound St. inside the Public Market, Emeryville.
OTAEZ Nosh missed this one back in July — classic Mexican restaurant Otaez in Alameda has closed. The family-owned restaurant opened in 2006. In a quick turnaround, per Eater SF, intriguing newcomer Ceron Kitchen is set to open in the space as soon as October. Otaez in Oakland remains open at 3872 International Blvd. Otaez Alameda was at 1619 Webster St. in Alameda.
ROBA’S PIZZA & PASTA CAFE Another sad report from Emeryville, this one an unassuming, well-kept secret: As reported by The Eville Eye, homestyle Italian cafe Roba’s has closed. Ethiopian-born Abraham Roba and his family opened the cafe in 1992, inside the Marina neighborhood’s Watergate Shopping Center. The cafe served hearty Italian meals (for refreshingly dated prices) to a faithful clientele of locals and nearby professionals for nearly 30 years. This month, customers were surprised to find the place vacated with no warning. Farewell, Roba’s. Roba’s Pizza & Pasta Cafe was at 2320 Powell St. in Emeryville.
AUGIE’S MONTREAL DELI As owner Lex Gopnick-Lewinski put it when he temporarily closed Augie’s on June 1, it’s “not like Canadians to hibernate,” especially in summer. But Gopnick-Lewinski recently let us know that, despite the popularity of Augie’s new location at 700 Essex Way, hibernation is his continued plan for the deli through at least the end of the year. “As much as we miss all of our customers, it doesn’t make sense for us to open now,” he said. According to Gopnick-Lewinski, the tidal wave of Covid-related supply chain issues remains crippling. The price of raw brisket, for example, which in May had risen from $2 to $4 per pound, is now as much as $8 per pound, he said. “Some customers say they’d pay $30 for a bowl of our poutine,” he chuckled, “But they wouldn’t do it more than once.” Until prices stabilize and the deli can reopen, those customers can support their favorite poutinerie by purchasing Augie’s products still available retail at Bay Area stores, including Berkeley Bowl and Rockridge Market Hall. Augie’s Montreal Deli is at 700 Essex Way in Berkeley.
ROYAL CAFE We guess August wasn’t in the cards for the Royal Cafe after all. No reopening, no update and no movement from within the pink castle just yet, and locals have certainly noticed. Attempts to reach the restaurant have once again gone unanswered. Royal Cafe is at 811 San Pablo Ave. in Albany.
SMOKE BERKELEY BBQ It’s been a bittersweet month for Smoke Berkeley led by chef Tina Ferguson-Riffe, her husband Jed Riffe and son and pitmaster Sean Hagler. The beloved Texas-style barbecue slingers just celebrated 10 years in business; they also announced that they will no longer operate out of Spats, their host since 2019, due to “electrical and other issues.” A press release from the business states, “Smoke Berkeley is not closing, but envisioning a new location with outdoor seating in a good location, conducive to smoking and eating Texas BBQ and more.” Smoke’s last day at Spats was on August 31. Stay tuned.
VENUS ON SHATTUCK Reader concern led Nosh to reach out again after six months to Venus owner Deepak Aggarwal, who confirmed that though it remains dormant, Venus on Shattuck will reopen, perhaps with a menu or concept tweak or two. For the moment, Aggarwal said, the restaurant’s indoor-only model remains unfeasible. (“We are still in a pandemic.”) He might have reopening news to share in November. In the meantime, please support the Berkeley business by ordering from Venus on Solano. Venus is at 2327 Shattuck Ave. in Berkeley.