6606 Shattuck Ave. (near 66th Street), Oakland
7 a.m. – 6 p.m. weekdays
8:30 a.m. – 6 p.m. weekends
Until recently, there was one Bay Area rose-adorned, impossibly cute spot that served coffee — the Instagram darling Son & Garden in San Francisco and Menlo Park. As of April, however, lovers of flowers and strong brews can head to Damask Rose, the new coffee shop on the Oakland portion of Shattuck Avenue.
Occupying the space that previously belonged to Jump’n Java, which is now outfitted with white faux leather and crocodile-textured booths and tables, the small cafe is drowning in rose garlands. They hang from the ceiling, which is colored fuchsia, and adorn the walls. The result is tasteful whimsy — a stark contrast to the serious, laptop-clad Cal students that populate the tables.
The owners — Rawaa Kasedah, aided by her family — know a thing or two about pleasing the student crowd. Before opening Damask Rose, the family owned and operated Old Damascus Fare, a catering company that, additionally, operated a kiosk on the U.C Berkeley campus and popped up at food festivals and events all over the Bay. “We decided to start fresh,” said Batool Rawoas, 24, who is the business’s unofficial spokesperson, head barista and operations manager.
The pandemic, which emptied the campus and temporarily ended celebrations and gatherings, killed all of Old Damascus Fare’s business, and although the family — who came to the U.S from Syria in 2015 — tried to revive it, “things aren’t quite back to normal yet,” Rawoas said. So, having worked for a specialty coffee shop for three years, after graduating from 1951 Coffee Company, a not-only-for-profit that offers barista training and coffee education to refugees, she encouraged the family to open a cafe instead.
The search for a permanent spot wasn’t successful at first, but finally the family got lucky and came upon a closed coffee shop on Shattuck. It was a perfectly busy and lively spot, and aligned with the Raowas’ love of Oakland, the city that welcomed them when they first arrived in the U.S.
The feel of the cafe came together naturally. “We were very interested in the idea of roses, flowers, so once we got that, we made sure the design and the menu reflected that,” Raowas said. “Rose flavors and cardamom are very popular in the Middle East, and they go well with coffee.”
Indeed, on the menu, a rose latte — the cold version a marvel of layers, with pink syrup at the very bottom — shares the spotlight with cold brew flavored with cardamom and rose lemonade. Like 1951, Damask Rose, sources its coffee from Pittsburg’s Steeltown Roasters, which roasts the beans daily upon the cafe’s request.
Food-wise, the cafe offers a selection of flatbreads, topped with cheese and parsley, vegan muhammara (a spread of red peppers cooked with tomatoes, cilantro, onions, olive oil and light spices), zaatar and the heartiest option: lahm bi ajeen, a flatbread generously covered with ground lamb, vegetables and Mediterranean spices. Additional treats include vegan chia pudding, baba ganoush, and an appetizing selection of baklawas of various shapes.
A few months ago, the family, who hasn’t been back to Syria for years, got a chance to visit Damascus, which Rawoas described as “a sad experience” given the toll years of war have taken on the region. The cafe, she says, is part homage to her city’s cafe culture, part brand new venture the focus of which is the playful floral motif.
“We’re not very strict on the Middle Eastern concept,” she said. “We definitely have unique Syrian style food, but also the coffee itself is important.”
And the attractive design? You’ll have to believe Rawoas when she says it’s just a reflection of what they like. “It wasn’t intentional, but it’s amazing how people react to the space and the way it looks.”