2960 College Ave. (at Ashby Avenue), Berkeley
Tentative opening date: Saturday May 6
8 a.m.-8 p.m.

After decades as a high-profile spot at the corner of College and Ashby Avenues, Elmwood stalwart Espresso Roma went dark in 2021. Opened at the start of the 1980s, its prime location and loyal crowd of regulars were not enough to offset the venue’s $18,000-a-month rent, its owner said, and once it found someone to take over the lease, it closed for good. After years of renovations, the 2960 College Ave. space is days from welcoming customers again, as the second location of Berkeley-based Cafenated Coffee Company.

Mak and Parisa Jamasbi launched Cafenated four years ago as a North Berkeley cafe. Mak, a Harvard-educated entrepreneur and tech consultant, was a home coffee enthusiast for more than 15 years, experimenting with brewing and creating his own blends from green coffee beans. He decided to make that hobby a career after visiting a coffee farm during an eye-opening work trip to Guatemala.

Noticing that women operated and ran the bulk of these farms, with middlemen taking a large chunk of their proceeds, he wanted to find a way to bring more revenue to these female farmers. While trying to figure out a way to help these farmers receive their fair share, the husband-and-wife team started selling their coffees online.

“At first we’re just roasting here in Berkeley and Oakland, using coffee beans from different women-run co-ops,” Mak said. “Then we found some farms in Central America, South America and Africa that were women-dedicated and brought their beans to Oakland to roast them.”

The online popularity of their single-origin coffee led the couple to open their first brick-and-mortar shop on Vine Street in 2019, inside the former Mission Heirloom cafe (which they renovated to include a spacious and flora-strewn patio). That spot did well enough, even given the economic woes caused by the pandemic, that the Jamasbis decided to expand into a second location, the former Roma space.

Cafenated coffee's facade
Cafenated has traded Espresso Roma’s gold and red facade for a more neutral palette. Courtesy: Cafenated

But this time, a simple paint job and rebranding wouldn’t do. “It’s been an ordeal getting the place back on track,” Mak said of the Miami Vice-vintage space. “We’ve had to do an extensive remodel and renovation, pulling out all the plumbing and wiring.”

Significant water damage and mold growing under the building meant the two would need outside help. To assist with the effort, the couple enlisted architecture firm Holder Parlette, the outfit that created spaces for Serena & Lily’s West Hollywood and San Francisco stores, as well as the chilly yet stunning Ryan Residence, a sprawling Eichler-inspired farmhouse, in Napa Valley. 

With designs from the Marin County-based firm, the new Cafenated space features a beige and dark gray exterior, which replaces old yellow-and-crimson facade. Inside, you’ll find seating aplenty, with a focus on areas where patrons can gather.

“In addition to coffee quality, we want to focus on customer experience with this store, we want to create a sort of community space where people can relax and enjoy the full array of what we offer,” Mak said.

To accomplish this, the architects opened up the space and brought in more natural light to create a hazier distinction between the indoors and outdoors. New plants landscape the entrance. And a darkened ceiling with hanging pendant light fixtures helps keep things cozy sans any oversized warehouse-like vibe. 

In addition to a down-to-the-studs overhaul (which includes, among other things, removal of the facade’s clock dial) to bring the structure and vibe into today’s era, the space has also been transformed into a contemporary cafe that will be open from morning until night. A new dinner menu (scroll down to view it in full) features items like a burger, a fried chicken sandwich, and loaded mac-and-cheese with coffee-rubbed hangar steak.

“Essentially this is a brand new space,” Mak said.

Though the Vine Street Cafenated has been known for its pop-ups and collaborations, Mak said this location will focus on its own menu, prepared by a staff of full-time chefs. Think a casual grab-and-go cafe meets date-night spot meets late-afternoon happy hour destination (with chicken nuggets and platters of cheese and fruits). There’s beer on tap, and a selection of wine, as well.

But fret not, regular coffee shop patrons who require a chill vibe for reading and writing: “There’s also going to be regular wifi access, so you can bring your laptop and study in the afternoon or in the morning,” Mak said. For those who seek knowledge in addition to caffeine’s jolt, Cafenated will also offer coffee tasting courses and latte art classes, once they’re up and running. 

At opening, Cafenated will serve patrons from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., with a plan to open at 7.a.m. once it gets its sea legs. As for a hard opening date? That will happen “very soon,” we’re told. After all, this is Berkeley, where permitting and inspection scripture rules all. “As soon as the final inspection clears this week, I’m hoping to open it this weekend,” Mak said. “If not this weekend, it’s going to be the following week.”

Cafenated new dinner menu