Elmwood Café kickstarts its benevolent business model

Nine months after taking over the moribund, but previously much-loved, Ozzie’s Soda Fountain space on College Avenue, the Elmwood Café is in a position to put into action its rather original business model.

The café’s brasserie-style hours and its menu, much of which is prepared by former Café Fanny staffers, have proved popular with Berkeleyans, and the place is often bustling — from morning coffee time through late evening supper hours.

Its success has seen it turn a profit three months before schedule, according to owner Michael Pearce, a mover and shaker in the music business who took on the rehabilitation of the Elmwood’s old sofa fountain almost as a labor of love.

“Ozzie’s was all boarded up and on the verge of extinction when we first saw it. We really wanted to help,” says Pearce who oversaw a careful restoration of the original interiors. “We didn’t expect to go into the black until at least after one year,” he says.


The fact that it did, means the café is able to fulfill the pledge it made at the outset to give half of its profits to charity. This month, Siyaphambili, a small orphanage in Cape Town, run almost singlehandly from her home by Ndileka Xameni, will receive $2,000 from the café’s coffers.

Children at Siyaphambili Village , an orphanage in Cape Town which has been a beneficiary of Berkeley's Elmwood Cafe.

Xameni brought 28 youngsters into her modest home in Langa Township, where she lives with her husband and three children, after meeting them while treating their parents for AIDS at a Cape Town hospital. An Elmwood Café employee took it upon herself to visit Siyaphambilili last summer while traveling in Africa, and reported back that Xameni was keen to plant a vegetable garden so the orphanage could grow its own food. That, says Pearce, is where the donated funds will be focused.

As to which specific charities benefit from the café’s largesse, that choice is made by customers who are offered a voting slip when they buy their cappucinos or toasted goat cheese Acme bread sandwiches. Three charities are on the board — and whichever receives the most votes over a defined period gets priority support. No-one loses out, however, as the next two in line also receive funds. Currently under consideration are Berkeley’s Waterside Workshops and the East Bay’s Go Green Initiative.

Generally, Pearce says he favors non-profits which have their boots on the ground and are doing good work with no political or religious agenda.

Berkeley’s Bread Project has already been the beneficiary of the café’s generosity. “We funded that out of our losses because we really wanted to support such a great local organization that’s putting people back to work,” Pearce says.


And now the Elmwood Café wants to say thank you to the community for supporting the orphanage — and also for giving the café the benefit of the doubt. As the café’s manager, Kara Hammond, told Berkeleyside in September, when they opened they had no idea what would happen — whether people would throw tomatoes at the windows — such was the devotion to the old Ozzie’s.

On Thursday December 16, from  7pm to 9pm, the café is holding a celebration — at its premises at 2900 College Avenue — to which community members and customers are invited. “We are overwhelmed with the support we have had and we are grateful,” says Pearce. “I think it has struck a chord with people that giving back works.”

Related reading:
Berkeley Bites: Kara Hammond, Elmwood Cafe [9.3.10]
Elmwood Cafe makes an immediate impact [3.1.10]