‘Paleo diet’ restaurant to open in North Berkeley

Bobby Chang, Yrmis Barroeta, and Karl Nielsen, who are behind Mission: Heirloom Cafe, slated to open in Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto this fall. Photo: Mission: Heirloom

Bobby Chang, Yrmis Barroeta and Karl Nielsen, who are behind Mission: Heirloom Garden Cafe, which is slated to open in North Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto this fall. Photo courtesy of Mission: Heirloom

About five years ago, Yrmis Barroeta learned she had two auto-immune disorders. Her husband, Bobby Chang, was having some digestive issues. Meanwhile, his daughter’s energy would often crash before lunch.

“It’s not that we were sick, but we were not functioning right,” said Barroeta. “A friend of ours told us we have to read Robb Wolfe’s ‘The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet,’ and that opened up a whole world of exploration for us.”

It was no small thing, given that Chang is of Taiwanese descent and, to him, giving up rice was unthinkable. Growing up in Venezuela, Barroeta had long ago learned she was allergic to legumes.  Yet, within two weeks of eating the Paleo way, in which grains, gluten and soy are avoided, they were feeling better.

That world of exploration led the two former design-world refugees — they both realized they wanted to do something more meaningful with their lives — to launch Mission: Heirloom Garden Café, a business they hope will become a new fixture in North Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto when it opens in September. The name implies that it’s something worth passing down to future generations. And, while you are welcome to consider it a Paleo eatery, Barroeta says it’s much more than that.

“We don’t want to be making blanket statements,” she said. “One of our main goals here is supporting different people in their journeys.”

Bobby Chang of Mission: Heirloom. Photo: Mission: Heirloom

Bobby Chang of Mission: Heirloom. Photo via Mission: Heirloom

The Paleo diet recommends foods that mimic what our ancestors ate in a pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer society, with no grains, legumes, dairy or refined sugars or oils.

Mission: Heirloom Garden Café plans to follow that course, making exceptions for wild rice and buckwheat — both are gluten-free — and unpasteurized milk, as not everyone is lactose-intolerant.

“The Paleo diet is a great stepping stone,” said Barroeta, “but there will be people who want to do more than that, and some for whom it is isn’t right.”

That might include people on an elimination diet to find the cause of digestive distress, those on a cleanse of some kind, or people who follow the Gut and Psychology Syndrome Diet (GAPS), which was created by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride for sufferers of major digestive issues. GAPS adherents are advised to sip on bone broths throughout the day, which Mission: Heirloom sells already as part of its “Counter Basics” line. Cinnamon rosemary lamb, lemongrass lavender chicken and spicy ginger beef varieties are sold in Mason jars, which can be sipped or used to make stews with separately sold pre-cooked meatballs and vegetables at home.

Barroeta and Chang are also hoping to cater to the parents of children with autism, as eating a clean diet is believed to help certain symptoms. They said they know firsthand that diet is not a one-size-fits-all affair.

Bobby Chang, Christian Phernetton, Andy O'Day, Juan Barrera, Ronald (RJ) Arcega

Bobby Chang, Christian Phernetton, Andy O’Day, Juan Barrera and Ronald (RJ) Arcega. Photo via Mission: Heirloom

The Mission: Heirloom team started working on its customized kitchen last November, and began selling food to customers in May. Members of the group said they still consider themselves in beta mode, as they get ready for the launch of the café.

More than being “the Paleo place,” Mission: Heirloom is striving to give consumers food that’s as clean as possible, meaning free of all possible toxins. When the café opens at Shattuck and Vine, the food will be made in a state-of-the art facility at Berkeley Kitchens, which has been outfitted specifically for Mission: Heirloom with a negative ion air purifier, which not only controls mold but airborne diseases as well, and a zero-waste, reverse-osmosis water filtration system that runs on organic coconut shells rather than carbon.

When the group learned its neighbor at Berkeley Kitchens was a bagel-making outfit, it had a new ventilation duct installed to avoid cross-contamination, and a sign on the door warns those who enter to leave gluten products outside. Mission: Heirloom does its own laundry, as no East Bay restaurant laundry service offers an organic, no-bleach option (business idea alert!). The pots and pans are stainless steel with no aluminum.

Ronald (RJ) Arcega bottling heirloom tomato consomme

Ronald (RJ) Arcega bottling heirloom tomato consommé at Mission: Heirloom at Berkeley Kitchens. Photo via Mission: Heirloom

In that kitchen, the oven cooks food at 100% humidity, and the team does not fry, sauté, grill or caramelize. Mission: Heirloom avoids these cooking methods so excess glutamate isn’t released within the protein, which would be akin to “being as harmful as if we were spreading the white powder ”— MSG — said Barroeta, sounding a lot more like a science teacher than a restaurateur. “If you explode the fat molecules, oxidation occurs, meaning you create around six compounds that are carcinogenic.”

The team even made its own cutting boards from untreated wood, since most food-grade cutting boards are treated with some kind of chemical.

The pantry includes flours the casual home cook is likely never to have heard of: plantain, mesquite, chestnut, banana, and house-made coconut flour.

Of course, it goes without saying that meats used by Mission: Heirloom are all pastured and local; the produce and fruit is organic and GMO-free.

The food the business sells for home use all comes in glass jars – since plastic can leach.

Many of the meals prepared by Mission: Heirloom are served in bowls, as they are seen to be "comfort food." Photo: Alex Wall

Many of the meals prepared by Mission: Heirloom are served in bowls, as they are seen to be “comfort food.” Photo: Alix Wall

The café will have indoor and outdoor space, and will be casual. The “Counter Basics” line will be sold up front. To start, the menu will include five bowls. A possible offering might be jerk goat meatballs with savoy cabbage and Padron pepper sauce, with an edible herb and flower garnish. The team likes the bowl concept because it sees Mission: Heirloom’s food as comfort food. Meatballs, that use all parts of the animal to balance amino acids, figure prominently on the menu.

A future wish is to have a “Genius Bar” modeled after the ones in Apple stores, where nutritionists and practitioners sanctioned by the owners can advise customers about which diet might best suit them.

“We hope to prove that there are enough people who want clean food, and that restaurants can be profitable making such food,” said Barroeta. “And we’re looking to create a replicable model.”

If the first café does well, the team hopes to open four more like it, with all the food being made at Berkeley Kitchens.

“Everybody has their allergies or dietary restrictions, and we wonder why menus are blanket statements, and restrictions are an afterthought,” said Barroeta. “We can avoid all of this and give someone a culinary adventure. We want this to be about what they can have, not what they cannot have, so they don’t feel what’s lacking.”

Rebekah Harris, Andy O'Day, Bobby Chang

Rebekah Harris, Andy O’Day and Bobby Chang. Photo via Mission: Heirloom

Mission: Heirloom will also serve breakfast and dessert, which are often sticking points for people on restrictive diets. Breakfast may include a Spanish tortilla, coconut milk and chia seed pudding with nuts and fruits, or a buckwheat porridge. Desserts may include a pistachio crumble, using dehydrated fruit for sweetness, and a non-dairy line of ice creams, made with a Pacojet, which turns foods into mousses without any dairy. While these methods have earned them “the Paleo molecular gastronomy place” label in the media, Barroeta just laughs about that, as molecular gastronomy requires chemicals that go against Mission: Heirloom’s “clean food” ethos.

While the group has received private funding thus far, it plans to go directly to customers to grow in the future.

“We are empowering regular people to invest in their food supply chain,” said Chang, “something that we normally don’t have access to.”

Mission: Heirloom Garden Café will be at 2085 Vine St., and is slated to open in September.

Bakers, cooks and cakemakers spread their wings at newly opened Berkeley Kitchens (04.03.14)

Alix Wall is an Oakland-based personal chef and freelance writer, writing about food and other features for j. weekly, the San Francisco Chronicle and Bay Area Bites. You can find her at www.theorganicepicure.com.

In the fall, Nosh will launch Nosh Weekly, a free weekly email that will keep you up-to-date on all the delicious food, drink and restaurant news in the East Bay. Sign up here.

Print Friendly
Tagged , , , , , ,
Please keep our community civil. Comments should remain on topic and be respectful.
Read our full comments policy »
  • guest

    And then again…I think that if you are suffering from one of those conditions, you are being scammed by a lot of pseudoscientific snake oil salesmen who are happy to rip you off by exploiting your suffering. So watch out.

  • bingo

    I am awe-struck by the overt hatred and narrow-mindedness in this thread whose putative contributors are Berkeley residents with a wide spectrum of food preferences, and most of whom probably shop organic or natural as far as possible. If one examines the actual key statements in the article (e.g. “More than being “the Paleo place,” Mission: Heirloom is striving to give consumers food that’s as clean as possible, meaning free of all possible toxins” and “Everybody has their allergies or dietary restrictions, and we wonder why menus are blanket statements, and restrictions are an afterthought” ) it seems much more like a place that is interested in serving a broad array of foods of high quality. From a distance, one might find this ethos indistinguishable from that of any admirable restaurant–a large set of options of high quality food free of impurities and toxins. While it’s fun to turn up the dial on parody and mockery, I don’t really understand the strong reactions. How many of you have Michael Pollan books on your shelves? How many have the “dirty dozen” produce items memorized? Same principles. Hot weather, I suppose, leads to short tempers. Or maybe just the internet anonymity. Disclaimer: I am not any kind of version of “Paleo”, but I do think for myself. Not a trait I’m viewing much of in the commentary here.

  • bingo

    sounds amusing, until you take a moment to understand the statement. activated carbon, often in a polymer matrix, is 99+% of the consumer filtration market (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_filtering). coco shells, and all organic matter, by definition contains carbon. however, the preparation methods result in consistently much lower values of contaminants including silica, petroleum by-products, etc. So if you understand filter technology, the statement is quite reasonable–denotation is not connotation. If you don’t, it provides ample material for internet snark indeed. Ha.

  • bingo

    they may even use plates and glasses. the jokes are just endless, aren’t they? do we pay with money or cowrie shells?

  • bingo

    I’d love to see a citation for that 90% of food allergies are psychosomatic claim. Here’s my unreferenced claim: 90% of the comments on the internet are unreflective exaggerations.

  • bingo

    more SF (or LA) than Berkeley, but I see what you mean.

  • guest

    Oh, Berkeley has its share of Weston Price groupies. It’s sort of like Laurel’s Kitchen all over again, but with bone broth and kidneys.

  • guest

    It could be that many people are sick and tired of manufactured ailments and psychosomatically inspired bullshit “therapies” pushed by hucksters and snake-oil salesmen. And then would be just fine, since a fool and his or her money are soon parted. What pisses a lot of us off is the special needs pleading by (forgive me) the suckers who are willing to part with their money to by into this crap. I don’t have any of Michael Pollen’s books on my shelf, because I think he is an idiot. I think the “dirty dozen” list is a joke, because the amount of pesticides left on any produce is vanishingly small and extremely unlikely to affect anyones heath. I think the Berkeley Foodie “toxins” obsession is a stupid scam. I think that Berkeley obsession with “purity” is a joke, mirroring 19th century obsessions with water cures and phrenology. I think that the Berkeley consensus is what you get when postmodern scientific illiterates educate an entire generation of students. What we end up with is a restaurant that tries to pretend that it can offer health advice. And, yet again, I find it hilarious that yet another anonymous poster would decry the evils of anonymity. So yes, “bingo” some of us find this establishment a ridiculous, opportunist joke.

  • guest

    Forgive me “bingo”, I meant 99% of food allergies of Berkeley residents are imaginary.

  • bingo

    I would be inclined to agree with some of your point, if not the ichor imbued in it, except that you mention “pleading” and “scams”. It’s a marketplace–as far as I know they’re not asking for subsidies that come from our taxes. So again, I find it hard to understand your frothing-at-the-mouth anger. (personal example: I don’t like the ‘hipster coffee’ place that opened next to me recently, amongst other things they refused to serve me an iced coffee on a hot day because it ‘interferes with their curation ethic’, w/e. so I don’t give them my money, but otherwise who cares? not worth being upset about enduringly).

    And re: scientific illiterates, be careful to over-presume regarding your audience. This is not autism/vaccines. Plenty of legitimate peer-reviewed medical research with large sample sizes to go around. Have a happy sunday, if that’s possible for you.

  • Christopher Riess

    LOL… This happy crappy. I love California. I love this kind of weirdness. I’ll be next door getting a burrito and chuckling about how people just make this stuff up and the masses will follow. Nothing wrong with snake oil if you like the taste of it.

  • Diet Deity

    Nice! I hope they start bringing more restaurants like that to the east coast!

    I’ve actually gotten good results from a paleo diet as well. Staying away from some of my favorite junk food is hard, but the results are making it worth it everyday.
    I just followed a guide and made sure I didn’t do anything too ridiculous.

    Here’s a link to the the guide I used: http://bit.ly/UrsX8R

  • gmcctp

    Gosh. I wish them well and will check it out. If it’s yummy, I’ll go back!
    The End.

  • guest

    My “frothing at the mouth” (thanks for the ad homonym) comes from the fact that half of Berkeley seems to be devoted to catering to imaginary conditions invented by the other half of Berkeley, and nearly all of them are eager to impose their ideas on the rest of us. By “scams” let me quote: “We hope to prove that there are enough people who want clean food, and that restaurants can be profitable making such food”. What does “clean” food, mean, exactly? It means a 19th century view of religious purity that combined a religious sense of moral purity with a half-understood view of germ theory. It’s pure bullshit, and I resent the fact that a lot of people in Berkeley want to cash in on it. Which would be fine, except the same people, who have long since drifted away from any sense of reason or science, push for idiocy like the autism/vaccine connection. Sorry if you think that my intolerance for the incessant Berkeley bullshit food movement seems sour and impolite. I guess you would prefer that we just shut up.

  • chris


  • Guest

    The worst goat I ever ate was at Chez Panisse. I hope Mission:Heirloom does a better job appropriating Jamaican cuisine.

  • bingo

    “ad hominem” have a great day. you might want to look up homonym. kind of a cute malapropism.

  • ermahguerst

    No homo, no anto, no pomo, bro/sis.

  • bioboy707

    It totally is. Look up the vitamin count from Wolff, Cordain or Taubes.

  • bioboy707

    Dude, there is so much science. Just have a cursory look: gut microbiome, cytokines, epigenetics. The low fat, high carb diet espoused by the establishment is actually killing us.

  • Gusted

    I just hoped it would be a Mexican Restaurant. Or perhaps the Bel Forno site would be. Burritos and Tacos on the median. Why not?

    Additionally I’ve spoken to the constructio crew and the said that the re-model of this building did not include plumbing or electrical for a kitchen. What?

    Tenants com and go but the use permit stays. I hope I’m wrong but it would be a huge mistake for the building’s owner to not be ready for a new tenant who wanted to open in the “Gourmet Ghetto.”

  • jake3_14

    Read the transcript of the owners’ interview with Chris Kresser, and they discuss what specialty work they did with the plumbing. (http://chriskresser.com/a-sneak-peek-into-the-future-of-food-production)

  • Gusted

    Read the interview but didn’t see a reference to a kitchen in this site but only at their central production facility.
    It was mentioned that they would heat food on site and perhaps wash dishes or use disposables. ?
    I certainly hope the building has suitable utilities for a full kitchen.

  • jake3_14

    Whoops! You’re absolutely right — my apologies for not reading closely enough.

  • jake3_14

    In the animated intro video on that site, I saw a fleeting reference to drinking 8 cups of water/day. That’s actually a myth. Is that mis-information in the book?

    Other than that, does the guide plainly state that paleo is a high-fat, moderate-protein, lower-carb way of eating?