“Berkeley, we’ll cut your cheese!” announces a sign on the window of Maker’s Common, the cheese-and-charcuterie market and restaurant that’s just on the brink of opening downtown. Cheeky, and representative of their sense of humor, the sign also hints at the excitement and anticipation that the three co-owners — Sarah Dvorak, Oliver Dameron and Eric Miller — are feeling about opening on University Avenue; they can’t wait to meet and serve a new clientele in Berkeley.
A little background: Maker’s Common is the East Bay expansion of San Francisco’s popular cheese shop and café, Mission Cheese on Valencia Street, which focuses on domestic cheeses and is known for its cheese flights and charcuterie plates. Dvorak, Dameron and Miller first came up with the idea for a larger cheese shop and restaurant about three years ago, and, at the beginning, imagined their second location would also be in San Francisco. Before they even found a place, they began crowdfunding for the project by launching a direct public offering, hoping to raise a total of $600,000 from California investors.
After searching in San Francisco and having a few potential spots fall through, the trio expanded their search to the East Bay. They happened upon the listing for the 2,350 sq. ft. space at 1954 University Ave. on Craigslist, and the second they walked in to check it out, Miller said, they knew it was the one.
“It fit the concept. It had a nook for the market, the light was good, the shape was right, the landlord was friendly,” he said. The rent is also significantly more affordable than in San Francisco. While Maker’s Common is four times the size of Mission Cheese, the rent on University is only two times the rent of its sister eatery across the bay. Cheaper rent aside, the space reminded them of The Mill in San Francisco, Josey Baker’s bakery and café on Divisadero Street that they’ve looked to as an inspiration for the feel and vibe of Maker’s Common. They also like the feel and vibe of Berkeley itself, which Dvorak said, seems like a place where local businesses can build relationships with the community.
That sense may come from the fact that they’ve garnered local support to get them this far. After two years of crowdfunding, Maker’s Common has raised $532,000 from 170 investors, making it possibly the first investment-crowdfunded restaurant in California. The MC crew are betting that the success of this fundraising represents a community who wants them around and wants them to succeed.
If all goes as planned, Maker’s Common will celebrate its grand opening on July 13. Nosh was invited for a tour of the space for our readers to get a sneak peek.
The market, which makes up about a third of the space, is the first area that visitors will see upon entering Maker’s Common. To the left are wooden shelves holding a small, curated selection of groceries, many made in the Bay Area, like INNA jams, Rustic Bakery flatbreads and Other Brother olive oil. A refrigerator for juice and cold brew (beer and wine will come later, once they get their license) and a grab-and-go case for sandwiches, salami, and other quick bites are also found in this area.
Straight ahead of the entrance is a glass case filled with cheese, and eventually, will also hold charcuterie. This is strategic, in that the owners want customers to know they’re in a cheese shop, something that’s not so apparent at their Mission district location.
“It doesn’t look like a cheese shop,” Dvorak said of Mission Cheese, “so we mostly sold cheese in house, as flights.” She hopes at Maker’s Common, customers will enjoy the cheese flights, but also buy at the cheese counter to take home, too.
As with Mission Cheese, Maker’s Common will specialize in domestic cheeses, but Dvorak, who is charge of stocking and curating the market, said they will offer more everyday selections, including its single imported offering — Parmigiano Reggiano. Due to having more visibility as a retail store and therefore higher turnover of product, Maker’s Common will offer fresh cheeses, like feta and mozzarella.
Behind the cheese and charcuterie case is the certified meat processing facility, a fancy name for an area that is built specifically for in-house charcuterie production. Miller, who is now a certified processing inspector and who will lead the restaurant side of the business, will break down and process meats for charcuterie, as well as other menu offerings at the eatery.
The majority of Maker’s Common is dedicated to the restaurant, which houses a full, open kitchen, complete with a smoker/steamer and a dry box for preparing and storing charcuterie, respectively.
The hanging light fixtures in the kitchen, seen above, were originally made by Jered’s Pottery, but once hung in another restaurant — Verbena (now Reverb Kitchen) in San Francisco.
Fans of Mission Cheese will be familiar with several menu offerings at Maker’s Common, like its cheese flights, paté, pork rillettes, pickles and mac and cheese. But Maker’s Common will also have salads, more vegetables, along with more substantial family-style dinners.
But don’t worry, they’ll also have plenty of snacky foods, like fried cheese curds, which Dvorak, who is originally from Wisconsin, said she’s pretty excited about. Ordering at Maker’s will be what she called “counter service plus.” Customers will order at the counter, but will have opportunities to add to extra food or beverage orders to their tab once seated with floating servers.
Maker’s Common will offer 15 wines by the glass and a selection of 10 bottle-only wines, including several from local wineries like Broc Cellars and Donkey and Goat. On the beer front, they’ll have eight taps of craft beers from local makers like Fieldwork and Gilman Brewing.
On our visit, the seating areas were not yet arranged, but at opening, diners will have a choice of arrangements: communal tables, a handful of two and four-tops, the bar, and backyard patio seating.
A large mural on the back wall of the restaurant is the main design element. Painted by Dameron’s cousin, Portland-based artist Lori Damiano, the mural shows vignettes of agricultural settings and makers with urban scenes in and and around Berkeley.
As the photos will attest, the space is still a work in progress, but the team is in the home stretch and staying positive that the grand opening on July 13 will not be delayed further.
Don’t miss any big East Bay food news! Subscribe to the free NOSH Weekly email.