The abrupt closing of Berkeley’s Elmwood Café last week has prompted much discussion, not least in Berkeleyside’s comments section. Readers reacted to the news as well as to the subsequently published responses from the two key players — the café’s owner, Michael Pearce, and comedian and television host W. Kamau Bell — in what has quickly become a much bigger story.
Berkeley is helping a prospective new owner of the Elmwood Café to allow 32 employees to keep their jobs.
Despite Pearce’s comments, offered to the press, about the closure, what prompted it is still unclear. The revisiting by Bell, in a blog post penned for CNN, of a racist incident he experienced at the Elmwood Café in 2015 — itself triggered by a recent racist incident at a Starbucks in Philadelphia — has been linked to the closure. Pearce focused on the 2015 incident in his comments and provided no other explanation. In an opinion piece written for Berkeleyside Bell said he did not believe the two were related, however, and argued that the café had missed an opportunity to be a force for change around racism.
Elmwood Café loyalists are wondering what will happen next at the location in the Elmwood shopping district. At least one person is interested in taking over the business to help the 32 employees keep their jobs, according to Jordan Klein of Berkeley’s Office of Economic Development. The city is assisting a new prospective owner, he said.
Meanwhile, the coffee shop’s customers and others have been making their opinions plain by leaving Post-it notes on the shuttered café’s front door. Some simply mourn the restaurant’s soup. Others take a firm stand on the race-related issues swirling around the closure. Berkeleyside contributing photographer Pete Rosos took these photos on Monday.