Bites: Third Culture is testing mochi donuts, La Note ends automatic service charge

Mochi donuts from Berkeley’s Third Culture Bakery. Photo: Third Culture Bakery

THIS IS JUST A TEST Berkeley’s Third Culture Bakery, the makers of the mochi muffin, are trying something new — a mochi donut. As with its muffins, the donuts are made using Mochiko rice flour, which gives them that signature chewy texture. Third Culture is currently in testing mode, offering limited quantities of flavored mochi donuts at its Eighth Street showroom to see what customers are liking best before offering on a wholesale basis. Donuts are available 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (or until they sell out), Fridays and Saturdays only. Co-founder Wenter Shyu told Nosh that so far, mango passion fruit and black sesame have been crowd favorites that Third Culture will keep on its donut roster, and the bakery will continue to test new flavors every week. This weekend, Shyu said, Third Culture will test chocolate truffle, blueberry cinnamon and “maybe a first iteration of a matcha flavor.” Third Culture Bakery, 2701 Eighth St. (at Carleton), Berkeley

TIPS INCLUDED APPRECIATED If you’re a frequent guest at La Note, you may have noticed that the restaurant has recently updated its gratuity policy. In 2017, the 21-year-old Provençal restaurant, a popular breakfast and lunch spot in downtown Berkeley, added a 20% automatic service charge to bills in an attempt to more equally compensate both front-of-house and back-of-house workers. (Note that when a charge is automatically added to a bill, it is no longer considered a tip.) As of last week, the restaurant has decided to revoke the mandatory surcharge, except in cases of parties of 8 or more, and go back to voluntary tipping.

In a note posted on Instagram and on La Note’s website, owner Dorothée Mitrani wrote, “While it did improve our employee morale, especially in the back of the house, we heard from you, our patrons, and have decided to give you back the power to tip based upon your service experience.” La Note will now add a “3% living wage surcharge” to distribute to untipped staffers and servers will go back to receiving voluntary tips.

Nosh spoke with Mitrani who said that in addition to some complaints from customers about the mandatory service charge, the surcharge has made it difficult for a small business like hers to survive. “For me, financially, it became too hard,” she said.  According to Mitrani, although 100% of the surcharge collected was distributed to employees in their paychecks, it was included in her revenue and was, therefore, subject to payrolls taxes, insurance costs and other fees that came out of her bottom line. In addition, Mitrani said that the recent and upcoming minimum wage increases (the next increase from $13.25 to $15 will happen in October) have made it impossible to continue the 20% charge.


For now, Mitrani has brochures on the ready for customers who might have questions about the 3% living wage fee. “Everyday I’m trying something new. I’m really dedicated to being there for everyone, my employees and customers,” she said. La Note, 2377 Shattuck Ave. (between Channing and Durant), Berkeley

La Farine’s Morning Bun Blend coffee. Photo: La Farine

COOL BEANS Last week, La Farine announced the launch of its own coffee line. As dedicated customers of the Oakland-based French bakery know, La Farine serves coffee from Emeryville’s McLaughlin Coffee Company, so it’s only natural that it would partner with the 35-year-old small batch coffee roaster to create its Morning Bun Blend and Peru coffees. Both dark roasts are made with organic, fair trade beans. All La Farine locations sell bags of its whole bean coffees. Don’t have a grinder? Customers can have beans ground at La Farine’s Fruitvale and Piedmont locations. La Farine, 6323 College Ave. (between Alcatraz and 63rd), Oakland; 4094 Piedmont Ave. (at 41st); and 3411 Fruitvale Ave. (between Bienati and MacArthur), Oakland

COLOSO AT HIGBY While we’re talking about coffee, we got a tip that Oakland’s Coloso Coffee is about to expand to Berkeley.  Coloso recently moved to a location at Swan’s Market in Old Oakland from its original spot on Webster Street in Downtown Oakland. It will open a new café on the ground floor at the Higby Apartments on San Pablo Avenue, according to John Polyzoides, a real estate broker who worked on bringing the café to the Berkeley location. We reached out to Coloso co-owner Jose Posadas, who confirmed the expansion but told us that the Berkeley café is still in the early stages of planning construction, so no opening date is on the horizon just yet. Coloso Coffee will be at 3015 San Pablo Ave. (near Carrison), Berkeley

Meg (left), a Bhutanese refugee, and his 1951 Coffee colleague prepare a drink. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

1951 COFFEE TO CAL One last piece of coffee news — 1951 Coffee Company has opened a new location on the Cal campus, at the ASUC Student Union. Its soft opening started yesterday and will continue through Friday, Aug. 10.

1951 Coffee was co-founded by Doug Hewitt and Rachel Taber in 2015 as a non-profit to train and employ refugees and asylees, as well as to spread awareness about refugee life and issues. The original café is at 2410 Channing Way in Berkeley, and its training program is based in Oakland. So far, the program has had 150 graduates, many of whom have gone on to work at 1951 Coffee, as well as other cafés throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and San Diego.

As with the original space, the student union café is designed by Berkeley design firm Montaag, which featured educational elements for customers to learn more about refugee resettlement as they sip their drinks. The Cal location will have its grand opening on Monday, Aug. 13. During the next month, the café will start offering new food options prepared by refugee-run catering company Old Damascus Fare1951 Coffee Company will be at the ASUC Student Union, UC Berkeley, 2495 Bancroft Way, Berkeley

LEAVING HOMESTEAD Over on Piedmont Avenue, Homestead’s chef Billy Hager announced that he will be leaving the restaurant. Hager, who has been at the restaurant for the past three years wrote a goodbye letter in the restaurant’s most recent newsletter, in which he wrote he’ll be spending “some time traveling through Europe this fall and winter.” Hager will be at Homestead until Aug. 25, and will be cooking his last Sunday Supper meal, featuring prime rib, on Aug. 19.


Nosh heard from Homestead’s Liz Sassen, co-owner with husband Fred, that after Hager leaves one of Homestead’s current line cooks will be stepping up to a management sous chef role, working closely with the owners and front of house manager to get up to speed. “She’s been a solid cook for us and so far is taking to her new role well. No major changes to the operations around here, though,” said Sassen. Homestead, 4029 Piedmont Ave. (between 40th and 41st), Oakland
Palm Açaí Café in the Elmwood will serve a variety of bowls like the Gatherer Bowl, made with açaí, a mix of berries, almond butter, bee pollen and honey. Photo: Palm Açaí

ELMWOOD AÇAÍ A new açaí café is set to open on College Avenue in Berkeley’s Elmwood neighborhood. Palm Açaí Café will serve a variety of bowls made with the Brazilian superfruit, as well as pitaya (aka dragonfruit) and matcha. It will also feature sweet and savory toasts, smoothies, cold brew coffee, assorted teas and Whalebird kombucha on draft. According to owner Ami McCartt, buildout of the café will be finished in the next week and after final inspections, they’ll be ready for business. Although an opening date is TBD, McCartt says the café may open as soon as mid-August. Palm Açaí Café will be at 2979 College Ave. (between Ashby and Webster), Berkeley

GAME ON Temescal’s new sports bar, 2nd Half, opened last week in the former Urbano Latino space on Telegraph Avenue. The sports bar is the second location for Downtown Oakland’s Halftime Sports bar, and aside from televising games, visitors at 2nd Half will find bar bites and cocktails. 2nd Half Sports Bar, 4307 Telegraph Ave. (between 43rd and 44th), Oakland