Bites: Fat Slice Pizza closes after 34 years; Charlie Hallowell to sell Western Pacific

A view into the storefront of Fat Slice Pizza at night. The 34-year-old business has closed.
Fat Slice Pizza, a longtime go-to for many in Southside Berkeley, has closed after 34 years. Photo: Fat Slice Pizza

R.I.P. FAT SLICE After 34 years at 2375 Telegraph Ave., Fat Slice Pizza has called it quits. Manager Chris Pisarra told Nosh that business on Telegraph has been slow for years. “We weren’t making money,” he said. “Telegraph Avenue has changed. It’s been bad for years. The last eight months, we haven’t made a profit.”

The Southside Berkeley institution had been a go-to for many, especially Cal students (including this particular food writer, back in the day), who found affordable sustenance from its meal-sized slices. Fat Slice was founded by Gail Giffen in 1986. According to Pisarra, who is Giffen’s husband and who managed Fat Slice for the last 20 years, she built the business from the ground up with zero experience making pizza. At the time, another slice house, Blondie’s, was already slinging pies on Telegraph, but like Coca-Cola and Pepsi, both businesses co-existed for three decades, with hungry, broke pizza lovers either adamantly preferring one over the other, or patronizing both depending on their particular mood. (Blondie’s was sold in 2016 to longtime employee Abdul Zal in 2016; it’s now called Abe’s.)

While it baked a thicker, puffier pie than many pizza aficionados prefer these days, Fat Slice won over plenty of fans from all walks of life with its reliably doughy sourdough crust topped with a thick blanket of mozzarella cheese and loaded with toppings. In a 2002 Spin article about college towns, writer Vivian Host aptly characterized its place in Berkeley and its democratic appeal: “Disgruntled ex-hippies, gutter punks, tie-dyed T-shirt hawkers, emo kids, and multiracial frat boys mix over doughy colon-blowing pizza from Fat Slice.” (For the record, Berkeley’s famed punk rock icon Tim Armstrong, a former Fat Slice employee, said otherwise about the restaurant’s unofficial Deadhead welcoming policy).

Pisarra said, in its heyday, Fat Slice (and Telegraph Avenue) attracted visitors from miles away. “It was sexy and dangerous to come here,” he said. “Now kids are all at home playing Fortnite.” Pisarra added that students’ tastes have changed, and with the rise of new food options in the area and on campus, Fat Slice has seen a big dip in business. When asked what he and Giffen plan to do next, Pisarra said, “We’re done.” The couple have no plans to return to the food industry.


SMOKE’S BEEN PUT OUT Another Southside eatery, Canadian chain Smoke’s Poutinerie, closed Wednesday. SFGate reported that the restaurant at 2518 Durant Ave. — known for its diverse and decadent takes on the Quebec specialty of fries covered in cheese curds and gravy — was the last remaining California outpost for Smoke’s (Its Hollywood location closed last year after three years). The brand took to Facebook on Wednesday to say goodbye to fans, hinting that future locations in California may open soon.

HALLOWELL TO SELL WESTERN PACIFIC After one year in business, Western Pacific, the Berkeley restaurant owned by Charlie Hallowell and managing partner Donna Insalaco, is being sold to new, as yet unnamed, owners. Western Pacific opened last fall, on the heels of a botched open-letter apology from Hallowell for his past behavior, which came to light in sexual harassment allegations from a dozen former employees. The restaurant, now under majority ownership of Insalaco, has been on the market since this summer. According to an NPR article about Hallowell’s hopes for a second chance in the local restaurant world, business at Western Pacific “dropped by almost half” after the San Francisco Chronicle refused to review it (and stated Hallowell’s past deeds as the reason). Reprieve for Hallowell seems unlikely at this time, as even the NPR piece included criticism by many vocal members of the local food community, who said the chef didn’t deserve redemption or press.

Nosh contacted Insalaco in August via email when we heard rumors that the restaurant was being sold. She responded, “No, it’s not true!” However, last week, when we followed up with her, she had something different to say: “When you inquired in August we had a few options we were looking at, one of which was possibly selling, but we were not clear at the time if the cards would fall that way. We are clear now, and yes we are selling!” Insalaco said she could not share further details, as the sale is currently “still in process,” but she did verify that Hallowell’s other restaurant, Pizzaiolo in Temescal, will remain under their joint control.

STILL HOMEMADE AFTER 40 YEARS This month, Berkeley’s Homemade Café turns 40 and, to celebrate the milestone, it’s offering specials from 8 a.m.-3 p.m., Nov. 23-24, including $10 mimosa carafes, $1 sides of bacon and 40-cent coffee, the latter being the price of a cup back in 1979, when Janet Hinze, and Norm and Marshall Berzon, first opened the daytime café. These days, under the ownership Collin Doran, who started as a busser at the restaurant, Homemade is still a popular haunt for breakfast and lunch. Homemade Café, 2454 Sacramento St. (at Dwight), Berkeley

UYGHUR SPECIALTIES A new restaurant in Oakland Chinatown specializes in Xinjiang folk cuisine. Nosh reader Justin Sung tipped us off to Eden Silk Road, which serves Uyghur fare. Xinjiang is an area in northwestern China that many ethnic groups call home, but it’s well-known for its Uyghur population, the Muslim Turkic minority group which has had an outsized influence on its culture, especially its food. At Eden Silk Road, the menu offers lamb kebabs, hand-pulled noodle soups, goshnan (meat pie), polo (rice dish) and dapanji (a stew made with chicken, bell peppers, potatoes, onions and aromatic spices). Diners can also choose chicken, beef, lamb or vegetables served in a burrito, a rice bowl or a dry noodle bowl, or on a salad. Sung said he was impressed, especially given the affordable prices (most dishes are around $10 or less) and the freshness of the food. Eden Silk Road, 374 Eighth St. (between Webster and Franklin), Oakland  

LIKHA MOVES ON Filipino-American pop-up Likha is leaving Emeryville sports bar Hometown Heroes, where it’s been based for the last 18 months. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, chefs Jan Dela Paz and Bobby Punla are moving on to look for a brick-and-mortar space of their own, where they hope to offer family-style dining options in a more comfortable environment for all ages. The Likha chefs told the Chron that while they learned a lot from their time at Hometown Heroes, they realized that serving at a sports bar limited what they could offer and whom they were serving. They aim to find new digs in Oakland, where they’ll serve lunch and dinner, including kamayan feasts (a traditional Filipino communal meal where diners eat with their hands). Likha will continue service at Hometown Heroes through Dec. 8. Likha at Hometown Heroes, 4000 Adeline St. (at 40th), Emeryville

Sakana Sushi & Roll took over the space last occupied by Nomad Café in Kensington.
Sakana Sushi & Roll took over the space last occupied by Nomad Café in Kensington. Photo: Kenneth Ribet

ROLL CALL Over in Kensington, Sakana Sushi & Roll has taken over the space last occupied by Nomad Café. Reader Kenneth Ribet emailed Nosh a heads-up about the newcomer. According to Ribet, Sakana soft-opened Nov. 4 next door to Ace Hardware, where the restaurant serves nigiri, maki, poke bowls and donburi made with purple, rather than white, rice. There are a small number of tables inside the restaurant, but Sakana is primarily a take-out business. Hours are currently 4:30-8:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 4:30-9 p.m. Friday; 1-9 p.m. Saturday; closed Sunday. Sakana Sushi & Roll, 303 Arlington Ave. (at Boynton), Kensington

SPARKLING WINE + CHORI-PAN On Nov. 23, Berkeley’s Blue Ox Wine Co. will release Mutiny on the Bounty, its sparkling nouveau. The effervescent Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Carignan blend has a pink hue and flavors that go well with… Argentinian sausages. For the release, Blue Ox will host Oakland private chef Jaime Tjahaja (Lazy Bear, Izakaya Rintaro and Chez Panisse) from 2-6 p.m. The chef, who pops-up as Illuminaage, will serve his interpretation of “chori-pan,” the Argentinian version of a hotdog, made with chorizo. Sausages (or a vegetarian substitute) will come in an Acme roll with herb salsa. Note: Illuminaage takes cash or Venmo only. Blue Ox Wine Co., 1350 Fifth St. (between Camelia and Gilman), Berkeley

LAST FIESTA Before Doña Tomás closes its Telegraph Avenue restaurant, owner Dona Savitsky and crew will host one last grand fiesta to say goodbye to the Temescal neighborhood after 20 years in business. Starting at 6 p.m. Nov. 24, the public is invited to enjoy complimentary eats, mariachi music and fun and games for the whole family. And don’t worry, it won’t be long until Doña, the Piedmont Avenue fast-casual follow-up, opens. Doña Tomás, 5004 Telegraph Ave. (between 49th and 51st), Oakland 

Third Culture and Humphry Slocombe's collaboration: Banana Toasted Mochi with Sesame Caramel ice cream.
Third Culture and Humphry Slocombe’s limited-edition flavor, banana toasted mochi with sesame caramel ice cream, is available through November. Photo: Humphry Slocombe

THIRD CULTURE ICE CREAM Humphry Slocombe recently teamed up with Berkeley’s Third Culture Bakery to create a new limited-edition ice cream flavor. Banana toasted mochi with sesame caramel ice cream is made with roasted bananas, Third Culture’s signature mochi muffin and a swirl of sesame caramel. The flavor is available at all Humphry Slocombe locations through November (and a limited run of pints are available at the Third Culture Bakery showroom at 2701 Eighth St.).

EAST BROTHER WINS BIG Three-year-old Richmond brewery East Brother Beer Co. has a lot to celebrate this fall. In October, its Bo Pils won silver at the 33rd Great American Beer Festival — placing second among 10,000 beers in the country’s largest beer competition. This honor comes hot on the heels of its first-place win, also for the crisp, light Czech-style lager, at the California Craft Brewer’s Cup this September. Cheers to Bo Pils and East Brother Beer Co!

MELLANA CAFÉ SOFT OPENS Last Friday, Mellana Café soft-opened in the Longfellow neighborhood of Oakland. As Nosh reported last month, the corner café is named after Mellana Grocery, the former grocery run by Italian immigrants in the same space. Mellana serves coffee and espresso drinks and made-to-order juices and deli sandwiches. Mellana Café’s grand opening is Friday. Mellana Café, 4539 Martin Luther King Jr. Way (at 46th), Oakland