Stay updated: East Bay food scene and COVID-19

A Berkeley shopper wearing PPE makes his way down Hopkins Street.
A Berkeley shopper wearing PPE makes his way down Hopkins Street. Photo: Pete Rosos

Food providers are classified as an “essential service” during the Bay Area’s shelter-in-place order. Restaurants can remain open, but only to offer take-away and delivery service. Nosh is keeping this post updated for our community with the latest news about how the novel coronavirus is affecting the East Bay food scene. Hear of something relevant? Email us.

March 27

SAUL’S DELI CLOSED About two weeks ago, Peter Levitt and Karen Adelman, longtime owners of Saul’s Deli in North Berkeley, were on track to sell their restaurant to a new owner, then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. After operating as a takeout restaurant after the shelter-in-place order closed dine-in service, today, the owners decided to temporarily close for the safety of their employees and customers. Read more in our story.

LOCAL GROCERY GUIDE Before you head out on your next grocery run, check out our story about how popular East Bay markets are responding to the coronavirus crisis. For each story, we list current hours (including senior hours), capacity and product limits, and include information on how they’re maintaining safety for customers and workers.

March 26

NOT-SO-GRAND OPENING Chef-owner Mica Talmor opened her new Oakland restaurant Pomella today. Fans of Talmor’s former restaurant Ba-Bite are surely glad to have a new takeout spot to try, but the timing of Pomella’s opening really couldn’t be any worse. For today’s story, Alix Wall spoke to Talmor about why she decided to go forth with the new business in the midst of the coronavirus.

March 24

PICANTE CLOSED Today, Picante, a popular Mexican restaurant in Berkeley, announced it has closed “to protect the community.” Since the shelter-in-place order ended dine-in service, Picante had been offering its menu for takeout through a curbside pick-up service, where customers could drive up to the restaurant on Sixth Street and have their order handed to them through their car window. But according to the restaurant, the curbside service was getting out of hand, with so many cars coming for pick-up that the line snaked around the corner on Gilman Street. In a press release from Picante, the restaurant said “the service was giving people an excuse to leave their homes” so owner Jim Maser decided that shutting down completely for the time being was the best for public safety. “The only way we can stop the spread of this virus is to stay home,” Maser said.

HELP ‘FEED ER’ After announcing she and husband Michael Chabon would be purchasing meals for Highland Hospital emergency room staff, Ayelet Waldman heard from many local restaurant owners, including Jenny Schwarz, co-owner of Hopscotch. Together, Waldman and Schwarz will work together to continue feeding hospital workers, and will also be taking donations via Venmo (@FeedER) or the GoFundMe campaign. Waldman writes, “$500 will feed the ER one meal. Give whatever you can and as much as you can spare.”

THE GREAT AMERICAN TAKEOUT Restaurants across the nation are urging people to support their local eateries by ordering food to-go today as part of the The Great American Takeout. Want to partake? Nosh has put together an ever-growing list of restaurants offering curbside pick-up and in-house delivery.

HORN BARBECUE COMMUNITY GIVEAWAY On Wednesday starting at noon, celebrated Oakland pitmaster Matt Horn is hosting a special pop-up for Oakland’s communities in need. Horn and volunteers will be handing out free meals to those who have been displaced from jobs, struggling families and children and houseless individuals. Horn hopes this will be the first of a series of community events; he’s crowdfunding $15,000 for this and future giveaways he’ll host over the next few weeks. Meals will be given out curbside in front of Horn’s upcoming restaurant in West Oakland (2534 Mandela Parkway).   

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March 23

PETITION ASKS PEET’S COFFEE TO CLOSE STORES Last week 19 Peet’s employees sent a letter to the Emeryville-based coffee company to “formally condemn [its] decision to remain open in the face of the rapidly-spreading novel coronavirus (COVID-19).” These employees say Peet’s cafés are non-essential businesses that put workers and customers at risk by staying open. In addition to the letter, they created a petition asking for the community’s support to pressure Peet’s to close its stores during shelter-in-place. On Saturday, Peet’s announced it has temporarily closed some of its stores and will continue to pay employees working at these locations for the next two weeks “while exploring ways to support them beyond that time frame.” The cafés that remain open will serve on a “limited access” model, where customers can order via mobile app to minimize contact. Many East Bay Peet’s stores are still open (until 4 p.m. daily), including five locations in Berkeley; one in Emeryville and six in Oakland.

SAFEWAY GIVES WORKERS PAY RAISE The Chronicle reports that Safeway has reached an agreement with the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5 (the union representing Northern California workers) to increase pay and protection for workers during the coronavirus outbreak. Under the new agreement, workers will get a $2 an hour pay raise and two weeks sick leave if they are diagnosed with COVID-19 or other illness that requires them to self-quarantine. Those who are 65 and over will be allowed to use sick days or vacation time if they decide to self-isolate, and those who have to attend to family needs during shelter-in-place will be able to do so. The contract also specifies health and safety measures the company will practice going forward, including sanitizing stores, halting free samples and self-service areas, installing plastic shields at check stands and new rules for contact-free food delivery.

March 21

LOCAL AUTHORS SUPPORT EAST BAY RESTAURANTS Berkeley authors Ayelet Waldman and Michael Chabon announced on Twitter that once a week, they will be buying 25 meals from East Bay restaurants to be delivered to the Highland Hospital ER staff. Waldman called for restaurant owners to contact her at

March 20

CHEZ PANISSE FARM BOXES Although Chez Panisse is currently closed, it will be offering CSA farm boxes from Cannard Farm, Bob Cannard’s organic farm in Glen Ellen that supplies Chez with its peak-season produce. In addition, Chez Panisse will also offer wine and pantry goods like olive oil, pasta and rice from California and Italy. Items can ordered online for curbside pick-up at Chez Panisse. The first of the farm boxes sold out an hour after Waters posted about them on Instagram. If you missed out on one, and still need groceries this week, several other restaurants are now offering iterations on farm and provisions boxes, including Co Nam, Golden Squirrel and Tender Greens. And, if you want to help Chez Panisse staff while the restaurant is closed, there’s a GoFundMe employee relief fund.

ABC RELAXES ALCOHOL RULES Yesterday, the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control announced it’s temporarily suspending enforcement of certain regulations put on businesses that sell alcohol — including restaurants, bars, tasting rooms and breweries. Two of the biggest changes: Businesses with licenses that allow them to serve alcohol on-site, can now sell the same beverages specified on their license for off-sale consumption; and licensed restaurants can now sell cocktails along with meals prepared for delivery or pick-up, including at a drive-through window. The relaxed measures still have some rules attached to them. For example, beverages must be in manufacturer pre-packaged containers (sealed cans or bottles, e.g.) or come in a container with a secure lid without any openings for a straw or sipping. The ABC’s Notice of Regulatory Relief is an effort to support the alcohol beverage industry, which was hit hard and fast by a series of COVID-19 mitigation measures, including Gov. Gavin Newsom’s March 15 call (but not mandate) for the immediate closure of bars, March 16’s Bay Area-wide shelter-in-place order, and yesterday’s sweeping statewide stay-at-home order.

March 19

100,000 JOBS MAY BE LOST The Guardian published a depressing article about COVID-19’s impact on California’s restaurant industry. The piece features two examples from the East Bay: the Kon-Tiki in downtown Oakland, which let go 9 out of 10 of its staffers when the Bay Area-wide shelter-in-place mandate went into effect Tuesday, and Sequoia Diner in Oakland’s Laurel district, which laid off 9 of its 15 employees. The article refers to the recent UCLA Anderson Forecast, which says the U.S. has entered a recession. The forecast reports that California, more than any other state in the nation, will feel the brunt of the economic downturn due to its huge restaurant industry, which according to The Guardian, accounts for $70bn in annual revenue. Forecast director Jerry Nickelsburg told The Guardian, “We’re expecting in the leisure and hospitality sectors, net job loss of about 100,000. So big numbers.”

A WAY TO GIVE WITH GIFT CARDS Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger and his wife Kaitlyn Krieger launched a new website called Save Our Faves, a directory linking to local restaurants, bars and cafés that offer online gift cards. The Kriegers, San Francisco natives, launched the project March 17 as a city-specific site, but today added East Bay, Marin and South Bay establishments to the list. The couple hopes Save Our Faves will help more eateries get through hardships from the closures mandated by the shelter-in-place order, or as explained on the website: “Gift cards help ‘flatten the curve’ of lost income from COVID-19.”

March 18

NEW HOURS AT MONTEREY MARKET The North Berkeley produce mecca joins other local markets that have amended their hours. Monterey Market is now open 9 a.m.-6 p.m., daily, until further notice.

KIWI DELIVERS HYGIENIC SUPPLIES Beginning on Monday, robot-driven delivery service Kiwi took on a new role as #DoctorDelivery to service a five-block radius of the UC Berkeley campus with free masks, gloves and hand sanitizer, according to Felipe Chavez, the company founder and CEO. All the robots are sanitized twice a day. Kiwi stopped most food deliveries in late December as it prepares to make changes to its business strategy, but its current fleet of 35 bots is still delivering food from Cancun, Gypsy’s Trattoria Italiano, Boba Ninja, Seniore’s Pizza, and Poke Parlor, said Chavez. 

MARKETS AMEND HOURS FOR ‘AT-RISK’ COMMUNITIES Berkeley Bowl, Natural Grocery Store, Safeway, Whole Foods, Target and several other markets and retail stores are setting aside hours just for “at-risk” shoppers, including senior citizens, pregnant women and other people with vulnerable immune systems. Berkeley Bowl allows senior citizens entry at 9 a.m. (one hour before opening to the public); El Cerrito Natural Grocery Co. is open 9:30-10 a.m. for senior shoppers; Safeway invites “at-risk” shoppers from 7-9 a.m., Tuesday and Thursday; Whole Foods invites customers 60 and older to stores one hour before opening to the public; Target reserves the first hour on Wednesdays to “vulnerable guests;” Dollar General reserves the first hour of every business day to senior shoppers.

OUSD OFFERS FREE MEALS FOR KIDS, FAMILIES The Oakland Unified School District tweeted this morning that it has handed out nearly 25,000 breakfasts and lunches on Monday, the first day of its “Grab and Go” free meal program. Run by OUSD’s Nutrition Services Department, the program operates at 12 pick-up locations two days a week (8 a.m.-noon, Mondays and Thursdays) throughout the city for all OUSD students or families and any child under 18 who lives in Oakland. Find a list of locations here.

March 17

CLEOPHUS QUEALY TO CLOSE The shelter-in-place mandate that shut down bars, nightclubs, breweries and wineries today through April 7 will likely sound the death knell for many in the drink industry. Today, we heard news of the first to fall in the East Bay. Five-year-old Cleophus Quealy Beer Company announced on its blog it does not expect to reopen after the shelter-in-place order is lifted. The San Leandro brewery said it plans to “remain in business through the end of April and will continue to assess options to make our final beers available to our customers.”

THE RESTAURANT SCENE HAS CHANGED FOREVER In the wake of March 16’s Bay Area-wide shelter-in-place order, restaurant owners are scrambling to figure out how to keep their businesses alive. Many have made the tough decision to lay off most of their workers, keeping a skeleton crew to cook and operate takeout services. According to Eater, chef Tanya Holland of Brown Sugar Kitchen laid off all of her hourly workers, going from a staff of 50 to a team of three salaried employees. As a headline for a story on Eater’s national site eloquently puts it: “Restaurants are fucked — unless they get a bail-out.”

March 16

LOCAL MARKETS CHANGE HOURS, SERVICES The shelter-in-place announcement inspires another round of panic buying at local grocery stores. In the meantime, several markets have announced schedule and capacity changes due to the recent uptick in business: Berkeley Bowl is now open 10 a.m.-7 p.m. daily for “additional cleaning and stocking.” It is also limiting the number of shoppers that can be in the store at once, rationing some “key items,” and suspending some services. All Trader Joe’s locations have shortened daily hours to 9 a.m.-7 p.m. and are limiting customers to purchasing no more than two of the same item. Market Hall Foods has reduced hours for its bakery (now open at 8 a.m.) and Highwire Coffee counter (8 a.m.-5 p.m.) in Rockridge. It is also limiting the number of customers allowed into its stores at a time: 18 adults at Rockridge Market Hall, six adults at Hapuku Fish Shop and Marin Sun Farms, 10 adults at Market Hall Produce and 15 adults at Berkeley Market Hall. Natural Grocery Company‘s new hours will be 10 a.m.-6 p.m. until further notice.

SAFEWAY TO HIRE 2,000 MORE WORKERS The grocery chain says it is immediately hiring 2,000 workers to meet the demands of shoppers stocking up on supplies. According to the Chronicle, most of the openings will be at the company’s 165 Bay Area locations.

BAY AREA-WIDE SHELTER-IN-PLACE ORDER CHANGES DINING At 1 p.m., health officials from six Bay Area counties announce new restrictions on movement for the general population. The order requires everyone to “shelter in place” at home other than to provide or receive essential services. Bars, breweries and wineries must shutter, but restaurants can remain open to offer take-away and delivery service only. Grocery stores, certified farmers markets, food banks, convenience stores and other places that sell canned food, dry goods, fresh produce, pet food, fresh meat, fish and poultry will remain open. All public and private gatherings of any number of people occurring outside a household or living unit are prohibited — so even private dinner parties are out. The order is effective at 12:01 a.m., March 17 through April 7.

March 15

MORE RESTAURANTS DECIDE TO CLOSE As social distancing measures ramp up, more restaurants decide to temporarily close; many continue to offer takeout, curbside pick-up and delivery.

NEWSOM CALLS FOR BARS TO CLOSE Gov. Gavin Newsom calls for — but does not mandate — the shutdown of bars, nightclubs, brewpubs and wineries to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. While the governor does not include restaurants on this list, he specifies establishments should cut occupancy by 50% to keep with recommended social distancing measures of six feet, and that restaurants should “focus on takeout for those isolating.”

March 14

EVERYONE IS PANIC BUYING Locals preparing for longterm self-isolation at home, or those who fear supplies might dry up, start shopping in mass at local grocery stores. The sudden surge in business means long lines to get in and check out, empty shelves and crowds that put both shoppers and employees at risk of exposure to COVID-19.

March 13

URBAN ADAMAH STOPS PUBLIC PROGRAMMING The community farm with Jewish values in West Berkeley has stopped its public programming and closed the farm to the public until the end of March.

BERKELEY CITY OFFICIALS SUPPORT DINING OUT Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín and City Councilwoman Sophie Hahn announce showing support for local restaurants by dining-in at Revival Bar & Kitchen. By 4 p.m., they announce they are too busy with the city’s response to COVID-19 for a sit-down dinner. They opt for takeout from Revival instead.

March 12

BERKELEY FARMERS MARKETS REMAIN OPEN The Ecology Center will continue its three weekly farmers markets, but said it will continue to monitor both federal and local recommendations and guidelines daily. Food and Farming Program Director Carle Brinkman told Nosh the Ecology Center has shared best practices with its farmers, vendors and market partners and will be disinfecting “surfaces/objects” at the market regularly. The Ecology Center updated its website to include further information about precautions it is taking, including ceasing food sampling at the market and suspending “high touch activities,” like the Kids’ Patch.

RESTAURANTS HIT HARD Restaurants are seeing a significant drop in customers. A number of East Bay restaurants, including Arthur Mac’s Tap & Snack in Oakland, suspend on-site dining and focus on delivery or counter service instead.

March 11

TASTE OF TEMESCAL POSTPONED The Temescal Telegraph Business Improvement District announces it will postpone its 11th annual Taste of Temescal event until May or a future date.

TWO CHINATOWN FIXTURES CLOSE After months of lagging business, two Oakland Chinatown giants have closed. Nosh contributor Momo Chang shares news that popular dim sum hotspot Peony Seafood Restaurant and all-you-can eat restaurant Buffet Fortuna have temporarily shuttered due to financial losses incurred from fears of COVID-19. Although both restaurants aim to eventually reopen (Buffet Fortuna’s San Leandro location remains open), the closures appear to be an ominous bellwether for the neighborhood.

ALAMEDA COUNTY FOOD BANK ASKS FOR HELP The Alameda County Food Bank has an “urgent need” for volunteers to help stuff emergency food bags and prepare food for its partners. The organization said it has increased its cleaning standards to ensure volunteers remain safe from the spread of COVID-19. Sign up on the food bank’s volunteer page.

March 9

CHEF ANDRÉS LENDS A HAND Chef José Andrés and his nonprofit World Central Kitchen step in to feed passengers on the Grand Princess cruise ship docked in Oakland.

CAFÉS STOP ACCEPTING REUSABLE CUPS Following in the footsteps of Starbucks, national coffee chains like Dunkin’ and Blue Bottle suspend filling personal cups to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

March 6

DELIVERY GOES HANDS-FREE Third-party delivery services Postmates and Instacart announce “no-contact” delivery in order to minimize person-to-person contact between delivery staff and customers.

March 4

NO MORE SAMPLES AT COSTCO Due to coronavirus concerns, Costco suspends its popular free food samples, including at its Richmond location, until further notice.

February 12

BUSINESS DOWN 50% FOR CHINATOWN RESTAURANTS Chinatown restaurants across the nation are experiencing a drastic decrease in business, as tourists and locals avoid the neighborhoods due to fears of the novel coronavirus. Eater reports that by mid-February (before any cases are even reported in the Bay Area), business in Oakland Chinatown is down by 50%.