A one-of-a-kind Native American restaurant, Cafe Ohlone, is nearing its opening in Berkeley
When it opens this spring at UC Berkeley, Cafe Ohlone will be the first of its kind, museum-like restaurant honoring all facets of the Ohlone culture, from foraged native foods to the Chochenyo language, which will be heard in songs emanating from native trees.
Co-founders Vincent Medina and Louis Trevino opened the cafe in 2018 in the courtyard of University Press Books. It was the first restaurant to feature the foods of a people who have lived in the Bay Area for 10,000 years.
But this new, larger Ohlone Café will expand that menu, introducing dishes like Silky Black Oak Acorn Soup and Pan-Seared Venison Back, and serve as a community space for living in Ohlone to attend classes. language and other cultural activities. It follows Oakland’s first Native American restaurant, Wahpepah’s Kitchen, which opened in November and whose chef, Crystal Wahpepah, is a finalist for the James Beard Award for Emerging Chef.
“We want this to be a vibrant and thriving space to show off our culture alive, and where the main focus is to provide that physical space that our community has been missing for so long,” Medina said.
And it will be housed in an unlikely place: in the courtyard of UC Berkeley. Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropologyan institution that has long grappled with accusations of historic wrongs against the Ohlone people by keeping sacred Ohlone objects and thousands of ancestral remains.
Medina hopes the restaurant’s presence will spark an era of cooperation with the institution, creating lines of communication and partnerships that go far beyond the kitchen.
“We understand that coffee alone is not going to repatriate our ancestors,” Medina says. “But the climate and the presence make a difference. We want to see greater healing, new beginnings, and strengthening the relationships that have developed. »
As Medina told the Bay Area News Group, the outdoor restaurant will be divided into three zones. A gated entrance will reveal what he calls a “curated culinary and educational experience,” beginning with a series of canvas-covered shadow boxes surrounded by native plants.
The area will be sunlit during the day and softly lit at night, displaying silhouettes of plants “dancing in the wind”, he says. “It will be a very evocative portal, like entering a large shadow box.”
Guests will follow a path to get to the first of two dining rooms. This area will feature two building-sized food-centric murals by renowned California Indian artist Jean LaMarr, who painted the Ohlone mural in Ohlone Park. Across the yard, expect a dry creek made of Napa basalt, interspersed with riparian plants. Nearby there will be handmade dining tables by Bay Area Sequoia East Bay’s fallen redwoods.
On the menu, expect robust salads with edible flowers and a smoked nut vinaigrette; San Francisco Bay hazelnut-crusted king salmon; duck breast with crispy Monterey Bay seaweed; mussels and clams from Tomales Bay; elderberry, hummingbird sage, yerba buena and rose hip teas; and bay nut truffles made with the fruit of the California laurel.
The entire space will be dotted with abalone shells, traditional baskets and functional gardens – look for native plants such as mugwort, poppies, mugwort, red tea and Indian strawberries – curated in partnership with Oaktown Nursery.
San Francisco Landscape Architecture Agency Terremoto leads the design, which will include seven native trees fitted with His Meyer speakers playing the voices of local Ohlone, like 10-year-old Amaya Ruano from San Lorenzo, as they sing ballads in Chochenyo.
The third and final area will feature a shellmound, a raised hill made of crushed oyster shells, mussels and abalone that pays homage to the traditional Ohlone shellmounds that surround San Francisco Bay. Considered sacred sites, most of these shell mounds have been destroyed to make way for development, Medina says. But this one will be in full view, with a special deck and communal redwood benches for Ohlone elders to enjoy.
“They taught us how to move our culture forward,” Medina says. “Without them, we wouldn’t have Cafe Ohlone.”
Café Ohlone is expected to open in late spring. To support the build and learn more about paid preview events, visit www.makamham.com.