Cultured Café

Berkeley's new Elmwood Café gives more than it takes

Elmwood, the quaint Berkeley neighborhood best known for its pampered dogs and upscale shops, has a new café–one that's profoundly sustainable, even by Berkeley standards.

When he purchased the space last year, owner Michael Pearce knew he wanted to donate half of the business' profits to charity. Now that Elmwood Café is open, he lets diners vote on where the profits go.

Ballot boxes hang on the wall, and three charities are currently garnering the proceeds: The Bread Project, a Berkeley group that trains low-income Bay Area residents for jobs in the food industry; Siyaphambili Orphan Village in South Africa, which helps kids learn to plant vegetable gardens; and the Go Green Initiative, a program that provides college scholarships to high school students working on sustainability projects.

Elmwood Café's business model is humanitarian, but the food is no exercise in well-meaning asceticism. Pastry chef Mark Chacon comes from Café Fanny, whose French-café aesthetic is recognizable in the clear flavors and minimalist presentations. At Elmwood, the menu leans more toward satisfying American classics: tender coffee cake, superb five-grain porridge, dense truffle brownies.

If, after a strong cup of Mr. Espresso coffee, you're still having trouble picking your cause, don't worry. Manager Kara Hammond, also a Café Fanny alum, says quietly as she delivers breakfast, "They'll all get funded eventually."

Elmwood Café, 2900 College Ave., Berkeley; 510-843-1300 or elmwoodcafe.com