Josh Levine founded Peoples Donuts in 2007, renting kitchen space from old-school Berkeley Crisco bakery Éclair to crank out a line of organic vegan doughnuts. Within two years, Levine parlayed People's into dozens of restaurants and cafes stretching from Albany to Santa Cruz, and even sold to Whole Foods, though the megachain dumped Peoples after rolling out its own vegan sinkers. Earlier this year, just about the time Levine launched his doughnut kiosk in the Ferry Building, "Peoples" morphed into "Pepples." And just last Wednesday, Pepples opened a café called the Donut Farm in a former soul-food catfish fry joint on San Pablo Avenue along the Oakland-Emeryville border.
Actually, Pepples moved its production to the old catfish fry kitchen about a month and a half ago. (Don't stress, vegans: No fish met its cornmeal-battered end in the same Fryolator your glazed blueberry emerged from. Levine says he rehabbed only the French fry machine from the soul food place; he installed his original doughnut fryer from Éclair.)The place is steeped in West Oakland funky. There's a diner counter where you can chat with inked-up Farm manager Jake Fayles or watch doughnut production through the kitchen pass-through, a calendar's worth of Nikki McClure prints on the walls, and a collection of old grammar school tables so short you feel as painfully awkward as Arnold's acting in Kindergarten Cop. The doughnuts, however, offer full-size satisfactions. The coconut-flocked chocolate cake is fantastic; so's the match green tea, which offers a woody, meditative bitterness through the glaze's synapse-jolting sweetness.
Friday's, Donut Farm gets a shipment of vegan cupcakes from Oakland's Fat Bottom Bakery (they lasted through Saturday afternoon this weekend). There's coffee, too, organic Sumatra beans roasted on-site in a wok ― you swear you can taste the wok breathing through the medium roast. Fayles says plans call for vegan sandwiches. "Josh wants to take over from Ike's," he says. Levine merely advises following on Twitter @vegan_donuts for updates and word on specials.
Donut Farm: 6037 San Pablo (at 61st St.), Oakland. Mon.-Thu. 9 a.m.-6 p.m, Fri.-Sat. a.m. "till late."