A new project on Oakland's Hallowell-heavy stretch of Grand Avenue -- neighboring Boot and Shoe and Penrose -- is officially open, titled Grand Fare, and it's off to a promising start.
The project moved into the space that used to house the Indonesian art gallery-cum-café Monkey Forest Road, and while a café will remain, plans for the future of the space are decidedly more food-focused. After a few months, Doug Washington (Town Hall, Salt House, Anchor & Hope) plans to move in a curated selection of food artisans to vend from the periphery, Ferry Building-style, and a chef to work with market ingredients. In the meantime, the space will function as a cozied-up, Wi-Fi-free coffee house, custom-built to foster connection and spur more interaction by forsaking today's standard "sea of screens" café landscape. Instead, think a turntable and old records, couches and sheepskin throws, and pillows in the windowsill for lounging.
Washington also plans to refit the present parking lot with a outdoor seating, a retractable canvas roof, chandeliers, and heat lamps (or something) for a cozy, outdoor seating option.
The café is a distinct indicator of Washington's style of curation, and it bodes really, really well. His decision to sell Linea -- the most recent darling of the third wave coffee scene, from longtime coffee luminary Andrew Barnett -- is not a function of the trending, uproarious fandom, but derived from a singular, personal moment in Washington's car, four years go, when he fell in love with Barnett's coffee while driving around in Napa one day. One swig convinced him to get Barnett on the phone and profess in no uncertain terms how much he loved the stuff, hinting at dreams of selling it one day. Years later, as Barnett reemerges with Linea, he is. And he's doing it for love, not hype.
Washington's operating principle is heartening and simple, plucking what he loves out of the world and bringing it into his own space. In the case of Grand Fare, that means everything from artwork wrought by his wife Freya Prowe, to pastries from Berkeley's used-to-be best kept secret, La Fournée. The bakery, helmed by erstwhile San Francisco Baking Institute instructor Frank Sally (whose ham and egg croissant we wrote about a few months back) has kept, bafflingly, under the radar for awhile now, but the weekend line is growing longer, and Grand Fare is bound to heighten its profile. (It used to be so quiet. Sigh.) Point being, Washington knows a good thing when he tastes it.
In a few months, Grand Fare will shut down and reemerge as part market, part restaurant, part café.
"We're shooting for this to be a place where you discover all of these amazing foods and coffees and ice creams, but it's also about discovery of your own neighborhood," says Washington. "Good people making really good food, and doing it all without the pretense."
From the sounds of it, there will be ice cream, charcuterie, an olive station, a coffee counter (possibly including more beans than just Linea's), a big baking station, prepared foods, beer, and wine (rumors say self-serve). The concept is indefinable, liquidly occupying the space between market and restaurant, café, and meeting house. All for the better.
"People are dying for their communities to come back. They're dying to reconnect. If the conduit is food, or wine, or chocolate, or ice cream, whatever the conduit is, that's it. And that's what we want to do," says Washington.