After 30 years on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland, Cafe Colucci is moving into Soul Slice’s former address on San Pablo Avenue.
Daniel Aderaw Yeshiwas, general manager of both Cafe Colucci and Brundo Spice Company, said he was planning to visit Soul Slice when he noticed it was no longer operating. He’d eaten there before and liked the space. Yeshiwas had started the process of looking for a new location and, with the help of a realtor, decided that it would accommodate several aspects of the cafe and the spice company.
“We were at a crossroads as a restaurant,” Yeshiwas explained. While his aunt and other elders are back home in Ethiopia running the spice facility, Yeshiwas has been pulled in different directions by the restaurant, the spice company and a newer beverage program in partnership with Blue Bottle Coffee. They were all siloed at various locations. It was time to consolidate everything into one location with more square footage. Now they’ll be able to make the “wet products” and the spice blends in the same retail place. “It’s a unique opportunity to have the spices around us to engage with customers while they’re eating them,” he said.
Yeshiwas describes Cafe Colucci as a “traditional, authentic, Ethiopian restaurant.” Many of the dishes are from central Ethiopia, where his extended family is from. But as part of the second generation diaspora, he also uses Ethiopian spices when he makes eggs or avocado toast. “I love to put berbere on top of avocado toast, which is the cornerstone of Ethiopian cuisine,” he said. Berbere is a chili pepper blend made with 13 ingredients. “It has a ton of body and flavor to it.”
With eggs, he uses afrenje, a mild pepper seed. “We like to highlight East African spices because they have a lot of flavor but aren’t necessarily hot and fiery,” Yeshiwas explained. Some of the main components that drive the cuisine are ginger, onion and garlic. “You can just add a little bit of the stuff and it goes a long way,” he said.
All of the dishes from Telegraph Avenue will still be on the menu, but they’re in the process of expanding it. “We’re going to offer breakfast, which slowed down during the pandemic,” he said. And the drinks menu. Right now one of the drinks they make with Blue Bottle is an Ethiopian iced coffee. Yeshiwas said, “We use cinnamon, cardamom, clove and also black cardamom in a blend we put in coffee.” They grind the spices together with the coffee in a pot called a jebena. “You heat up the spices and boil it in there.”
On San Pablo Avenue, Cafe Colucci will dedicate an area specifically for the spices. “We’ll have some display shelves, and even have a cold case with products,” Yeshiwas said. “We really want to make it an interactive experience, where you’re surrounded by spices and spice plans on the wall.” You’ll be able to cook the dishes you’re eating by looking at the recipes. They already have an impressive archive of Ethiopian recipes online at brundo.com/blogs/recipes.
“I think Ethiopian foods are trending,” Yeshiwas said. “It’s becoming more and more popular, especially around the vegan community. A lot of our diet is naturally vegan.” Early on, when people emailed to ask about the food, it wasn’t enough to post a recipe. “We hear from people in random places who’ve asked, ‘I see pictures and videos of your food and it looks really interesting and different. How do I make it?’” One of the company’s ongoing projects is to educate home cooks about how the dishes are traditionally eaten and how nutrition factors into the recipes.
Yeshiwas summed up the company’s vision for the move. “We’re focused on continuing to serve really delicious food and meals to the community here, being spice-forward, introducing new ways to spice food, and to focus more on what I think is a natural evolution for us as food entrepreneurs, from a restaurant to packaged goods that really showcase Ethiopian and East African food.”
Cafe Colucci, projected opening at the end of summer 2022. 5849 San Pablo Ave., Oakland. 510.601.7999. cafecolucci.com