Wrecking Ball Coffee might not be as big of a household name as Philz Coffee among Bay Area coffee drinkers. But those who are serious about coffee — especially industry professionals — recognize Wrecking Ball Coffee as one of the biggest names in the industry. The San Francisco coffee roaster opened its first East Bay outpost on Friday, Aug. 23, at 1600 Shattuck Ave. in North Berkeley, at the site of what used to be a Philz Coffee.
The downstairs level of the two-story cafe is full of light. Upstairs, there’s a long communal table for studying, a couple of small tables, some armchairs, a couch, and a small outdoor area that’ll be turned into a kids’ play area. But the most striking feature is the mural by Korean artist Christian Chanyang Shim. The subject is the artist’s friend, Maeva Deroche, a black woman of French-Caribbean origin who used to live in Seoul and is depicted dressed in traditional Korean clothing.
According to Nick Cho, who owns Wrecking Ball Coffee with his wife, Trish Rothgeb, the new Berkeley cafe is just the first step in Wrecking Ball’s ambitious expansion plan. “Our plan is for later this year to do the Silicon Valley thing and raise a seed round of funding and try to open a bunch of cafes between the Bay Area and the Los Angeles, Southern California areas,” Cho said.
But for now, Cho is focused on making his Berkeley cafe more than just a coffee shop. “We see an opportunity to take the neighborhood community cafe idea and let it be a vehicle for the sort of social change that we want to see in America, especially in American cities,” Cho said.
“TV and movies have become more diverse and inclusive than ever before,” he added. “[But] it’s still the realm of fantasy. … For us it’s like could sort of a neighborhood community cafe setting be a good way … to make that fantasy a reality?”
To that end, Cho said he’s hired a diverse staff of baristas, managers, and trainers. He’s also created a menu that he hopes will appeal to a broad audience beyond coffee drinkers. Unlike many coffee shops that’ll pour customers a premade, packaged lemonade, Wrecking Ball’s Berkeley location will offer a full, customizable menu of lemonades. There’ll also be a bigger selection of hot chocolates.
As for the coffee, Cho said he plans to offer a more accessibly priced house blend as well as a single-origin variety every day. Light and medium roasts are available — no dark roast. Don’t try to order a cold brew, though: Cho likens it to “old, expired sort of coffee,” and instead uses a flash brewing method for the cafe’s iced coffee.
Cho wants to try something a little different when it comes to food. When looking for a bakery that could supply pastries early in the morning, seven days a week, he found himself limited to the same two or three bakeries that supply dozens of other coffee shops in the area. So instead, he’ll feature pastries from up-and-coming vendors who will each supply their wares to the cafe a couple times a week. Pop-ups are also a possibility.