After years of simultaneously serving organic vegan dinners and allegedly indoctrinating staff into a creepy cult, Cafe Gratitude is closing its Berkeley location marking a final exit from the Bay Area where they once had five locations though spinoff Mexican-vegan spot Gracias Madre remains. Owners Matthew and Terces Engelhart (Terces is "secret" backwards, by the way) tell Berkeleyside that they'll be depriving Berkeleyites of their I Am Fulfilled salads in order to focus more on farming (they own Be Love Farm in Vacaville), as well as the half dozen other restaurants they now have in Southern California and Kansas City.
Cafe Gratitude first opened its doors in the Mission in 2004, at Harrison and 20th, and quickly expanded to Berkeley's Shattuck Avenue the following year. The restaurant went on to open locations in Oakland, Healdsburg, Cupertino, and Santa Cruz, and then the Engelharts' grown kids went on to open a location in Los Angeles a few years ago to instant crowds L.A. being ravenous for all things raw and vegan, regardless of silly menu names. That restaurant gave way to two more in L.A., one in San Diego, and the Kansas City location.
Then, following a lawsuit and scandal in 2011 surrounding the operation's illegal tip-pooling practice something the Engelharts considered part of their "Sacred Commerce," about which they penned an entire book they announced they would have to close all their northern California locations, though they later revised that and left the Berkeley and Santa Cruz locations intact. At issue in the lawsuit was the fact that servers were forced to tip out 20 percent to workers at a central kitchen facility, and then share the remaining 80 percent with each other and their managers, which is not allowed under California law.
Also, as the East Bay Express reported two years earlier, managers were obligated to attend seminars by the cult-like Landmark Forum, and one former employee claimed she was fired when she refused to attend one.
The Engelharts also have a second business hosting their own workshops, teaching things like "a way of being alive that replaces scarcity and survival with an awareness of always being provided for."
And now the restaurant is also selling meal and juice cleanses, with seven-day juice cleanses going for $400.
The Berkeley Cafe Gratitude is set to close by the end of the year.