Berkeley cafe owners get mixture of support, push-back for speaking out against 'Gourmet Ghetto' nickname

BERKELEY, Calif. (KGO) -- Wrecking Ball Roasters prides itself as being an inclusive place where people of all backgrounds are welcome to enjoy a cup of coffee.

But after speaking out about the long-standing, yet controversial nickname of where their café is located in Berkeley, the "Gourmet Ghetto," the café's owners are receiving pushback.

"To have it up on adds insult to injury. Especially to black and brown people here. It's like adding salt to the wound and that's not how you treat each other."

What has never made sense to owners Trish Rothgeb and Nicholas Cho, is the nickname "Gourmet Ghetto" along North Shattuck Avenue. The term has a lot of history, and not all of it positive.

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So Trish and Nicholas sent a formal request to the North Shattuck Association asking for the elimination of the term he and others find offensive, but overkill to others.

"It just seems ridiculous there are so many things that divide us and we're going to talk about this as an issue?" says Jane White, a longtime Berkeley resident.

Perhaps what is most distressing to the owners is that by speaking out with the intention of making a change in the neighborhood their employees have experienced hateful pushback.

"We had a couple of employees who were actually harassed on the street by folks about this and were told we don't want you here," says Nicholas.

Alice Waters-the legendary chef and restauranteur whose celebrated restaurant Chez Panisse has stood along Shattuck since 1971.

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"I'm actually ashamed I didn't say anything about it sooner. It's really, really shocking."

She says it's not just the word "ghetto" that bothers her.

"It should be stressed gourmet is an elitist term. We don't want to be gourmet, we want to be for everybody and we don't want to be cordoned off. We want to be integrated," says Alice.

The North Shattuck Association who designed and installed these banners says the term has been around since the '70s. However, in order to be an inclusive place that welcomes diversity, they are open to discussion about the nickname.

For Trish and Nicholas, it's all about raising awareness.

The discussion continues at the association's next general meeting, September 26th.
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