Winter is the cruelest season — especially if you're an ice cream shop or other purveyor of frozen treats. Even here in (relatively) balmy Northern California, the late-burning morning fog, sporadic rain, and chilly evenings don't tend to put a person in the mood for a cooling scoop of chocolate or vanilla.
Now heading into their business's second winter, the folks at Oakland's Scream Sorbet (5030 Telegraph Ave.) have hit upon an innovative solution: For nearly a month now, the sorbet shop has been opening early five days a week — Wednesday to Sunday, from 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. — as its newly-launched "Winter Cafe." In the mornings, instead of sorbet, Scream sells coffee and tea, a variety of house-made baked goods and nut butters, and — perhaps most impressively — a Manhattan-style bagel, boiled and baked in-house.
- Luke Tsai
- Five mornings a week, Scream Sorbet hosts a "Winter Cafe."
In short, the shop has diversified. And store manager Mena Kamel is hopeful that the new cafe enterprise will help Scream weather the industry's inevitable winter doldrums until business picks up again in the spring and summer.
According to Kamel, Scream's sorbet sales plummet during the winter months, and, in turn, production gets drastically cut back as well — by about 50 percent, he estimated. During the summer months, the company sells its line of high-end, seasonal sorbets at as many as thirty different farmers' markets across the Bay Area; at this time of year, that number goes down to nine
The cafe concept came about as a way for Scream to still offer its kitchen employees their full slate of hours during the winter months. As it turns out, the sorbet-making staff includes experienced bakers and prize-winning preserves makers. In Kamel’s words: “Everyone in our kitchen is an amateur maker of some sort.”
Collectively, they’ve been able put together a menu of made-from-scratch breakfast goodies that would be the envy of many local cafes. The idea, Kamel explained, is simply to use all the ingredients they already have sitting around in their kitchen for something other than sorbet, though what you’ll find at the Winter Cafe will vary from day to day.
- The cafe features a small but impressive selection of baked goods each day (via Facebook).
Recent (and delicious-sounding) offerings include apple fritters and roasted-pear-and-chocolate scones. Each of Scream’s five kitchen employees is in charge of one day a week, and whoever’s working on a given morning bakes whatever he or she wants.
That said, there will almost always be biscotti, some kind of cookie option. and the bagels: “Manhattan-style, very small, and very chewy,” according to Kamel. As noted, they’re boiled first before baking, and are available in two permutations (salted or unsalted) at $2 each — $3 topped with a nut butter or fruit preserve.
About those nut butters: Kamel said they’re made using a similar process as that used for the shop’s highly acclaimed nut-based sorbets, and you’ll find varieties you won’t see sold at too many other places — macadamia-nut butter, cashew butter, walnut butter, and so forth. If they’re anywhere close to as good as their nut sorbet counterparts, they’ll be worth seeking out in and of themselves.
On the face of things, Scream is competing with nearby Pizzaiolo
(which has its own coffee-and-doughnut operation in the morning) for breakfast customers. But the Winter Cafe occupies somewhat of a different niche, featuring all quick takeaway items (though there’s a bit of seating outside when the weather permits) and Highwire Coffee Roasters
drip coffee (for $2 a cup) instead of the espresso drinks served at Pizzaiolo.
Ultimately, the jury's still out on whether the cafe will become a long-term fixture at Scream.
"We're doing it as a trial run," Kamel said. "It might sink and vanish and go away."
The early word seems promising, though, and, according to Kamel, business has been better than expected so far. He noted that if the shop can just break even on the venture, it will have been a successful winter.