by Anneli Rufus
A few days before it opened in early May, we got a sneak peek at Downtown Berkeley's David Brower Center, a 50,000-square-foot multi-use space hailed as the East Bay's "greenest building." Designed to be 40 percent more energy-efficient than conventional structures of its size, featuring zinc siding, photovoltaic panels, high-efficiency lighting, low-pressure ventilation, non-toxic fabrics and finishes, and recycled-fiber carpets, the center houses nonprofits, a state-of-the-art theater, and now a restaurant, which is set to open next Tuesday.
Two-plus years in the making, Gather is a project of longtime food activists Ari Derfel and Eric Fenster, whose Back to Earth organization and catering company — founded in 2001 — brought together organic food, outdoor adventures, youth programs, and teambuilding. (Derfel made headlines in 2006 and 2007 for Project Trash Retention, in which he saved a year's worth of his own personal garbage rather than discard it, in order to reveal how much solid waste the average person generates.)
Opening for dinner next week and launching other meals in January, all-organic Gather includes a café, bar, and menus that are at least 50 percent vegetarian. Executive chef Sean Baker's resume includes San Francisco's famous Millennium, the Bonny Doon Vineyards Tasting Room, and Santa Cruz’s Gabriella Café. Mixologist Allison Evanow, founder of Novato-based Square One Organic Vodka, has designed cocktails made exclusively with organic spirits; these include the Rosemary Meyer Lemon Drop, Basil-Açaí Gimlet, and Cucumber Spajito. San Francisco-based designer Nicole Sillapere turned green values into funiture, fixtures, and decor using recycled leather, reclaimed woods, and salvaged materials: An old water tank found in Marin County has been turned into tables, countertops, and a door; bleachers salvaged from a Sonoma high school are now banquettes and tables; lights over the bar were made from recycled vodka bottles. — Anneli Rufus