Joan Ellis and Patrick Hooker ran their cafe, Babette, for nearly 10 years at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, following the museum through a move and weathering the pandemic. Now that their lease with the museum is over, the couple is going on their own: Babette reopens this summer with a showcase on San Pablo Avenue. “We tried to do it ourselves, but it’s the museum, it really had that feeling,” Ellis says of running the cafe inside the Berkeley Museum of Art. “We always felt like we were somehow invisible in the museum, that our food didn’t reach a wide range.” With this location, they hope to forge a new identity for the restaurant, serving their style of cooking from morning pastries and coffee to dinner.
After researching potential locations, Babette takes over the former Lanesplitter Pizza spot at 2033 San Pablo Avenue, which comes equipped with its own outdoor space. Ellis and Hooker worked to renovate the place, transforming both the interior and exterior with a new brick patio, heat lamps, and string lights. Those who discovered Babette during the museum days will be pleased to hear that many of the menu favorites will be making their way to the new location. Bread and pastries will continue to be homemade, as well as the popular pistachio cake; there will also be a soup of the day, while customer favorite salads will be on the dinner menu. Thanks to pizza ovens left behind by the Lanesplitter, Ellis says they will have five pizzas on the menu, plus a few rotating dishes, such as yogurt-marinated chicken thighs in Georgian plum sauce, served with saffron rice. with eggplant, sour cherries, and green onions.
Babette is still in its soft opening phase with limited hours as they seek to hire more staff, but they have ambitious plans for the space. During the week, Ellis shares plans for “casual coffee” mornings Wednesday through Friday, serving these homemade pastries, along with coffee and tea; they will also be offering a dinner menu throughout the weekend. New to Babette will be the addition of a brunch at the end of June, which Ellis says will feature new and old dishes, including bowls of rice, bacon, egg and cheese on a homemade brioche, and a platter of Mediterranean-style bagels, with house-smoked fish, she says. The restaurant currently serves a selection of natural wines, like Olivia Brion, as well as six local beers on tap, but plans to add a liquor license in the fall for a cocktail menu.
Ellis and Hooker have gone through many career changes in the food business, from owning a wholesale bakery, to running a museum cafe, to becoming private chefs, and now, finally , they have a place to make their own. Ellis says they still enjoy cooking, despite the ups and downs. “It really taught us how to do what we do and taught us that we really love it,” Ellis says. “And after all these years, I’m kind of blown away that I still want to do this. We’re not young people, but we’re still passionate about what we do, and I’m very grateful for that.