Gather is powered by a team of passionate, hardworking people. The kitchen is led by Executive Chef Sean Baker and Sous Chefs Joseph Schmidt and Charis Wahl. Directing the Front of House are General Manager Jodi Munson and Service Manager Theresa Garcia. Owners Eric Fenster and Ari Derfel run the business and operations.
Located in the David Brower Center, the “greenest” building in the East Bay, our downtown Berkeley restaurant is across the street from UC Berkeley. Nearby are Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley Repertory Theater, Freight & Salvage, Aurora, The Marsh, and the Movie Theaters.
In 2001, during a retreat in the California desert, Gather Co-Owner Eric Fenster had a vision to open a vibrant restaurant and create an outdoor adventure program. The restaurant would serve as a nexus to support the work of sustainable farmers and ranchers, and bring community together around the table. The second part of that vision, the outdoor adventure program would help to inspire personal-growth and help people to reconnect to the natural world. When he returned, Eric contacted his longtime friend Ari Derfel to aid in bringing this vision to life. Inspired by the same social and ecological ethos, they set out to create businesses that would positively impact the planet.
Drawing on their background as mountain guides, Eric and Ari’s first venture was Back to Earth Outdoors. Today this outdoor program runs between 15-20 powerful wilderness journeys each year for adults and youth, including popular “yoga backpacking” trips led by nationally-renowned yoga instructors.
Cooking on small backpacking stoves 10 miles into the wilderness, Ari and Eric prepared intricate meals that gained local notoriety. A client on one of their early Yosemite trips asked the two to cater an event for her company’s teambuilding event in San Francisco. It was then, in 2002, that they realized there wasn’t a single full-service catering company in the country that focused on sustainable food, so they launched Back to Earth Organic Catering. Based in Emeryville, this pioneer catering company is still thriving, with the same commitment to the local food movement. Due to demand, Back to Earth Catering has expanded to provide event production and design, bringing a fresh and unique approach to each event.
In 2007, the developers of the David Brower Center, a four-story, LEED Platinum building in downtown Berkeley housing environmental and social justice organizations, began soliciting proposals for a 4000-square-foot restaurant on the ground floor. Eric and Ari were ultimately awarded the contract to create Gather Restaurant. In this the two saw the full maturation of their original vision.
In order to finance the restaurant, Eric and Ari invited the community to become direct stakeholders.They “crowd-sourced” funding from a large network of local investors at varied levels and worked with Community Bank of the Bay and OBDC to provide debt financing. This creative financing was necessary considering the challenges they faced raising investment during the “Great Recession”.
The young and talented Sean Baker was hired as Executive Chef to develop Gather’s unique culinary approach. Building off of his experience in the kitchens of San Francisco’s Millennium Restaurant, Zibibbo (Palo Alto), and Gabriella Café (Santa Cruz), Chef Baker crafted a signature menu that utilizes whole vegetable and animalcookery, blends old-world and modern cooking techniques, and draws inspiration from the local farmers and ranchers that provide our ingredients.
Gather opened its doors on December 15, 2009. The restaurant was well received in the local community and has garnered national and international acclaim.
The team at Gather works hard each day to showcase a fulfilling, inventive cuisine in a casual but professional manner. In Gather, Eric and Ari have found the fruition of their original vision.