From its start, Gather Restaurant was an iconic Berkeley eatery. Founded in the birthplace of progressive causes, Gather set a new standard for environmental sensitivity: from recycled wood tables and banquettes made of stitched-together used leather belts to its organic food sourced from farms within a 100-mile radius.
“We use sustainable oils, spices… everything. We go beyond organic,” Gather co-founder Eric Fenster told a local newspaper.*
In 2009, when Fenster and co-founder Ari Derfel were starting Gather in the David Brower Center, an environmental hub, they already had experience in sustainability-focused food operations (they are also founders of organic catering service Back to Earth Catering Co.).
But they needed a financial partner who believed enough in their mission to help get their restaurant up and running.
That partner was Community Bank of the Bay.
“Part of our practice, as a CDFI (Community Development Financial Institution), is to support small and medium-sized businesses,” explained Wil Hobbs, senior vice president and chief lending officer. “Gather Restaurant came to us when they were in formation and we provided financing that enabled them to get their business off the ground.”
Building a business on sustainability is simple in theory and challenging in practice. Produce must be wholly organic and heirloom varietals are used when possible, meats must be produced from sustainable heritage breeds, and wines must be bought from vineyards committed to low impact viticulture.
“Gather cares more about the way the food has been cultivated than about government certification,” asserts the restaurant in a written statement.
To make their project completely sustainable required extra effort and financing. “We found an amazing partner in Community Bank of the Bay,” Mr. Fenster said. “[They] believed in what we were doing and took the deep dive to help us create this beautiful establishment.”
Community Bank of the Bay understands the unique needs of the hospitality industry and works with each business to develop customized loans, cash management, and other depository solutions that suit a restaurant or hotel’s needs.
“Our solutions are a world apart from cookie-cutter loans and depository solutions that are often the only option available to clients at larger commercial banks,” said Michele Button, Senior Vice-President and Director of Cash Management.
Mr. Fenster said he plans to revamp the restaurant’s patio, enlarging the space and adding a greenhouse. The restaurant may introduce live music as well. “We’re still running and having fun and serving the community,” he said. “It’s been a great journey.” And CBB will be there, helping them along the way.