Bay Area kosher diners now have one less eatery to butter their bread in — Berkeley’s Ristorante Raphael is set to close its doors after four delicious years.
Owner Noah Alper, who co-founded the kosher vegetarian restaurant with his wife, Hope Alper, says Ristorante Raphael will serve its last meal Sunday, July 1. Alper cites the closing of neighboring Act One Theater, upcoming construction of a hotel and museum and downtown Berkeley’s economic slump as factors contributing to his decision to fold.
“It was always a struggle,” said the restaurateur and founder of Noah’s Bagels. Still, he said, “we set an example of what could be. Some entrepreneurs will come along and take up the mantle.”
Over the years, Ristorante Raphael had earned numerous awards, including a top rating in the 2007 ZAGAT survey of San Francisco Bay Area restaurants, and Best Italian Restaurant in j.’s Readers’ Choice Awards.
Rabbi Jacob Traub of the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of San Francisco was responsible for maintaining Raphael’s kashrut certification. He sees the restaurant’s closing as a blow to the community.
“There are only a few high end [kosher] restaurants around the country,” he said. “It’s a terrible loss not only for people in the Bay Area. I got calls almost on a daily basis from people coming to area who heard there was this good restaurant and they wanted to make sure.
“My sister-in-law used to say there’s a difference between eating and dining,” he added. “There are not so many places to dine, and you had that in Ristorante Raphael.”
The restaurant’s full-time and part-time staff of 15 will all be let go, including chef Domenico Testa. “Domenico not only embraced kosher food prep, which was a challenge, he also took great pride in his role of hosting the Jewish community,” Alper said. “He felt a sense of connection and the feeling was mutual. He helped set a high bar for this place.”
Kosher diners have few restaurant options remaining in the Bay Area. They include Holy Land Foods and Oakland Kosher Foods in Oakland, Shangri-La Chinese restaurant in San Francisco Sunset district and New York Deli in S.F.’s Justin Herman Plaza.
Alper credits his investors with helping him realize the vision of a high-end “white linen” kosher restaurant in downtown Berkeley. “[The investors’] primary motivation was to offer this restaurant as a community service,” Alper said. “We needed to make enough money to keep going, which unfortunately we didn’t, but their primary motivation was not to get rich quick.”
What’s next for the Alpers? Hope will continue overseeing Hopeworks P.R., her independent public relations firm, while Noah Alper will continue his private business consulting.
Alper does not rule out opening another restaurant in the future. The business, he acknowledges, is “in his blood.”
Between now and July 1, the Alpers will devote their energy to seeing that Ristorante Raphael goes out with a bang.
“Jews don’t do wakes,” he said. “We are going to try to make ourselves more present, especially the last Sunday night. We want people to come by to say ‘l’hitraot’ or ‘arrivederci.'”
Ristorante Raphael is located at 2132 Center St., Berkeley. For information, call (510) 644-9500.