After 23 years of serving hand-tossed pizzas and microbrewed beer to the Berkeley community, Lanesplitter Pizza & Pub will be handing over the baton to another longtime Berkeley eatery, Babette.
Babette, which had operated as a cafe at Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, or BAMPFA, for about 10 years, will be taking over Lanesplitter’s location on San Pablo Avenue early next year. According to Babette co-owner Joan Ellis, customers can expect to continue enjoying pizzas and drinks at Babette’s new location along with unique baked goods, brunch and dinner options.
“We’re really excited for Babette to come in — they seem like they’re going to be a great fit for the neighborhood,” Lanesplitter co-owner Daniel Rogers said. “I’m sad about the restaurant closing, but restaurants need somebody who’s there active, full time, giving the restaurant the love and energy it needs to succeed.”
According to Rogers, Lanesplitter first opened in 1998 as one of the first restaurants in Berkeley serving hand-tossed pizzas with microbrewed beer. Rogers and his co-owner, Vic Gumper, utilized their background with breweries to serve special craft beers alongside authentic New York-style pizzas in a fun, relaxed environment.
While Rogers said they decided to close the Berkeley location to focus on real estate endeavors, they still have a branch in Emeryville — the last standing of five original locations — and will continue to serve as landlords for Babette. For Ellis and Patrick Hooker, the husband-wife duo running Babette, moving to the new location gives them the opportunity to expand beyond being a small cafe.
“We’re really excited about seeing a lot of our old customers and being in a new community starting a new chapter in our lives,” Ellis said. “We’re gonna be more of a community-based restaurant as opposed to a hidden gem.”
At BAMPFA, Ellis and Hooker had weekly changing menus offering everything from handmade sandwiches to Sicilian lemon almond pistachio cakes. With everything being made by hand, the couple put an emphasis on creating local, sustainable and seasonal dishes — an aspect that will continue in their new location.
In its nearly decade-long residence with BAMPFA, Babette has followed the museum through its relocation and continued to serve its patrons. Babette has also partnered closely with BAMPFA on programs such as the “Film to Table” series of seated dinners, according to BAMPFA media relations manager A.J. Fox.
Veronica Jacome, who has frequented Babette since 2013, is excited about Babette’s new development.
“I was really struck by how good the food was. … I pretty much became a regular ever since I stepped foot in it the first time,” Jacome said. “I’m sure they’re going to be able to offer a really wonderful addition to the greater Bay community.”
Ellis and Hooker have overcome many obstacles growing Babette to where it is now, including recovering from a wholesale baking business that closed due to rent increases, learning to succeed as a museum cafe and navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. While they had moments where they were “really struggling,” they managed to connect with the community and survive.
Babette’s new home presents a “cozy” place full of history and opportunities to craft a modern rustic dining atmosphere, according to Ellis. The location also has a large space in the back where diners can eat outdoors next to a redwood tree that the original owners planted.
“It just feels so great to have the baton passed between business owners,” Ellis said. “We took our son, who is 20 years old and grew up on Lanesplitter pizza, and somebody said to us, ‘You know what? The kids in that neighborhood will be growing up on your pizza.’ ”