Tucked behind the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Berkeley Way sits a rustic, plant-filled cafe called Cafe Etoile.
Taeuhk Kim and Mi Lee opened Cafe Etoile after they moved to Berkeley, eyeing the younger population of students as potential customers for their adventurous cuisine.
“I want Etoile to be a place for people to come sit and relax. Some might sit down to study, others sit down to drink coffee,” Kim said. “I want it to be a resting place for people.”
Kim noted the cafe was named for the North Star, as “étoile” is French for the word “star.” Although the owners considered keeping the cafe’s previous name, they settled on Cafe Etoile to refer back to the North Star’s legacy as a guide toward refuge.
According to Kim, the cafe serves a fusion of French and Korean cuisine. One particularly innovative dish is the “croffle,” an invention that looks and feels like a waffle but tastes like a croissant, Kim said.
“It is really famous in my country,” Kim said. “You can add everything on a croffle, like a fried egg, bacon or even fruit.”
Kim added that the cafe’s most popular dishes are the chicken croffle and the bulgogi sandwich, which Kim’s wife, Lee, added to the menu. An experienced chef, Lee has also introduced French dishes like the croque madame and croque monsieur to the cafe, Kim said.
Since Cafe Etoile’s opening Memorial Day weekend, the cafe has received between 50 to 100 customers per day, according to Kim. He said he hopes to increase that number to 200.
“Right now, we are not doing a lot of marketing or promotion, but in the future, I want to see people line up out the door,” Kim said.
Cafe Etoile takes the place of Cafe Nostos, which closed at the end of April earlier this year. According to Megan Boye, a Cafe Etoile barista, the spirit of the former is sustained by its successor thanks to the efforts of Cafe Etoile’s owners.
Boye emphasized that Cafe Etoile is unique because of its familiarity and friendliness. She noted a “family aspect” in the cafe’s environment, claiming that getting to know customers on a personal basis and memorizing their orders allows for “one-on-one” interactions not found in chain eateries.
Regardless of plans to expand the menu or branch out in the future, Kim’s vision remains consistent. He wants to serve healthy food and drinks in a comfortable space while ensuring one main tenet: “The customer is king.”
“Any time someone comes to my space, sometimes we talk about their lives and sometimes we talk about my life,” Kim said. “I want to be like a family, all together, so we can share our stories here.”