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Cafe Gratitude is Closing its Northern California Locations – A Punch in the Stomach to Organic Restaurant Fans

Cafe Gratitude is Closing its Northern California Locations - A Punch in the Stomach to Organic Restaurant Fan

While the title of this blog post may seem overly dramatic to most people, it isn’t to me nor to the countless number of Cafe Gratitude die-hard fans. Because of an impending lawsuit by former employees that is too costly to fight, owners Matthew and Terces Engelhart have made the tragic decision to close all […]

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While the title of this blog post may seem overly dramatic to most people, it isn’t to me nor to the countless number of Cafe Gratitude die-hard fans.

Because of an impending lawsuit by former employees that is too costly to fight, owners Matthew and Terces Engelhart have made the tragic decision to close all of Cafe Gratitude’s locations in Northern California.

Why would a restaurant’s closing elicit such a response from me and so many other individuals?

If you’ve been there, you know.

If you haven’t been there and are not an organic food lover, you probably don’t know but let me try to explain.

Aside from the fact that Cafe Gratitude is one of the most well-known organic restaurants in the country, it is just a very, very special place.

Yes, the raw and cooked organic, vegan food is simply amazing. But Cafe Gratitude is so much more because it is a place where the owners truly “get it”.

While many other restaurants that I go to are equally committed to organic, none has the environment or energy of Cafe Gratitude.

Here are a few examples of what they do differently.

You don’t order a “salad with mixed greens” or a “BLT” or a “shot of wheatgrass”.

You order a “I am Fulfilled” or a “I am Extraordinary” or a “I am Renewed”. That’s how they name their dishes: I am ________.

All of the plates have inscribed on them “What Are You Grateful for Today?”

All of the tables are community tables, which means you get to interact with other like-minded individuals, something that most of us in the organic community love. I can’t tell you how many times my friends and I have left there with phone numbers and emails of people we just met.


At the table there is a specially-designed board game, and the waiter/waitress offers an intriguing and thought-provoking “question of the day”.

When someone has a birthday, every single employee sings and goes completely nuts. The rest of the restaurant always joins in.

The wait staff emits an infectious and positive energy like I’ve never seen at any other restaurant. They’re all super-happy to be there and are committed to making your experience at Cafe Gratitude an amazing one.

Whenever I go to San Francisco and as soon as I drop my bags off at my friend David’s apartment, the first thing he and I do is drive down to the Cafe Gratitude in The Mission. It’s been our routine for years, it never changes and it’s always the best.

David told me the other day “Aside from the great food, we are losing a community, a beacon of hope, and the owners’ hope and ideals of how the world can be. It’s like a kick in the gut.”

I couldn’t agree more. Cafe Gratitude is that special.


– From everything that I have read, the lawsuit from two former employees claims Cafe Gratitude (1) enforced a tip pooling policy that they did not like and cost them thousands of dollars; and (2) obligated the managers to attend and pay for the Landmark Forum, a very popular self-help program.

According to SFist, the lawyer who filed the wage claims, Stephen Sommers, says that these lawsuits “are not huge cases…they (the owners) are not closing these restaurants because of these lawsuits. There’s something else.”

– Cafe Gratitude’s website says that it will be open for a few more months but no exact closing date was given. DEFINITELY go before they shut the doors for good.

– The Cafe Gratitude located in Los Angeles will remain open, since it was opened with joint partners and under a different LLC.

In case you didn’t see it, I wrote a review of my visit to the Los Angeles location earlier this year. It doesn’t have the community tables or similar energy but it was fantastic nonetheless.


Unfortunately for myself and the many other people who were touched by this wonderful oasis of organic food, positive energy and hope, the Cafe Gratitude as we know it will be no more.

If you have any memories of Cafe Gratitude or anything you’d like to share about the restaurant, please leave them below.


  • Greg says:

    Hi Max,

    Remember the woman who spilled hot coffee in her lap and won a several million dollar lawsuit from McDonalds? What were those lawyers interested in? Truth? Justice? Fairness? Serving the public? What was she interested? Taking responsibility? Sound judgment? Wisdom?

    Which is of greater integrity… offering healthy food to anyone with any amount to pay via a Gratitude Bowl or not being willing to share a tip with the cooks, who cooked the food and the bus who cleaned the tables?

    I don’t understand how sharing tips is against the law. But I do understand how lawyers can make defending a lawsuit as expensive as settling a case without merit.

    • Max Goldberg says:

      Hi Greg,

      I understand your frustration. It would be a shame if the restaurant closes over a lawsuit such as this. Let’s see how the case unfolds and watch as more facts are made known.

      Live well,

  • brenda flemming says:

    max, being that my dream one day is to find the help to open up a vegan restaurant, I jump to the conclusion that through all the burrocricy of rules and regulations, that over time, it took the fun out of the dream and the owners are ready to move on to something new, or maybe the new owner of sunfood nutrition is going to bring his daddy’s Monsanto money into play and they have made them a silent offer…hows that for controversy??? Can we just pretend Monsanto does not exist and let those Monsanto folks be the shit shovelers and toilet cleaners along with the pharmaceutical folks and bankers- lets put them all in rehab and see if we cant get them all thinking straight like when they were small children. I love to eat at cafe gratitude when we are in the wild cities of california… its just that we mountain people eat bigger helpings and don’t have big wage jobs… we are all going to have to figure out a way we can eat healthy vegan organic food for around 10$ per plate, pay the help a decent wage, pay all the licenses and fees to run a restaurant, insurances and all that crap that makes us all work as slaves …we are all so tired of all the rules… any ideas to make a real change and then we can write our own manuals for corporative living. Good luck to all the help finding a job, good look to the owners may they keep it real and if they haven’t God forgive them and help them get back on track. God help us all figure things out…. Paul and I have a building, restaurant equipment- we are ready to rock and roll but don’t have the capitol to get it going in our small towns of salida and crested butte, colorado. Any employees that would like to be our cool partners and move to the mountains with good folk and the idea to get the vegan/raw/live health and environmental perspective living…. we could sure use the help…..

    • Max Goldberg says:

      Hi Brenda,

      I cannot say for sure why the owners closed down. It may have been the rules/regulations or it may have been something else. What I do know is that running a raw vegan, organic restaurant is a tough business with slim margins and you have to absolutely love it to do it.

      I wish you the best of luck with your restaurant!

      Live well,

  • Ron Massie says:

    I love the Cafe Gratitiude. I’m sad to see it disappear, thanks Ron Massie

    • Max Goldberg says:

      Hi Ron,

      I, and many others, love Cafe Gratitude as well and we are all very, very saddened by the news.

      Live well,

  • Michael says:

    Hey – I’m still stumped as to why something as common as a labor dispute, and one of “only” $200,000 results in the complete cessation of operations? It doesn’t add up

    • Max Goldberg says:

      Hi Michael,

      It’s a legitimate question and one that I don’t have an answer to. Please keep me posted if you find out anything.

      Live well,

  • Karolin says:

    Hey Max –

    Thanks for telling it like it is. This is an amazing restaurant, and so many people in the bay will be really sad to see it go. I heard that they are trying to start a worker’s co-op at one of the locations?

    Anyway – I think some of your ‘notes’ are a bit off. They haven’t required staff to take the Landmark forum for over 5 years – I’m sure this can’t be what the lawsuit is about. There’s a lot of crazy stuff about this on the internet, and I don’t think it’s wise to give in to speculation. I’m sure all will become clear in time.

    Bye Gratitude… we’ll always love you.

    • Max Goldberg says:

      Hi Karolin,

      Thanks for your comment. The part about Landmark Forum is simply what I read on SFist. I don’t know whether it is true or not, simply something that I read elsewhere.

      I agree, it will be a real shame if Cafe Gratitude closes. The place is beyond amazing.

      Live well,

  • KELLEY BELLA says:

    Whenever ANYONE uses someone else’s money for ANYTHING there are strings attached.

    • Max Goldberg says:

      Hi Kelley,

      You obviously have some inside information on this one. We’d love you to share more.

      Live well,

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