Bette Kroening, whose Bette’s Oceanview Diner has been packed with fans of its pancakes, scrapple, and diner food with integrity, has passed away at age 71, of cancer.
Since 1982, Kroening has been an integral part of her West Berkeley restaurant, which she started with her husband Manfred, and co-worker Sue Conley (who went on to co-found Cowgirl Creamery). Once a social worker, Kroening took classes at chef Joyce Goldstein’s cooking school in SF, then spent time working under Narsai David and Paul Bertolli at Berkeley’s Fourth Street Grill before the opportunity to open Bette’s came along. From the start, the menu of fresh, California-style diner attracted fans, particularly of her famous buttermilk pancakes.
Kroening, who was also known for her fair labor practices, actively supported Berkeley’s minimum-wage ordinance, and commenced profit-sharing for her employees before it was a common practice. As her daughter, Lucie Kroening, told the Chron: “She thought it was stupid that the dishwasher would be paid less than a cook, because if you didn’t have a dishwasher, the kitchen wouldn’t function.”
In 2013 Eater SF published an interview with Kroening, ranging through topics from the restaurant’s origins to serving 7,200 eggs per week to the couple’s “farm for old cooks to retire to.” Here is a notable excerpt from the interview, which can be read in full here, demonstrative of Kroening’s love of community, both in and out of the restaurant.
What does the future hold? Are you up for another 30 years at Bette's?
BK: For the foreseeable future...I don't know about another 30 years! Manfred has declared that when he turns 60, he's not going to do hosting on the weekend, so that frees us up to spend more time on the farm. But I still love it, and I still feel that our presence is really important. And I'm still into looking for new dishes for specials. I try to keep it interesting. I read magazines, I read blogs, I'm always looking for something fresh and new, and it still totally turns me on.
For a beautifully written full history of Bette Kroening’s impact on her community, head over to Jonathan Kauffman’s piece in the SF Chronicle.