When Vincent Medina and Louis Trevino, the owners of Cafe Ohlone, began imagining what their new restaurant ‘oṭṭoy would look like, they knew they wanted the space, located at the Hearst Museum of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, to reflect Ohlone culture. The restaurant stands on unceded Ohlone territory, home to Indigenous tribes who lived in what’s now called the Bay Area, and Cafe Ohlone works to fuse cultural education with food. The restaurant ‘oṭṭoy is the newest iteration of that mission, a collaboration between the museum and Cafe Ohlone’s founders. The vision of the new space was to showcase the landscape and the natural elements of the East Bay while featuring an older style of craftsmanship. “We call Cafe Ohlone ‘a love song to Ohlone culture’ because every element that’s there is specific to our living identity,” Medina says. “But we also call it ‘A world reimagined’: A world that’s under our leadership, with our values, with our aesthetics, that’s rooted in something much older, but also at the same time contemporary, which is something that reflects our own identities.”
Landscape design firm Terremoto brought those ideas to life with a plan that incorporates native plants and design, but the other piece of the puzzle was finding someone to build tables, chairs, and a ramada in the style Cafe Ohlone envisioned. Local company Bay Area Redwood fit that vision. The team appreciated the company’s mission to divert trees out of landfills by reclaiming felled trees for reuse; it fit well with the restaurant’s ethos of locality and sustainability. Medina and Trevino previously worked with Bay Area Redwood founder Nick Harvey to source wood for the crates Cafe Ohlone used for its takeout program during the pandemic, and when the opportunity arose to design the new space, the partners connected Terremoto to Harvey to source the wood. “We saw Nick’s ethics and his care for the trees that he’s working with and also not doing things for only financial gain, but doing things with good ethics in mind,” Medina says.
The result is a space filled with furniture made from wood found within 50 miles of the restaurant, crafted in a timeless style. Medina’s grandfather was a carpenter, so the craftsmanship of the space was important to him; the vision was to create elegant pieces without elements such as metal joints interfering with the design. Instead wood joints are used for each table, in keeping with the natural style. The tables are also made from curly wood, Harvey notes, a rarer type of wood with a wavier grain that’s showcased on each tabletop, while chairs are made from whole tree trunks. “With Cafe Ohlone, sustainability is built into everything they do, and using things that come from this land that we all now call the Bay Area,” Harvey says.
The ramada at the head of the restaurant is intended as a space for Ohlone elders to sit, another special design element for the restaurant. The material for that was sourced from Blackhawk by Harvey’s company and features the names of speakers of the Chochenyo language laser etched onto the posts. The names are then followed by a verse and an English translation. Medina and Trevino’s younger cousin, for instance, has her name etched onto the post with the phrase “I’m grateful for my future” alongside others, another detail that speaks to the intentionality of the space.
The restaurant, the outdoor design, and the furniture have been embraced by the partners’ families, who see the elements as a reflection of their culture, all designed and made by hand. The space has been a tremendous source of pride, Trevino and Medina share. “It really reflects the vision to respect our aesthetics as a living Ohlone community, which is valuing natural material, valuing that subtlety, the refinement,” Trevino says. “Not everything is uniform, and yet the natural edges are maintained; not every table is full of right angles being cut, every seat is unique but also extremely functional. It just falls and rests right in our cultural aesthetic.”