Batool Rawoas is more than the barista at Oakland’s new Damask Rose coffee shop. She’s also the general manager, part-owner, and founder. After a few months of business planning, she and her family cut the ribbon at the shop’s grand opening in mid-April. “We’re just getting started,” Rawoas says. “We worked really hard on this.” The stop is a new and separate venture from Rawoas family’s first business, Old Damascus Fare, a catering company that worked with the La Cocina program in 2018. COVID, of course, was a tremendous blow — so the family called it quits. “We wanted to do something to move on,” Rawoas says.
Now Damask Rose offers a blend of specialty coffee and Mediterranean food; the shop’s most popular drink, a rose latte, is representative of that intersection. Like Shekoh Moosavi’s chocolates, the rose flavor, which can be joined by cardamom syrup if the customer wishes, is a small way to bring the a flavor common to Middle Eastern cooking to North Oakland. The store is also wreathed in colorful floral decorations; the walls painted an eye-catching salmon pink.
Rawoas is a graduate of 1951 Coffee Company, a not-only-for-profit organization that offers coffee classes to refugees. In 2017 she was taking college classes and wanted to try out the program for fun since she’d never made coffee before. She ended up being one of the organization’s first employees at the shop near UC Berkeley. Her time there was featured in the documentary film “No Single Origin” — but Rawoas says focusing too much on her status as a Syrian immigrant can put her in a box. She quit after two years, right before the pandemic, to focus on growing her family’s catering company. These days, the 24-year-old college student lives with her family in San Pablo and commutes to Berkeley to work at the new shop.
Damask Rose brews Steeltown Roasters, a specialty coffee business out of Pittsburgh, but is looking to roast their own beans in the future. “We want to be known as one of the specialty coffee shops,” Rawoas says. “If business goes really well, fingers crossed.” But that doesn’t mean Damask Rose has any less show-stopping food: the handmade Mediterranean flatbread is a go-to option for customers who want a bite with their cardamom cold brew. Muhammara, a flatbread with red peppers, tomatoes, cilantro, onions, olive oil and spices — a vegan option — is right up there with the zaatar, a flatbread with thyme, sesame seeds, and olive oil (also vegan). The lahm bi ajeen flatbread highlights lamb rather than veggies, and is the number one choice for the meat eaters at the shop, Rawoas says. Folks can get grab-and-go items, too, like dolmas and birds’ nests baklava.
Rawoas wants to grow the business, become a staple in the neighborhood, and serve drinks, like the shop’s rose lemonade, for a long time, she says. “I’m grateful to the community,” Rawoas says. “To all the support from 1951, who is such a great help at this time.”