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Berkeley merchants want ‘Gourmet Ghetto’ nickname gone

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Even Alice Waters says the 1970s moniker must go

A banner with the phrase “gourmet ghetto” hanging from a lamppost. Photo by Diablanco

Berkeley’s famed Gourmet Ghetto neighborhood now wants to shed its decades-old nickname. The North Shattuck Association, a merchant’s association representing some of the East Bay city’s most acclaimed eateries, is leading the charge.

The association announced last week that its members voted to stop using the common nomenclature. The association’s Executive Director Heather Hensley says that the term “Gourmet Ghetto” is exclusionary and demeaning.

Hensley writes, ”We want all members of the larger community to feel invited and wanted in our neighborhood. In keeping with this reflection, and with respect to those who feel a strong connection to the spirit of the ‘gourmet ghetto’ name, we support dropping the moniker from our marketing.”

The nickname is so closely associated with bars, restaurants, and related North Berkeley businesses that even the association’s own site is called; the group is responsible for the “Gourmet Ghetto” banners still visible on the street today.

But now the same organization says that it’s time for a change on Shattuck Avenue.

Alice Waters’ famed Chez Panisse restaurant opened in North Berkeley in 1971. Its acclaim attracted similar high-profile eateries and cafes to neighboring blocks on and around Shattuck Avenue, between Rose Street in the north and Hearst Avenue in the south, such as the Cheese Board and the original Peet’s Coffee.

The term “Gourmet Ghetto” is almost as old as Chez Panisse itself, gaining traction in the 1970s. Accounts vary as to where it actually came from, with the likes of Herb Caen and Alice Kahn identified as the most likely suspects.

It will probably be even more difficult to take the terminology out of the mouths of some locals, but Alice Waters provided a big boost to the rechristening campaign earlier this month, telling the San Francisco Chronicle that she never liked the nickname and believes locals should change it.