Over the past few months, the name of the renowned North Berkeley “Gourmet Ghetto” has sparked intense conversation that has led to the removal of the name. The area is located in the North Shattuck Business District and is known for popular shops and restaurants such as Chez Panisse and the Cheeseboard Collective. The decision to remove the name was made after Nick Cho, owner of Wrecking Ball Coffee, raised concerns.
Cho cited the negative, racial connotations of the word “ghetto,” as an argument for the removal of the name. The association released a public statement on September 27 informing the Berkeley community of the change.
Cho advocated for the name change with future generations in mind. “What kind of America, what kind of communities, what kind of Berkeley are we passing on? It’s our responsibility to not only do what’s comfortable but to do what’s right,” he said.
Some community members criticized Cho for speaking to the media before consulting the association and local business owners. Many also questioned the suddenness of the decision to change the name.
“It seemed a little hasty and a little reactionary to drop [the name Gourmet Ghetto] because of possible offensiveness,” said Tara Jacquet, co-owner of North Shattuck restaurant Grégoire. Jacquet added that many business owners at the community meeting were “bothered that it had become such an issue that’s dividing people.”
The moniker has since been removed from advertising for the area. Banners hanging above Shattuck Avenue bearing the term were removed by the association on October 3. The association’s website address has also been changed from gourmetghetto.org to northshattuck.org.
“The process that they went about is that they had a meeting of the board of their business improvement district. … A decision through a democratic process was made … to remove the banners and stop using the name for now,” said Berkeley City Councilwoman, Sophie Hahn.
The City of Berkeley was not involved in the decision to remove the name since the term “Gourmet Ghetto” was never an official name with the City of Berkeley. “This is just taking Gourmet Ghetto off of the branding by the association. … So I actually didn’t understand what all the fuss was about,” said Cathy Goldsmith, Cheeseboard Collective community liaison and president of the association. Goldsmith also believes that many community members may continue using the name regardless of its removal from the banners.
Cho has faced a lot of pushback, both through social media and in-person from members of the community. Comments in articles on Berkeleyside covering the name change have criticized Cho and the association for being too “politically correct.”
“I think for most people in their personal narratives, they’re the protagonists, and it’s very challenging emotionally and intellectually for people to understand that the things they like or want can actually be hurting other people,” said Cho.
According to Goldsmith, the term “Gourmet Ghetto” originated in the 1970s from members of the North Shattuck Community as a form of self-deprecation. “It came as a joke made by a Cheeseboard member so many years ago as a criticism of what was happening in the North Shattuck area,” said Goldsmith.
According to Cho, the association is treating this period after the name change as a “cooling off period” and will refrain from renaming the area indefinitely.
Goldsmith added that a new name for the neighborhood could arise organically in the future: “Just like how the Gourmet Ghetto named itself, whatever is going to happen next will happen. That’s just how names work