Batool Rawoas is more than the barista at Oakland’s new Damask Rose cafe. She is also the general manager, co-owner and founder. After a few months of business planning, she and her family cut the ribbon when the boutique officially opened in mid-April. “We’re just getting started,” says Rawoas. “We worked very hard on that.” The stop is a new business separate from the Rawoas family’s first business, Old Damascus Fare, a catering business that worked with the La Cocina program in 2018. COVID, of course, was a blow – so the family decided to resign. “We wanted to do something to move forward,” says Rawoas.
Now, Damask Rose offers a blend of specialty coffee and Mediterranean cuisine; the store’s most popular drink, a rose latte, is representative of this intersection. Like Shekoh Moosavi’s chocolates, the rose flavor, which can be paired with cardamom syrup if the customer wishes, is a small way to bring the flavor common to Middle Eastern cuisine in North Oakland. The store is also crowned with colorful floral decorations; the walls painted an eye-catching salmon pink.
Rawoas is a graduate of 1951 Coffee Company, a non-profit organization that offers coffee lessons to refugees. In 2017, she was taking classes at university and wanted to try the program for fun as she had never made coffee before. She ended up being one of the organization’s first employees at the store 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, just before the pandemic, to focus on growing the family restaurant business. These days, the 24-year-old student lives with her family in San Pablo and travels to Berkeley to work in the new store.
Damask Rose brews Steeltown Roasters, a specialty coffee company in Pittsburgh, but is looking to roast its own beans in the future. “We want to be recognized as one of the specialty coffee shops,” says Rawoas. “If business does very well, fingers crossed.” But that’s not to say Damask Rose has less spectacular dishes: the handmade Mediterranean flatbread is a go-to option for diners wanting a bite to eat with their cardamom cold brew. Muhammara, a flatbread with red peppers, tomatoes, cilantro, onions, olive oil and spices – a vegan option – is right there with the zaatar, a flatbread with thyme, sesame seeds and olive oil (also vegan). The lahm bi ajeen flatbread showcases lamb over vegetables, and is the number one choice for meat eaters at the store, Rawoas says. People can also get take-out items, like bird’s nest dolmas and baklava.
Rawoas wants to grow the business, become a staple in the neighborhood and serve drinks, like the store’s rose lemonade, for a long time, she says. “I am grateful to the community,” says Rawoas. “To all the support of 1951, who is such a great help at this time.”