Quick Take:

Santa Cruz’s Cafe GSC, formerly Cafe Gratitude, closed earlier this month due to financial difficulties after 13 years in business. The downtown restaurant served an organic, plant-based menu and was a vestige of a once-flourishing chain of Cafe Gratitudes that at its height had nine locations in California.

Vegan-friendly restaurant Cafe GSC, formerly known as Cafe Gratitude, has closed after 13 years in business in downtown Santa Cruz. The cafe shut down in mid-October.

In a sign posted to the door, owner Matthew Manzo cited “the debt we incurred the last 3 years and the increasing cost of goods, along with the steady decrease in business” as reasons for the closure. “I love each and every one of you and am sorry that I couldn’t make it work,” it reads.

Cafe GSC was one of the few downtown restaurants committed to serving 100% organic plant-based food with inspiring names like “Warm Hearted,” pan-seared polenta with cashew-ricotta, “Transformed,” corn tacos with roasted seasonal vegetables, and “Whole,” a macrobiotic grain bowl with kimchi and seaweed. These names are a remnant of Cafe Gratitude’s most recognizable hallmark: its menu of positive affirmations that encouraged customers to declare “I Am Extraordinary” to order a BLT made with coconut “bacon,” for example.

Manzo is the son of Cafe Gratitude founders Matthew and Terces Engelhart, who opened the first Cafe Gratitude in San Francisco in 2004. In addition to offering plant-based, raw and organic food, the restaurants were a way for the Engelharts to share The Abounding River, a self-enlightenment board game they created to encourage the spiritual practice of “being abundance.” The chain grew to more than a half-dozen locations throughout California, with one location owned privately in Kansas City.

After it opened in 2011, the Santa Cruz location separated from the chain and was owned privately by Manzo, hence the name change. All of the Northern California locations closed by the end of 2015 due to financial difficulties as a result of “aggressive lawsuits” brought by former employees, according to a statement from the Engelharts in 2011. Now, only three locations in Southern California and the Kansas City location remain.

The Santa Cruz location also drew attention for its own employee conflicts. In 2021, former employees staged a boycott and a walkout due to complaints about unfair employment practices and fruitless efforts to negotiate with Manzo.

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Lily Belli is the food and drink correspondent at Lookout Santa Cruz. Over the past 15 years since she made Santa Cruz her home, Lily has fallen deeply in love with its rich food culture, vibrant agriculture...