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    Pot-Pourri in Berkeley Echoes Chez Panisse Ethos of Connecting Makers With Consumers

    Just around the corner from landmark restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkeley, and down the hill from the original Peet’s Coffee in Walnut Square, is Pot-Pourri, a remarkable gift shop that carries on the tradition of the original Pot-Pourri, which for five decades was one of the largest stores in the nation featuring American handmade items.

    The original Oakland-based, two-story emporium—founded by ceramic artists Andy and Julia Diez—sadly closed a few years ago, and Andy died in 2022. Their son Maxmillian, however, is presently managing the business that retains the same level of artistic integrity as the original. It is a magical experience to step into the store and peruse well-priced items that were clearly made with love and pride.

    Maxmillian “Max” Diez, the owner and manager of
    Pot-Pourri in Berkeley

    Many of the items are crafted from found objects, such as wood burl full of mesmerizing natural lines, multi-colored sands from beaches around the world, sea glass, and even Roman glass dating to the 1st century A.D. Animals and botanical prints abound, but so too do nostalgic images—such as of old sewing machines, dancers, and more. The carved wooden salad bowls are museum-worthy, as are the earthy coffee cups that Alfred Peet himself surely admired back in the day.

    Glass sculpture of a whale by renowned artist Larry Foster

    Max, following in the footsteps of his father, also showcases some treasured items that are not for sale, turning the shop into a mini gallery as well. For example, the giant glass mounted whales were created by renowned artist Larry Foster. Foster also created Pheena, the life-size fin whale at the plaza of the Lawrence Hall of Science. Pheena is a noteworthy piece, yet very accessible to the public. Kids even love to sit on her, as you can see here:

    That is not an option for the delicate, yet gigantic, glass whales at Pot-Pourri, which were transported with great care from the original store to the present Berkeley one by a glass expert. Also transported carefully from the Oakland store was a stunning large-scale painting of a powerful and beautiful African scene by the late great California-based artist Jerry Kidd. He was known for metal work and nature-inspired art, often revisiting images of oak trees from the beloved ones he admired in Oakland. 

    The second of two glass whale sculptures handcrafted by artist Larry Foster

    Pot-Pourri is rich with such stories, as each item reflects not only its subject but also the values, talents, and characteristics of the artist. Just as Alice Waters at Chez Panisse has worked to connect consumers to the farmers and others who produce the ingredients used in the restaurant, so too does Pot-Pourri connect buyers with the human stories behind the items on offer. The care and respect that went into their creation then passes down to the owner, who hopefully will keep the objects to hand over to the next generation or a lucky friend.

    While at Walnut Square, visitors can also check out the Love at First Bite Bakery, which showcases cupcakes in many irresistible flavors. (Pro tip: You can usually buy day-old cupcakes by the half dozen that are still very good.) There is additionally FAVA, which serves an amazing Mediterranean-style lunch to nosh on before those decadent cupcakes. The Walk Shop is nearby, with attractive brand-name comfort footwear. The shoes will come in handy because there are so many worthwhile destinations within walking distance of Pot-Pourri.

    2108 Vine Street, Berkeley

    Published on August 24, 2023