On a drizzly Tuesday morning, Kerstin Kansteiner was delighted to spot two familiar faces outside of her newest Long Beach restaurant, only minutes before the doors opened for its first day of business.
The pair arrived bright and early as they routinely did, just one block away at Portfolio Coffeehouse, which closed its doors permanently last year after operating on Retro Row for 32 years.
Alder & Sage, which officially opened Tuesday at 366 Cherry Ave., borrows elements from both of Kansteiner’s previous endeavors, Portfolio and Berlin Bistro—sister cafes that were long beloved by locals. And just a few hours into Day One, Kansteiner was beginning to feel that Alder & Sage could reassemble a similar melting pot.
“There were people that came in today who were standing in line and recognized each other as [previous Portfolio] customers and hugged,” Kansteiner said. “That was really heartwarming to see.”
There are plenty of details customers of the shuttered cafes will recognize, including a painting of Portfolio Coffeehouse, which hangs near the entrance, and Berlin’s large community table, which sits in the backyard. But a full kitchen—offering bites such as the Jidori chicken lettuce wrap or the prismatic beets and burrata dish—is what sets the new location apart from the former entirely.
“It’s a grownup version of Portfolio with comfortable seating,” Kansteiner said. “And the space is big enough indoor or outdoor that whether you’re here on a laptop or you’re here with friends, that’s awesome.”
Matt Azen and Bryan Wilson, who live nearby, were regulars of Portfolio and were also fans of Berlin. As they sat at a long table by the window at Alder & Sage on Tuesday, they said they were happy to be back in a similar environment.
Portfolio “was always kind of hoppin’ and just a friendly space to sit, read and hang out as long as you needed to,” Wilson said. “It had that sit and hang out kind of coffee shop vibe without it feeling like it was 1997. It wasn’t too dark, or carpeted.”
Azen, who works remotely and often frequents coffee shops, said he was excited about the new location’s outdoor fire pit lounge and just to have somewhere close to his home again.
“On the flip side, I think there’s a tendency for coffee to be a sort of snobby thing that a lot of other new places don’t feel welcoming,” Azen said. “So it’s great to find that sweet spot where you have great coffee but you don’t have to be a coffee elitist.”
The new cafe will serve Rose Park Coffee and pastries during its first two weeks. Then, likely for the rest of January, the cafe will serve food from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. until dinner service begins in February, which will extend hours until about 10 p.m. All the while, the team is working on securing a beer and wine license.
From the moment the doors opened on Tuesday, the place was bustling with both previous patrons and new customers eager to find a seat within the cozy mid-century building. Apt for its name, the subtle scent of sage and charred wood chips permeated the air as baristas prepared whiskey caramel and maple sage lattes.
Due to the drizzle, the cafe’s backyard remained empty, but Kansteiner said she is excited to see locals and dog owners fill the ‘70s-style conversation pit, with its two fire pits and lounge seating.
The name of the space was long debated, Kansteiner said.
‘“Is it Portfolio, is it Berlin—Berlinpolio?’ We felt like it was such a new beginning and such a new concept that we didn’t want to bring either, although we do have a little homage [to Portfolio] at the entranceway,” she said.
Kansteiner ultimately settled on a name that embodied a more natural feel—“alder” for the wood used in the building and “sage” for a symbol to usher in a new era, leaving the past behind.
“I felt like I needed some sage-ing after the Portfolio experience,” she said of the lengthy landlord dispute and four-year legal battle that led to the shop’s closure on July 31, 2022. Kansteiner said that unfair rent increases eventually cost both sides more than $200,000 combined in legal fees.
Although both cafes closed for good, Kansteiner noted that she was able to re-employ all workers of both Berlin and Portfolio, except one, who found a job elsewhere nearby. So naturally, opening day began smoothly with a familiar team, she said.
Kansteiner, a resident of Long Beach for 35 years, said she’s grateful for the opportunity to raise a fusion of her two former cafes on Retro Row, close to her home, rather than Downtown, where Berlin Bistro operated.
“I’ve always lived in this area so it feels really great coming back. “There’s a real community here,” she said. “Nobody really lives Downtown so you never had this community feeling where you see people on a daily basis. In the months we’ve been working here, every single day, two to three people have stopped by…that felt really good.”