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Luckily, the nonprofit Oakland Business Development Corporation believed in their experience and acumen, and financed their loans when traditional banks shrank away.
"I'm in awe of all these entrepreneurs," said OBDC Managing Director Felicia Pierson, whose first projects were helping Linden Street and Chop Bar. "A lot are young, a lot want to do something different, and want to contribute." (Noor financed Grand Tavern with money he had saved and additional funds from a college friend; the fact he and his mom didn't take salaries also helped.)
The success was Oakland's, too. Linden Street, Grand Tavern, and Chop Bar have all made community involvement a priority. They have donated food and beer to various nonprofits, and Noor has hosted fundraisers at Grand Tavern. Community ties thickened, and their success triggered subtler stuff, too.
"When they're willing to take a risk," Pierson said, "other entrepreneurs see that and are willing to take a risk. It creates organic growth."
Added Lamoreaux: "The best part as an entrepreneur opening in the worst economy the community's seen is it subconsciously gave them hope. They may not say it out loud, but they're thinking, 'It can't be that bad.'"
Since then, critics and locals alike have been eating up their stuff. (And drinking it, too.)
Chop Bar's easy energy — born of the casual-attentive service, rounded bar, plank-wood walls, and hanging vintage trombones — dovetails with affordable price points ($8.50 for a tasty banh mi) and rigorously sourced ingredients. Its brunches, brimming with baconfied Bloody Marys, chilaquiles, and cazuela, were a hit in the beginning and remain booming.
Lamoreaux can't keep supply remotely in sync with ever-telescoping demand, and that's not just from bars and restaurants lapping at the door of his straight-from-the-1900s, old Chicago-feeling shipping station of a craft beer mini-factory. They want his signature Deep Roots Red, Burning Oak Black, and, his finest work, the Common (a take on steam beer as complex as Oakland). Local restaurant owners are partnering with Lamoreaux to create their own Linden Street-created one-offs, like Bar de Tartine's amber Biere de Tartine and Hawker Fare's Superfly.
Grand Tavern has ridden its homey feel and ahead-of-the-trend drink menu — Noor hunted down a Prohibition-style ice maker in the south for its perfectly square cubes — to hatch a definitive neighborhood hub. The range of market-driven, gluten-free-friendly dishes — from moist, roasted leeks to rich avocado salads and crispy green beans grown in school gardens — earned Chef Nate Barry-Stein an appearance on the cover of the Express this fall.
Their collaborations are increasing — as is their businesses. Noor is biking more kegs of Linden's carbon-neutral, Oakland-only 'Town Lager to his bar on a specially designed Linden Street Brewery platform cruiser. Come warmer months, Chop Bar's whole-hog roasts at Linden Street will return, creating 350-person al fresco parties on Sunday afternoons with live music. Pastena and Noor, meanwhile, recognizing what they say is a common get-things-done spirit, are collaborating on several of the most devoutly Oakland restaurants to arrive since, well, 2009.
In addition to managing their own restaurant-bars, Grand Tavern's Noor and Chop Bar's Pastena are working on no fewer than three major Oakland restaurant projects at once: The waterfront Cinque Terre-inspired Italian lounge-restaurant Lungomare, the downtown tavern Tribune Tavern, and an as-yet-unnamed Yucatán-focused food-and-tequila destination in the proposed mixed-use "Hive" development at 22nd Street and Broadway. Meanwhile, Linden Street's Lamoreaux — who introduced Noor and Pastena when he learned both were looking for projects — is overhauling his entire brewery and adding a promising restaurant collaboration of his own. And Chop Bar partner Delany has a plan in play for a German-style beer garden right on the waterfront, featuring afternoon barbecues and rotating taps. (See "Projects in the Pipeline for 2013" sidebar.)
When asked why he's taking on so many projects at once, Noor replied, "Why not?"
Well, there's the risk — the chance of undermining the success of his existing restaurant — not to mention what such an undertaking will do to his ability to sleep. But maybe the more accurate answer than "why not?" would be the same answer each of these guys gives when asked about their inspiration: Oakland.
The logic that worked for Chop Bar, Linden Street, and Grand Tavern is the same that drives these new projects: Look for what Oakland needs, and fulfill the need with solid principles carried out by a competent staff. Pastena recites his operating philosophy regularly: "Quality ingredients, perfectly executed."
"It's just something that resonates with us and what we're trying to accomplish," said Pastena. "I think [when] people are driven by profit and other things, that starts taking away from values."
That philosophy led Pastena and Delany to look at how Chop Bar could offer conscious sourcing without sending its prices beyond the realm of its core clientele. What resulted elevated Pastena and Delany's reputation for craftiness: Pastena campaigned stubbornly for more wineries to sell him wine by the barrel, saving space, money, and packaging, while widening the wine menu in ways he couldn't before — and creating real demand for bigger-format wines. Delany started doing in-house whole-hog butchery and charcuterie like cured fatback and smoked tenderloin, saving more money in the process. The surging drink program stocked rare spirits and offered specific and stylized drinks, allowing bartenders to manage without a big back bar they couldn't fit anyway.
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