Tuesday, July 31, 2018

La Marcha Team to Open Alcalá in Montclair Village

by Momo Chang
Tue, Jul 31, 2018 at 1:19 PM

The paella will reflect the restaurant’s emphasis on seafood. - PHOTO COURTESY OF PHI TRAN
  • Photo courtesy of Phi Tran
  • The paella will reflect the restaurant’s emphasis on seafood.

A new Spanish restaurant will be coming to Montclair Village in Oakland in 2019, helmed by the owners of the popular La Marcha Tapas Bar in Berkeley.

Chefs Sergio Monleón and Emily Sarlatte are the duo behind the business. The new 3,000-square-foot restaurant is named Alcalá (2084 Mountain Blvd., Oakland), which translates to “citadel” in Arabic.

“It’s a play on the fact that every village in Spain had a citadel, and we are moving to Montclair Village,” Monleón told the Express. The name is also inspired by the restaurant’s aesthetics, which will be rustic and castle-like.

Raiden Brenner will serve as executive chef. Brenner has cooked in the kitchens of Oliveto and Duende, among other restaurants. Brenner traveled to Spain earlier this year for inspiration for Alcalá. “He gets our vision really well. He understands our cuisine and adds new elements that will make it unique,” Monleón said.

The menu will feature Spanish cuisine, focusing on paellas, which will be cooked in a wood-fired oven. (La Marcha also specializes in paella, but the selection at Alcalá will be different.) There will also be a focus on using the whole animal, butchered in-house and grilled in the wood-fired oven, along with seafood dishes, tapas, a full bar menu, and meats aged for house-made charcuterie.

A rendering of the dining room. - PHOTO COURTESY OF STUDIO KDA
  • Photo courtesy of Studio KDA
  • A rendering of the dining room.

While La Marcha is a more casual tapas bar, the plan for Alcalá is a more formal full-service restaurant with bigger tables and a quieter atmosphere. All of it will come together in a rustic style. “The style of using whole animals is a nod to the cuisine of an earlier time,” Monleón said.

Chef Sarlatte is an Oakland native who graduated from Laney College’s culinary program and spent time studying in Spain, where she fell in love with the cuisine. Monleón was raised in California in a Spanish household and spent six years living in Madrid, Spain.
Sarlatte and Monleón met working at Trattoria La Siciliana in Berkeley. In 2012, they teamed up to start Ñora Cocina Española, a Spanish catering company, serving paella and other dishes at weddings and festivals such as Eat Real. In 2015, they opened La Marcha Tapas Bar.

Alcalá joins their Gran Via Restaurant Group, which includes La Marcha, the upcoming Mile Limit bottle shop, and Ñora Cocina Española.

There is not a date set yet for the new restaurant’s opening, but owners are shooting for sometime in 2019. The site is currently under construction, with a new building going up on the corner of Mountain Boulevard and Antioch. The restaurant will be on the ground floor of the new construction, designed by Lowney Architecture, and the restaurant is being designed by Studio KDA, which also designed Berkeley’s Comal and San Francisco’s Nopalito.

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Farmhouse Kitchen Thai Cuisine Opens in Jack London Square

by Momo Chang
Tue, Jul 31, 2018 at 9:52 AM

Floral accents dominate the spacious restaurant. - PHOTO COURTESY OF FARMHOUSE KITCHEN THAI CUISINE
  • Photo courtesy of Farmhouse Kitchen Thai Cuisine
  • Floral accents dominate the spacious restaurant.

From the owners of Daughter Thai Kitchen in Montclair comes a new Thai restaurant on the Jack London waterfront. Farmhouse Kitchen Thai Cuisine (366 Water St., Oakland) opened last week.
Similar to Daughter Thai, the new restaurant, which is located between Forge Pizza and the new Belcampo, boasts an atmosphere that is homey, lush, fun, and family-friendly. Flowers abound, and the decor is flecked with gold accents and white marble.

Chef Kasem “Pop” Saengsawang is originally from Thailand, and says the waterfront reminds him of places in Thailand. “When you face the water, see the sunlight, it’s similar to Thailand’s weather,” he told the Express. “I’m a guy who grew up in the countryside. I really like the water, trees, and birds. It reminds me of who I am.”

Saengsawang co-owns the restaurants with his wife, Ling Chatterjee.
The Thai restaurant is a welcomed addition to the neighborhood, where there is currently no other place for Thai food. The couple’s first restaurant, Farmhouse Kitchen in San Francisco, opened four years ago, and another one opened in Portland. Daughter Thai in the Montclair Village opened in 2016 and has quickly become a popular local spot. While Daughter Thai specializes in southern Thai cuisine, Farmhouse focuses on dishes from the northern part of the country. The Farmhouse team is still tinkering with the Oakland menu, but for now, there is some overlap between the two restaurants.

When Saengsawang moved to the U.S. 18 years ago, he was studying computer science. A few years later, he noticed that Thai food was really taking off. He felt like he had the knowledge and skills to cook his native cuisine, so he attended culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu in San Francisco and became a chef. “Cooking is me trying to remember who I am,” he said. “I use my own memory of when I was young. I learned to cook from my grandma.”

He recalls helping his grandmother by going to the markets to buy ingredients, haggling with vendors for the best prices on spices, and learning how to select the best produce and meat. He still chats with his grandmother every day, now that he’s successfully opened several restaurants. He said she always jokes, “‘Don’t forget to cut me a share,’ because I learned a lot from her.”
Daughter Thai Kitchen's popular Hat Yai fried chicken is currently on the Farmhouse menu. - PHOTO COURTESY OF FARMHOUSE KITCHEN THAI CUISINE
  • Photo courtesy of Farmhouse Kitchen Thai Cuisine
  • Daughter Thai Kitchen's popular Hat Yai fried chicken is currently on the Farmhouse menu.

The chef hopes to introduce people to different types of Thai food beyond pad Thai and pad see ew (although those staples are also on the menu), including braised meat curry dishes, wild salmon cooked in banana leaves, and a very spicy papaya salad. The restaurant strives to use quality ingredients, including locally sourced meat from places like Mary’s Organic Chicken. The restaurant has a full bar with Asian-inspired cocktails as well as dog-friendly outdoor seating.

Like Daughter Thai, Farmhouse brings a playful spirit to dining, including spicy food eating. Birthday celebrations are not for the shy, as they sing a “crazy birthday song” and put the spotlight on the honoree. “I wanted it to feel like people are coming into their friend’s house,” Saengsawang said.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Update: How Hasta Muerte Coffee Successfully Secured Its Building

by Momo Chang
Tue, Jul 24, 2018 at 2:45 PM

This building now belongs to Hasta Muerte. - PHOTO BY MOMO CHANG
  • Photo by Momo Chang
  • This building now belongs to Hasta Muerte.

In late May, Hasta Muerte Coffee (2701 Fruitvale Ave., Oakland), a worker-owned cooperative that was thrown into the national spotlight for refusing to serve uniformed police officers, launched a crowdfunding campaign to buy its building.

In mid-July, Haste Muerte successfully preserved its space, along with two residential rental units in the building, with the help of the Oakland Community Land Trust. The collective raised more than $50,000 through the crowdfunding platform alone to go toward the purchase.

In a statement to the Express, the collective stated: “In general, we believe that this was entirely a community effort and as major beneficiaries of the deal, cannot say thank you enough to those that embraced our vision of sanctuary space and defended our long-term sustainability.”

The cafe opened less than a year ago and has come under intense national media coverage and scrutiny. Pro-Trump supporters rallied in front of the cafe, and a few months ago the building went up for sale, prompting fears that a new owner might raise the rent and displace the business. Nonetheless, Haste Muerte continued to serve food and coffee to the community.

Technically, the Oakland Community Land Trust owns the building and land, but the goal is to eventually work something out with Hasta Muerte and the tenants. If the collective purchases the building from the Oakland Community Land Trust, the land trust will still own the land for 99 years.

Steve King, executive director of the Oakland Community Land Trust, said they partnered with Hasta Muerte because “we were both interested in helping them as a worker-owned cooperative to save their space, but we were also concerned about the two residential units.”

Oakland Community Land Trust was formed in 2009 at the height of the foreclosure crisis. Its goal is to gain “community control of land and housing, something that remains permanently affordable,” King said. “The nature of the crisis has changed from foreclosure to now one of mass displacement.”

While some have claimed that the cafe is an example of gentrification, the deal preserves the two top units as affordable housing for at least 99 years. The land trust and the collective also intend for the downstairs commercial space to serve a community purpose into perpetuity. Even if Hasta Muerte buys the building from the land trust, it will not be able to resell it at market rate.

Since the building has been purchased, Haste Muerte is forging ahead to keep the Fruitvale neighborhood cafe as a sanctuary space.
As the collective stated: “Now we are excited to focus on our shop as a cultural center, a ‘history of de-colonial struggle’-themed bookstore, and a café where BBQ Beckys and Permit Pattys of the Bay know they will be most unwelcomed.” 

Read the Express' prior reporting on the deal here.

Editor's Note: This original post, published on July 13, announced the purchase. On July 24, we updated it with more reporting and an interview with Steve King.

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Monday, July 23, 2018

Mak-‘amham Aims to Bring Back Indigenous Ways Starting with Café Ohlone in Berkeley

by Momo Chang
Mon, Jul 23, 2018 at 5:02 PM

Vincent Medina (left) and Louis Trevino are co-founders of mak-'amham. - PHOTO COURTESY OF MICHELLE MADDOX
  • Photo courtesy of Michelle Maddox
  • Vincent Medina (left) and Louis Trevino are co-founders of mak-'amham.

There are no people with a deeper connection to the East Bay than the Ohlone, the original people of this area. Yet so little is known about Ohlone people and culture due to colonization.

Through a new cafe called Café Ohlone by mak-‘amham, Vincent Medina and Louis Trevino hope to bring back traditions by serving modern Ohlone food — the only restaurant of its kind anywhere.

“There isn’t a place where you can see Ohlone culture represented through food,” Trevino said. “It’s a powerful way to reach people and change their minds about us.”

The two trace their roots back many generations, Medina from what is now known as the East Bay and the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe and Trevino from the Carmel Valley and the Rumsen Ohlone community.

Together, they created mak-‘amham, which means “our food” in the Chochenyo language of Medina’s tribe. Both see food as one avenue to connect their own communities as well as non-indigenous people to Ohlone culture.

They started by hosting community meals in their homes, organizing pop-ups, and collaborating with other organizations, such as the People’s Kitchen Collective.

This September, Café Ohlone by mak-‘amham will open in Berkeley (2430 Bancroft Way), in the back patio area of University Press Books. The small-bites spot will be open three days a week, Thursday through Saturday.

The seasonal menu will include teas made with ingredients such as yerba buena, elderberry, and rose hips, gathered locally and blessed in traditional ways. There will be hand-pressed hazelnut or walnut milk; coffee infused with local bay or piñon nuts; acorn flour brownies; seed cakes; native greens salad; and quail eggs with walnut oil.

There will also be meat dishes: rabbit, duck, salmon, goose, or venison, with a meat smoker in the back. The food served is pre-colonial, using almost exclusively ingredients recognized by Ohlone ancestors. But the pair also takes a contemporary approach to create dishes such as acorn flour brownies (made with local walnuts, locally gathered salt, and chocolate, which is not something that is native to this area). “For so many of our people, especially the young people, they’ve only read about acorn in books. So many people have not tried it before. We want the first bite they get of acorn to be something that’s favorable, that they immediately like,” Medina said. “We’re using ingredients that our people cherish, but we are modern, too. We’re a living culture.”

While the food and drink may be tasty, it’s also a pathway to connecting with culture, history, storytelling, language, geography, art, and other traditions such as basket-weaving.

“We want to see all of those things brought back in our world,” Medina said. “The holistic revival of our culture is what we want.”

Their website is noteworthy too, full of language and information that manages to avoid feeling didactic while still being very educational. It’s been at least two generations since Ohlone people spoke their languages at home, they said. On the website, there is a recording of how to pronounce “mak-‘amham” and there are descriptions of their vision, the dishes, and more. Medina serves on the board of Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival, and the two met at an indigenous language workshop at UC Berkeley.

Mak-‘amham also caters and plans to host quarterly events such as dinners honoring elders and families or workshops on how to gather ingredients. “People are already proud of who they are, but when they get to see it practiced in a big way, it makes them more proud,” Trevino said.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this article stated Trevino is part of the Rumsen Ohlone Tribe. Rumsen Ohlone community is more accurate.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

At Forage Kitchen, Food Startups Creatively Collaborate

by Momo Chang
Tue, Jul 17, 2018 at 12:48 PM

Some of Oak and Fig Baking’s savory hand pies feature bacon from the Baconer. - PHOTO COURTESY OF ANDREW LAWRENCE SCHIFF
  • Photo courtesy of Andrew Lawrence Schiff
  • Some of Oak and Fig Baking’s savory hand pies feature bacon from the Baconer.

Just shy of being two years old, Forage Kitchen in
Oakland has housed dozens of food incubators. The commercial kitchen, cafe, and event space now includes 45 food businesses as tenants — some don’t have the capital for a brick-and-mortar just yet, others came to cooking without professional training or as a second career.

The Baconer’s Camilo Velasquez was one of Forage Kitchen’s first tenants, making specialty bacon with flavors like sweet maple, smoky paprika, and jalapeño. The bacon is smoked and sous-vided. He sells online and at farmers’ markets such as Grand Lake, Kensington, and Montclair. The Baconer sells thick cuts, lardons (smaller chopped pieces), and bacon steaks (half-inch cuts of pork belly), and hopes to sell to restaurants soon.

With close proximity to other food purveyors comes some fun collaborations. Last summer, Andrew Lawrence Schiff of Oak and Fig Baking started making savory hand pies using Velasquez’s bacon. “I was excited by the idea of working with other chefs,” Schiff said. “It was a way to embrace this concept, to play together.”

Schiff is a former menswear fashion designer who left the corporate world to start his business about two years ago. He trained in high-end French pastry-making while getting his college degree, and found that baking helped him during stressful times. Now, he puts his creative energy into baking everything from macarons to cookies, cupcakes, and wedding cakes.

Other collaborations include Samara Southern Creations, also a tenant at Forage Kitchen, who has used the Baconer’s bacon for Monte Cristo sandwiches and bacon-wrapped shrimp.

Good to Eat Dumplings has also collaborated with their fellow tenants. Known for their creative dumpling fillings as well as Taiwanese gua bao and round twisted baos, they debuted a potsticker with the Baconer’s bacon inside and crispy bacon sprinkled on top. They also made a mac ’n’ cheese potsticker, stuffed with mac from one of the former chefs at Forage. For their fish dumplings, they source sustainably caught Monterey Bay cod from Fresh Catch, also a former tenant at Forage Kitchen. Good to Eat Dumplings has been popping up regularly at breweries and will soon offer delivery through Caviar with a bigger menu that also includes soup and salad. “We always share and eat each others’ foods and keep experimenting and tasting new things,” said Tony Tung, owner of Good to Eat Dumplings, referring to her and her co-founding team members Stacy Tang (who co-owns Taiwan Bento in Oakland with Willy Wang) and Angie Lin.

Both Schiff and Velasquez want to eventually move on to their own space. And Smokin’ Woods BBQ, the current tenant in the cafe, will be moving on soon to a permanent location. “The whole idea is to support them,” said Iso Rabins, co-founder of Forage Kitchen with Matt Johansen.

“This is where we cut our teeth as budding food professionals,” Schiff said. “This feels like home. We hold each other up.”

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Pho King to Set Up Shop in Merritt Bakery’s Former Digs

by Momo Chang
Tue, Jul 17, 2018 at 8:00 AM

Coming very soon. - MOMO CHANG
  • Momo Chang
  • Coming very soon.

One of Eastlake’s most popular pho spots is moving into the Lucky Supermarket’s plaza by Lake Merritt, in part of the original Merritt Bakery space. The latter has been an Oakland institution, creating hamburger-shaped birthday cakes and serving fried chicken, spaghetti, and more for decades. (Merritt Bakery is now located on Lake Park Avenue.)

The former Merritt Bakery location has been empty after being severely damaged in a fire just over five years ago. Now, Pho King will be the first tenant to move into part of the space, in a unit closest to the Lucky side. There are two other empty units.
The new location (207 E. 18th St., Oakland) is scheduled to open in August. The Eastlake location will remain open until the new Pho King opens.

There is typically a line out the door at Pho King (638 International Blvd., Oakland), but the homey, hole-in-the-wall spot always serves its dishes fast. After many years in the same location and with a lease coming to an end, the restaurant’s owners decided to move.
“We were looking for spaces to rent and stumbled upon Merritt Bakery, which is a good location,” said Mark Nguyen, a Pho King employee. The restaurant is owned by Lieu Nguyen and Phuoc Ta.
The International Boulevard location is a bit cramped with limited parking options. “We wanted to expand out business a bit,” Nguyen said.

The new digs will have double the seating space, holding 90 guests, and a large parking lot. “People will have more time to sit down and enjoy their food. We serve our food very fast. It’s going to be the same over there. It will be a much nicer experience overall,” Nguyen said.

They plan to keep their menu the same, with new menu additions down the line. Some of those additions are expected to be vegetarian dishes, such as their vegetarian spring rolls, which is available at the International Boulevard location but as an off-menu item.

The restaurant is known to be vegetarian-friendly, with a standout vegetarian mi quang, a bowl of noodle soup typically made from thick rice noodles, pork, and shrimp. Their veggie version is fairly unique and not commonly found in other restaurants in the East Bay. Other standout dishes are bun bo hue, a spicy beef and pork noodle soup with vermicelli noodles, that is a lighter take than versions found at other restaurants. Or the classic, kid-friendly pho ga (chicken pho).

Pho King’s clientele is mostly families and older folks, and primarily Chinese and Vietnamese American. With the new location, Nguyen said they expect their customers to be more mixed.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Free Range Flower Winery Brings Lavender Wine to Oakland

by Momo Chang
Tue, Jul 10, 2018 at 12:20 PM

It looks like sparkling rosé, but this flower wine is something else entirely. - PHOTO COURTESY OF FREE RANGE FLOWER WINERY
  • Photo courtesy of Free Range Flower Winery
  • It looks like sparkling rosé, but this flower wine is something else entirely.

A new Oakland-based winery is set to debut this week with
a one-of-a-kind concept: small-batch wine made from flowers. Free Range Flower Winery’s founders are Aaliyah Nitoto and Sam Prestianni, who folks might recognize from the local music scene. The couple had been toying with the idea of turning Nitoto’s passion for making flower wines into a bona fide business for several years, and now it’s happening.

The winery is starting with a lavender wine, made with locally and organically grown lavender and lemons. It’s best compared to a sparkling rosé, with complex flavors and a subtle sweetness. But it’s unlike anything most folks have tasted before.

There’s a history of these so-called “garden wines.” Osmanthus and chrysanthemum wines are made in China and Korea, and dandelion wine is referenced in literature. It’s an old tradition that hasn’t taken hold at all in the contemporary United States. If all goes well, Free Range Flower Winery hopes to change that. “Our goal is to change the conversation around wine,” Nitoto said. Since they don’t have a tasting room, they will be partnering with local creatives, artists, and other makers on events to get their beverages out there. They also will be providing their wines to two local restaurants and bottle shops. The effervescent wine pairs well with brunch foods and savory dishes (though not acidic foods like tomato sauces) when served chilled.

The winemaker is Nitoto, who is an herbalist and biologist. Nitoto started making her own flower wines and sharing them with the couple’s friends several years ago. “Making wine from flowers is something that I really enjoy,” she said. With Prestianni’s support and encouragement, they decided to turn it into a winery.

Nitoto and Prestianni also realized it was something missing from the Bay Area food and drink scene — not a flower-infused drink, but wine actually made by fermenting flowers and other minimal ingredients in pressurized tanks. The alcohol level is 13.5 percent, which is about average for domestic wines. 

In the future, they plan to make wine from other flowers like rose, hibiscus, lilacs, and elderflowers. “Lavender is one of my favorite herbs,” Nitoto noted, adding that it’s a familiar food flavor nowadays with lavender cupcakes, lavender kombuchas, and lavender lemonade all commonly available.

Nitoto and Prestianni will launch the new business on Friday, July 13, from 5 to 9 p.m. at Crooked City Cider/Two Mile Wines (477 25th St., Oakland). Customers can taste the wine and purchase bottles from their first 25-gallon batch — and the $30 bottles are discounted if you pre-order by July 12. Pre-orders can be picked up at the launch party or be home-delivered for free in Oakland and Berkeley with the purchase of three or more bottles through July 15. To keep track of upcoming events and tastings, sign up for their newsletter at FreeRangeFlowerWinery.com.

Editor's Note: A previous version of this article stated pre-orders would be accepted through July 15. The correct date is July 12. The Express also removed the founders' band names due to privacy concerns.

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With Its Relocation, Vegan Eatery The Butcher's Son Expands Its Scope

The new space comes with a market area stocked with takeout food.

by Momo Chang
Tue, Jul 10, 2018 at 9:11 AM

The new menu includes vegan catfish. - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE BUTCHER'S SON
  • Photo courtesy of the Butcher's Son
  • The new menu includes vegan catfish.

Your favorite vegan deli just got an upgrade.
The Butcher’s Son, the Berkeley restaurant and takeout spot, re-opened last Thursday at 1954 University Ave., right across the street from the former location.

The new space, which is 1,300 square feet bigger, comes with a market area stocked with takeout food, more vegan meats and cheeses, and take-and-bake items like faux-chicken pot pies and lasagnas. They’ve also partnered with Curbside Creamery for custom ice cream flavors, debuting last week with an espresso brownie made with the Butcher’s Son’s brownies and Timeless coffee, and a chocolate-chip cookie dough ice cream made with Butcher’s Son cookie dough.

Started by brother-and-sister duo Christina Stobing and Peter Fikaris about two-and-a-half years ago, the Butcher’s Son has been extremely popular ever since. They had been thinking about a second location when Maker’s Common closed across the street in March. Instead of opening a second location, they decided to expand on what they already have going on and make it even better.

The Butcher’s Son makes almost all of its vegan meats and cheeses in-house, and offers an extensive menu of sandwiches, salads, and other offerings. Between the pulled pork sandwich, chicken parmesan in a garlic bread roll, and tuna melt, the Butcher’s Son ensures that vegans do not miss real meat. Everything on the menu is free of animal products — the house-made cheeses are cashew-based and other common ingredients are almonds, gluten, coconut, and soy (their menu comes with a large warning sign for allergies).

The shop’s cheeses are one of the standouts. The cheeses they make, from buffalo mozzarella to pepper jack, have an incredible texture that even melts like dairy cheese — a far cry from most grocery store-bought vegan cheeses. They also carry Violife’s cheddar cheese, which is free of common allergens like gluten, soy, and nuts.

The updated menu includes vegan fish, which wasn’t previously offered — smoked whitefish and catfish, to be exact, which both come in sandwich form like their blackened Cajun catfish. Fish can be added to salads, too. Brunch is still happening, including the whimsical house-made vegan doughnuts served inside a waffle. In addition, an omelet bar will be added in the upcoming weeks.

The space is now split in half, with the restaurant on the right and the market on the left. There’s also more outdoor seating, with a parklet space in the front and a few dedicated picnic tables in the back. The backyard garden space, shared with other local businesses, is a great place to enjoy a little tranquility during a lunch break or brunch. (The shared courtyard is dubbed the “rose garden,” not to be confused with the actual Berkeley Rose Garden.)

On opening day of the Butcher’s Son 2.0, the takeout area offered all sorts of goodies, including cheesecake, Timeless Coffee beans, and “Twix” bars. In the upcoming weeks, they’ll also expand their grab-and-go section.

Meanwhile, the marketplace sells ingredients for those who want to replicate some of Butcher’s Son dishes and use products from local businesses. Bagels come from gluten-free Odd Bagels; breads from Mariposa Bakery and Young Kobras; locally made tempeh from Rhizocali; the Butcher’s Son’s salad dressings; the house-made meat substitutes and cheeses; and jars of spices from Oaktown Spice Shop. “We want people to be able to make their own [dishes] at home using the same ingredients we use on our menu,” Stobing said.

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Tuesday, July 3, 2018

East Bay food truck Nissa Espresso & Gelato Bar Set to Debut

by Momo Chang
Tue, Jul 3, 2018 at 12:53 PM

Alex Nerguizian comes to the food business from a financial background. - PHOTO COURTESY OF NISSA ESPRESSO & GELATO BAR
  • Photo courtesy of Nissa Espresso & Gelato bar
  • Alex Nerguizian comes to the food business from a financial background.
What’s not to love about a gelato and espresso truck in one? For one, if it’s hot, you can have a cold treat. If it’s cold, you can get a piping-hot espresso drink. If you’re undecided, you can get the best of both worlds with an affogato.

That’s the idea from Alex Nerguizian, who dreamed up the idea of Nissa Espresso & Gelato Bar (@nissatruck on social media). The new food truck debuts July 4 at the Berkeley Marina fireworks celebration and will serve affogatos, alfajores, espresso drinks, and plenty of gelato.

The Berkeley resident is a financial consultant, and he also teaches entrepreneurs and nonprofits about financial education and asset-building. “Little by little, I started getting this itch of starting a retail business,” Nerguizian said. “Even though I’m self-employed, it’s different being a consultant than to have an actual retail business.”

His truck will serve locally made gelato and feature coffee made from San Leandro’s Proyecto Diaz Coffee Roasters. Alfajores, the dulce de leche sandwich cookies, and other baked goods will come from Oakland’s Wooden Table Baking Company. All are locally owned, small businesses, and the gelato maker and bakery are run by Argentinian Americans.

“I’m from there, so I wanted to incorporate the country in some way, without really flashing the flag,” Nerguizian said.

While the truck will initially feature gelato made by another local company, the goal is for Nerguizian to make his own gelato. The name Nissa comes from a combination of his two daughters’ names.

This is his first food business, and Nerguizian believes that by doing and learning, he can teach and help others down the line.

“I’m a true believer in action,” he said. “I feel like we all talk about things we want to do in life. I asked myself, ‘What’s the boldest move I could take today?’ And I said, ‘Alright, I gotta buy a truck. Then I have to build it.’ I bought a delivery truck and it got built out. I didn’t buy an old food truck. I got a shell, and we built it from square one.”

Nerguizian also believes more entrepreneurs will use mobile spaces like a food truck because of the high cost of real estate in the Bay Area — from food vendors to tattoo artists to clothing retailers.

The financial consultant and entrepreneur said he has already started developing a workshop on how to start a food truck business based on his experience so far. “I’m showing my students that in the end, you gotta try and you gotta do,” he said. “As much as you think you can study every angle and be super prepared, you have to take action.”

In addition to the Fourth of July event, Nissa plans to cater private events and be at other public events where food trucks are featured.

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story misstated that Proyecto Diaz Coffee Roasters was also owned by an Argentinian American.

Ambitious Project 7th West to Bring Jeepney Guy's Filipino Eats, Beer Garden, and Dog Park to West Oakland

by Momo Chang
Tue, Jul 3, 2018 at 12:44 PM

Murals wrap around the building, including this piece by brothers Jared and Ian Jethmal. - PHOTO COURTESY OF 7TH WEST
  • Photo courtesy of 7th West
  • Murals wrap around the building, including this piece by brothers Jared and Ian Jethmal.

A brand-new restaurant, bar, and community event and art space is coming to West Oakland. Called 7th West, the space will include a permanent kitchen for Filipino food purveyor Jeepney Guy, an outdoor beer garden, a small dog park, and Filipino-inspired cocktails.

Located across from the Crucible, the POC-owned 7th West (1255 7th St.) is a whopping 8,500 square feet, with about half of it being an indoor warehouse space that’s part art gallery, bar, restaurant, and arcade. The space will open later this summer.

The founders are all Oakland business owners: Pancho Kachingwe is a cofounder of The Hatch, Assan Jethmal is the founder of Good Mother Gallery, and Kevin Pelgone and Donna Brinkman are both from the Overlook Lounge.

Together, they came up with the idea of having open, outdoor space that can host community events as opposed to a typical bar. “More of a social hub, and we want it to be accessible,” Kachingwe said. “A lot of spaces charge a lot of money to have events. That’s not what we’re going for.”

In addition, there will be a dog run outside. “We want to be so inclusive that even your pets will want to come and hang out,” Pelgone said.

Filipino food lovers will rejoice in the fact that longtime Bay Area food truck Jeepney Guy, run by Dennis Villafranca, will serve
mouth-watering crispy lechon (pork belly), rice, lumpia, and kale salad, plus French fries, chicken wings, and some vegan options at 7th West.

The bar will include some Filipino-inspired drinks on the menu. (Jethmal, Pelgone, and Brinkman are all of Filipino descent; Kachingwe is from Zimbabwe.) Down the line, they hope to also serve halo-halo, the Filipino shaved ice dessert made with ube ice cream, coconut, sweet beans, and more.

The original, commissioned artwork that abounds inside the building and outside is colorful and represents the diversity of the artists and their styles. All of the current murals are by local Oakland artists, including Timothy B of the Lower Bottoms Crew, and the artwork is curated by Good Mother Gallery. There’s a particularly striking indoor painting of Bruce Lee. The plan is to rotate the art every several months or so.

West Oakland was once a thriving arts district flush with African American blues and jazz venues, but many local Black-owned businesses were pushed out with the creation of the BART station, the post office, and the elevated freeway, as well as more recent redevelopment. The founders of 7th West say they hope to beautify the neighborhood and pay homage to the history of 7th Street.

“We really wanted to do something that revitalized the area, but we’re also cautious of what the area used to be, and not create a space that gentrifies the area, but supports the area,” Kachingwe said.

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