Tuesday, August 28, 2018

A Harbinger of an Immigration Crackdown?

After the owner of Bissap Baobab was arrested for allegedly illegally obtaining citizenship, immigration lawyers worry about more denaturalization cases — which could be bad news for the local restaurant industry.

by Elly Schmidt-Hopper
Tue, Aug 28, 2018 at 9:28 AM

Marco Senghor, owner of the popular restaurant and nightclub Bissap Baobab. - PHOTO FROM MARCO SENGHOR'S GOFUNDME CAMPAIGN
  • Photo from Marco Senghor's GoFundMe campaign
  • Marco Senghor, owner of the popular restaurant and nightclub Bissap Baobab.

Marco Senghor, owner of the popular restaurant and nightclub Bissap Baobab, which was recently featured in the Boots Riley movie Sorry to Bother You, shocked the local community by announcing in a Facebook post that he’s fighting federal criminal charges alleging he illegally obtained citizenship. On Aug. 16, Senghor wrote that he will plead not guilty and has hired a “top defense attorney,” but that the future of Bissap Baobab Village is uncertain.

A Senegalese native and son of Senegal’s first president, Senghor moved to San Francisco almost three decades ago and became a naturalized citizen in 2009. He opened his first restaurant, Little Baobab, on 19th and Mission more than 20 years ago. Senghor was half a block from his restaurant when police arrested him in early August. He’s currently out on $50,000 bail.

The Department of Justice is accusing Senghor of falsifying or omitting information relevant to his citizenship on his citizenship application.

Further details on the case are unavailable. The indictment is sealed, and the San Francisco office of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services did not respond to requests for information.

Senghor’s lawyer, Jeffrey Bornstein, is currently declining interviews with the press, however, in a Legal Monitor article published a few weeks ago, he is quoted saying that Senghor was misled prior to applying for citizenship: “The claim is there are false statements that he made in connection with that application and I’m telling you that they relate back to an incident earlier in 2000, where he was misled and received some terrible, terrible advice from people that took advantage of him.”

Still, the fact that the federal government is prioritizing denaturalization cases (i.e., reviewing and removing immigrants already granted legal citizenship) is unusual and may indicate a worrisome trend. As Mission Local reported, Senghor’s case could be the first of many in the Bay Area.

Denaturalization is a rare and complicated process that the U.S. government has historically reserved for human rights violators. For example, if you were, say, a Nazi war criminal and had lied about it to gain U.S. citizenship, the Feds could press criminal charges and put you in jail.

Under the Trump administration, it appears the government is testing denaturalization for less egregious applications. The Los Angeles Times reported that a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services team in Los Angeles is reviewing more than 2,500 naturalization files, focusing on identity fraud and willful misrepresentation. They have referred more than 100 cases to the Department of Justice for possible action.

Multiple immigration lawyers contacted for this article had never worked a denaturalization case before, but believe they might in the future under this administration.

This is bad news for the Bay Area restaurant industry, which is made rich by the diversity of the population. People look to Senghor as an example of success — he had recently invested heavily in the Mission, purchasing the Bissap Baobab building for $1.6 million. “This case is quite chilling, sending a message that even if you’ve acquired valid immigration status, you are not safe from detention or deportation,” said Gwyneth Borden, executive director of Golden Gate Restaurant Association. “The restaurant industry has the most diverse population of owners and workers; our local industry is powered by immigrants with varying immigration status.”

The community is rallying around Senghor and Bissap Baobab. In six days, a GoFundMe campaign set up to help with his legal defense had already raised over $44,000.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Five La Cocina Incubator Businesses Run by Women and People of Color Open Up on Cal Campus

by Momo Chang
Thu, Aug 23, 2018 at 10:00 AM

Mother-daughter pair Bernadine Sewell and Sicily Sewell-Johnson run Pinky & Red’s, serving soul food-inspired sandwiches. - PHOTO BY KALELIA WILSON COURTESY OF LA COCINA
  • Photo by Kalelia Wilson courtesy of La Cocina
  • Mother-daughter pair Bernadine Sewell and Sicily Sewell-Johnson run Pinky & Red’s, serving soul food-inspired sandwiches.

Five food businesses run by women and people of color opened up at the UC Berkeley Student Union earlier this month, just in time for the start of the new school year. La Cocina Cantina includes a Syrian restaurant, a Vietnamese noodle shop, a bakery, a soul food sandwich vendor, and a kiosk focusing on Chilean empanadas.
The businesses are located in the ASUC Student Union in the MLK Jr. Building (2495 Bancroft Way, Berkeley), and are open to the public weekdays during lunch hours.

La Cocina was selected by Cal students to be the vendor during a month-long pop-up last semester. The five vendors are part of the La Cocina “best-in-class” incubator program, and will remain on campus for the rest of the school year.

La Cocina is a San Francisco-based nonprofit food incubator that focuses on helping women from underrepresented, minority, and immigrant or refugee backgrounds. It has helped launch the careers of Reem Assil of Dyafa and Reem’s and Nite Yun of Nyum Bai, which was recently named one of the best new American restaurants by Bon Appetit.

La Cocina’s goal is to make these businesses self-sustaining, and the cantina at Cal is another step toward that goal for the local, family-run businesses. Almost all of the vendors are East Bay-based.

The vendors include Old Damascus Fare, a catering company run by a Syrian refugee family making traditional Syrian food such as beef mandi ($11), made with smoked basmati rice, spices, and beef with a sprinkling of almonds on top, and fattoush salad ($8), a light mix of cucumber, tomato, lettuce, onion, garlic, mint, olive oil and vinegar, and fried pita. The family includes daughter Batool Rawoas and parents Mohammed Aref Rawas and Rawaa Kaseda.

Noodle Girl, run by Hang Truong, serves Vietnamese food, focusing mostly on noodles, though there’s also lemongrass chicken wings ($7) and banh mi ($8.50). Pho comes in small ($7) or large ($12) sizes and is made from organic chicken, pork, or vegetable broth.

Sharing a space with Noodle Girl is A Girl Named Pinky, run by Oakland native Tina Stevens. The bakery sells chocolate chip cookies, red velvet cupcakes, and espresso and orange sherbet macaroons, ranging from $2 to $5. The bakery is open weekdays from 11 a.m.-3 p.m., and hopes to start breakfast service in the next month.

Pinky & Red’s is run by mother-daughter pair Bernadine Sewell and Sicily Sewell-Johnson. They serve soul food-inspired sandwiches such as a barbecue fried chicken ($11), a classic burger (which can also be made with a chicken or veggie patty) ($9.75), and “The Sunday Dinner” ($10.75), another fried-chicken sandwich that comes with greens, yams, and dirty rice (a vegetarian version substitutes fried chicken for a fried grit cake). All sandwiches come with French fries.

El Mesón De Violeta, by Carmen Figueroa, serves Chilean empanadas ($5) in beef, chicken, vegetarian, and vegan options served with salsa pebre, plus soup and three different salads.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Rush Bowls Blends Fruit, Veggies in Berkeley

by Momo Chang
Mon, Aug 20, 2018 at 4:32 PM

Topping options include fresh fruit and organic granola. - PHOTO COURTESY OF RUSH BOWLS
  • Photo courtesy of Rush Bowls
  • Topping options include fresh fruit and organic granola.

Smoothie bowls have gone far beyond the acai berry, as evidenced by Colorado-based Rush Bowls’ extensive offerings. Rush Bowls just opened in downtown Berkeley (1935 Addison St.). It’s the chain’s first store to open up in the Bay Area, but more are in the works, including one in Oakland slated for the fall. Expect to see the company continue to expand across the United States.

The grab-and-go-style restaurant features 40 types of “bowls” on the menu, from blended mango-based bowls to more interesting twists such as a chai tea-style bowl, peach cobbler, and peanut butter and jelly. All bowls are made from blended fruits and/or vegetables, and come with toppings like almond butter, chia seeds, or fresh fruit. The bowls start at $8.25 and are blended together with protein and vitamins. Extra toppings can be added for $1 each.

Berkeley franchise owner Kanishka “Kenny” Noori said he was inspired to open a Rush Bowls to cater to students and those seeking healthy options.

Noori, who immigrated to the U.S. from Afghanistan in 2009, said he previously worked in the car industry but was looking for a type of business that was more family-friendly. The Hayward resident’s favorite item at Rush Bowls is the Beach Bowl, which is made of acai, mango, banana, and guava juice and topped with organic granola and honey.

Rush Bowl’s menu offers four types of acai bowls. Beyond that, the focus seems to be on less conventional flavor combos. There are bowls featuring frozen yogurt, avocado, green tea, coconut, kale, and spinach, for example. And each bowl can be customized. They also have vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, wheat-free, nut-free, and dairy-free bowls as well.

Each “meal in a bowl” could contain up for five servings of fruits and vegetables, and up to 40 grams of protein. Rush Bowls also makes many of the individual components, such as the jams, and blends homemade peanut butter onsite in a grinder.

The East Bay’s second Rush Bowls is opening later this year (350 17th St., Oakland), owned by Robert and Shamani Walker. The location is near Pho 84 and kitty corner from Howden Market. The Walkers are Oakland residents who have a passion for health and healthy living. The opening date is not set yet, but they are hoping to open this fall.

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Friday, August 17, 2018

Chinatown Update: Yun's Idea Cuisine, Huangcheng Noodle House, and So Much Boba

by Janelle Bitker
Fri, Aug 17, 2018 at 9:26 AM


While many Oakland Chinatown restaurant spaces languish empty, others have been churning through concepts rapidly.

The single storefront to see the most change in the past couple of years is located at 366 8th St. In late 2014, Kee Wong and Hon Chan opened Chilli Padi, which was Oakland’s only Malaysian restaurant at the time. But it didn’t last. Last year, the owners rebranded and reopened it as Hotpot Factory, a spot that seemed to capitalize on the soaring interest in hot pot. That didn’t even last a full year. Earlier this week, the owners tried a new concept: Yun’s Idea Cuisine. Manager Kevin Li said the owners no longer wanted to use open flames in the dining room, so they brought on a chef from Shanghai to specialize in Shanghainese cuisine.

“It’s really good. It’s very beautiful,” Li said. “The taste is really good.”

The lengthy menu includes soups, dim sum, noodles, dumplings, cold dishes, and more than 20 Shanghainese options, which tend to taste sweeter than other Chinese regional styles. (Li specifically recommended the Shanghai-style pork in soy sauce, fried pork in sweet and sour sauce, and pork soup dumplings.) Folks who work in the area might want to try Yun’s Idea’s $9.99 lunch specials, which include a main dish, vegetables, rice, soup, and small appetizers.

Earlier this summer, Chinatown’s long-running Shanghainese restaurant, aptly called Shanghai Restaurant, closed for good. It, too, was abruptly replaced, with Chan’s Kitchen (930 Webster St.), a Taiwanese spot with another branch in Newark, opening just weeks later.

And then there’s Huangcheng Noodle House (734 Webster St.), which replaced Nan Cafe, which went through multiple iterations in its short existence as a Hong Kong-style cafe and then a Sichuan restaurant. Now, the space specializes in Shanxi-style knife shaved noodles, a thick and chewy style that’s notoriously tricky to make. The technique involves taking a block of dough in one hand and a knife in the other, and then rapidly shaving slices into a pot of boiling water.

Meanwhile, the parade of bubble tea spots never seems to end. Royaltea (702 Webster St.), the second branch of a popular Fremont business, recently opened with a classy interior. One Zo, a relatively new Taiwanese brand that claims to be the world’s first bubble tea store to make its own boba fresh onsite, will enter the Bay Area market at 362 8th St. The inner East Bay’s first location of Meet Fresh, a Taiwanese drinks and dessert chain, is also under construction at 382 8th St. While the East Bay hosts a number of Hong Kong-style dessert spots, there are far fewer places to find Taiwanese-specific sweets. Expect shaved ice, herbal jelly, taro balls, and tofu pudding topped with an assortment of mung beans, barley, lotus seeds, or sweet potato. At least it’s not another place solely devoted to boba.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

With New Fellowship, Mamacitas Cafe Opens Its Doors for Women, Non-Binary Folks

by Momo Chang
Tue, Aug 14, 2018 at 12:31 PM

The women behind Mamacitas hope to one day run their business cooperatively. - PHOTO COURTESY OF MAMACITAS CAFE AND CATERING
  • Photo courtesy of Mamacitas Cafe and Catering
  • The women behind Mamacitas hope to one day run their business cooperatively.

Mamacitas Cafe and Catering is about to launch a paid fellowship for young women and non-binary individuals who want to become future food leaders.

The program is in partnership with the Young Women’s Freedom Center in San Francisco and the Lorry I Lokey Graduate School of Business and Public Policy at Mills College. Starting this fall, four to six young women and non-binary individuals ages 18 to 24 will learn how to start a small business. The nine-month-long paid fellowship is intended for those who have been impacted by incarceration, the foster care system, domestic violence, and sex trafficking.

The fellowship program continues the social enterprise company's goal of training and employing underserved young people — and giving them the skills to be successful.

Mamacitas was dreamed up by co-founders Shana Lancaster and Renee Geesler about five years ago and officially launched in 2014. (Geesler has since stepped back and works at the Akonadi Foundation.)

Last summer, Mamacitas ran a successful Kickstarter campaign in hopes of moving into a brick-and-mortar near Laney College, but the deal fell through. (Mamacitas previously operated out of Qulture Collective in downtown Oakland). Instead, the owners used the funds raised to move into Forage Kitchen to expand their catering service and bring on more young women entrepreneurs.

The owners call it "temple food." - PHOTO COURTESY OF MAMACITAS CAFE AND CATERING
  • Photo courtesy of Mamacitas Cafe and Catering
  • The owners call it "temple food."

Since then, Mamacitas has expanded to a full catering menu, bringing on Roxanne Swaminathan as catering director to focus on events and weddings. The donut kebabs, paired with coffee from Red Bay Coffee, are still popular. (The chefs bring a fryer on-site.) Seasonal menu items now include a slow-cooked romanesco, chickpea, and potato coconut curry, and other California-fresh, world-inspired dishes. Breakfast packages are named after powerful women in history: “Dolores” for Dolores Huerta, “Yuri” for Yuri Kochiyama, and “Angela” for Angela Davis.

The food reflects the employees, who are based in the East Bay but whose families may be from all over the world. One side of Lancaster’s family, for example, were refugees from Armenia. “What the food reflects is our own flavors,” said Mamacitas Chef Simone Obidah, who met Lancaster while working together at Miss Ollie’s and joined the team in 2015 as its third founder. “It’s Oakland comfort food, not traditional comfort food.”

The founders liken it to “temple food” — clean and healthy, with a focus on fresh and seasonal vegetables and fruits.

All are women who have worked in the male-dominated food industry. Some of the women say they didn’t feel it was safe to be creative in some of their past kitchens. “The love and creativity in food can be overshadowed by sexism,” Executive Director Lancaster said. “Our biggest success is folks coming together and feeling safe, creative, and nourished.”

There is also a collaborative nature in the way they create the business and the menu. Caridad Johnson, one of the Mamacitas catering cooks, said she and Obidah come up with new recipes together, like making powdered sugar from dried hibiscus, which lends a light pink color to olive oil cakes.

In fact, they hope to work toward a cooperative business model one day. The goal is to continue to support young women entrepreneurs, focusing on “sustainability and healing and upward mobility for communities that have been here for a long time,” Lancaster said.

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Monday, August 13, 2018

2nd Half Sports Lounge Opens with Smokin' Woods BBQ in Tow

by Momo Chang
Mon, Aug 13, 2018 at 3:41 PM

Smokin' Woods BBQ will sell more than meats and sides at 2nd Half Sports Lounge. - FILE PHOTO/RICHARD LOMIBAO
  • File photo/Richard Lomibao
  • Smokin' Woods BBQ will sell more than meats and sides at 2nd Half Sports Lounge.

Oakland’s newest sports bar also just happens to host some of the East Bay’s best barbecue.

Erika Dailey’s 2nd Half Sports Lounge (4307 Telegraph Ave.) opened in Temescal’s former Urban Latino space on July 30. “It’s a wooden tavern. It’s really sexy,” she told the Express. “It’s like a date night spot where you want to have good food, good music, and hang out.”
Erika and her husband, James Dailey, also own Halftime Sports Bar in downtown Oakland. The new restaurant and lounge boasts a full bar and seats about 100 people.

While 2nd Half has its own full, Southern-inflected restaurant menu, serving mac ’n’ cheese, fish and chips, gumbo, sliders, Cajun shrimp pasta, and vegan dishes, the kitchen closes twice a week to make way for Smokin’ Woods BBQ. On Sundays and Mondays, Smokin’ Woods BBQ chef and owner James Woodard brings in his menu of meats cooked over cherry and oak wood.

Smokin’ Woods BBQ started in 2013 primarily as a catering company. Woodard was still working a corporate job at Frito-Lay. He started an Instagram account, posting photos of his food. “People wanted to try my food,” Woodard told the Express. “They asked, ‘I can only try if if I [order] catering?”

Woodard left his job last September and moved into Forage Kitchen’s pop-up cafe space to serve his mix of Texas and Kansas City style ’cue. It was met with a rave review in the Express, and more recently, Food & Wine named Smokin’ Woods BBQ one of the country’s best barbecue joints. Smokin’ Woods recently left its Forage Kitchen space, but fans will be able to find favorite dishes and even more at 2nd Half. While the Forage edition focused on plates of brisket and pork ribs — with popular beef ribs on Fridays only — the pop-up at 2nd Half will feature beef ribs both days as well as items previously only available through catering, such as salmon and Brussels sprouts. The rest of the week, Woodard will continue to focus on catering as well as opening his own permanent space. “We’re in the build-out process near downtown Oakland, and hope to open a full barbecue sports bar in 2019,” he said.

But there are more reasons to check out 2nd Half beyond the barbecue. Erika designed the space as well as a full slate of daily events. There’s Taco Tuesday, Wine Wednesday with poetry, Ladies’ Night Thursday, live bands on Fridays, and brunch on Saturdays. Thursdays are closest to Erika’s heart. Her grandmother was killed in Oakland by a boyfriend, so she dedicates Thursdays to empowering women and raising money for domestic violence shelters.

On Thursday nights, 2nd Half sells leggings and exercise wear for women made by Ola Couture. Profits go toward domestic violence shelters, in honor of Erika’s grandmother. The exercise clothing line sends the message to “just keep it going, stay active about being better, and creating better,” Erika said.

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Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Alice Collective to Launch with Cafe, Local Food Businesses in Historic Oakland Building

The new cafe and community space is scheduled to open on Monday, Aug. 13.

by Momo Chang
Tue, Aug 7, 2018 at 8:21 AM

Naan topped with curry chicken salad and arugula. - PHOTO COURTESY OF ISABEL BAER
  • Photo courtesy of Isabel Baer
  • Naan topped with curry chicken salad and arugula.

The Alice Collective
is much in line with what’s happening with a lot of food spaces in the East Bay: a food incubator mentality with a shared sense of community, where locally owned food businesses can get a leg up and thrive. The new, downtown Oakland cafe and community space (272 14th St.) is scheduled to officially open on Monday, Aug. 13.

Ted Wilson, founder of The Hall in San Francisco and cofounder of Metal & Match Catering, is bringing a similar sensibility to the new Oakland venture. The upstairs cafe will be open to the public, while the large commercial kitchen in the basement will house local food businesses.

“We want all these brands to be successful,” Wilson told the Express. “That’s the collective mentality behind it. The idea is giving small food businesses a place to have a home, and then ultimately to give them a place to have a storefront.”

The upstairs cafe, which is about 3,600 square feet, will feature sandwiches, pastries from Oak & Fig Baking, and a full coffee bar from Red Bay Coffee. There is also an 800-square-foot patio space with a bamboo grove and birds of paradise. The cafe will be open weekdays during breakfast and lunch. In the evenings, the space will be available for events.

Christine Wells, who cofounded Metal & Match with Wilson, will oversee the food program as the Alice Collective’s executive chef. “We’re looking to bring in fresh and clean flavors — simple, California fresh food — to that area.” This might mean sandwiches with arugula salad or grilled naan with curry chicken salad.
The historic downtown Oakland building has been well-restored. - PHOTO COURTESY OF ISABEL BAER
  • Photo courtesy of Isabel Baer
  • The historic downtown Oakland building has been well-restored.

The basement includes Andrew Lawrence Schiff of Oak & Fig Baking, who was previously sharing kitchen space at Forage Kitchen. Metal & Match also operates downstairs, and the collective is hoping to bring another local tenant in soon.

During the evenings and weekends, the space will be available for private events. Veteran bartender Nancy Chung, who owns The Wooden Nickel in San Francisco, has been tapped as beverage director of the venue.

The Alice Collective’s building used to house the family-run Holmes Book Company, a bookstore, for many decades. Later, it was the Silk Road Fabric store. “The building has an amazing history,” Wilson said. “The place is stunningly old and well-restored.”

Wilson said he was approached by the owner of the building because of the work he’d done at The Hall, which was a gourmet food court, bar, and community space that closed last year. “I just looked in here and said, ‘People need to be in here,’” he said.

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Monday, August 6, 2018

An Oven in The Village Homeless Encampment Provides Warmth and Wood-Fired Pizza

by Momo Chang
Mon, Aug 6, 2018 at 3:57 PM

One person used chicken nuggets as a pizza topping. - PHOTO COURTESY OF MOMO CHANG
  • Photo courtesy of Momo Chang
  • One person used chicken nuggets as a pizza topping.

Last week, Miguel Elliott fired up his homemade oven and
served dozens of pizzas to the local crowd: neighbors in a homeless encampment dubbed “The Village,” which is home to about 80 people.

“Most people here may not have experienced wood-fired pizza,” said Elliott, who owns Living Earth Structures, which specializes in building out of cob. “It’s considered somewhat of a luxury item. And since they don’t have access to other cooking utilities, it would be about the most appropriate place to have a wood-fired oven.”

Elliott, who had been a part of the Occupy movement, has come by the encampment before. There is no refrigeration, and there was no real way to cook until he brought the oven a few weeks ago. “I’d like them to learn how to make their own bread instead of having it donated, and have some creativity in the process,” Elliott said.

At the first pizza firing, people came out of tents, makeshift structures, and homes to have a slice. Many started making their own pizza. As the evening went on, people got more creative. One woman who came to check out the scene made a heart-shaped pizza. One man who was wearing his dog in a backpack began making a cheese pizza, and a minute later, one of his neighbors came by with a box of chicken nuggets and laid out the nuggets on top. Later, one man cut up hot dogs and put them on his pizza after the pepperoni ran out.

The pizza takes just a couple of minutes to blister and cook in the hot oven. “Pizza definitely has a unifying effect on the community,” Elliott said, as he busily turned the pies.

The Village is located at 23rd Ave. and 12th St. in Oakland. Many say there has been a sense of community cultivated here.

But city officials have told Village residents that everyone needs to leave the encampment by November, when the freeway nearby needs to be retrofitted. (The Express called Assistant to the City Administrator Joe DeVries but did not hear back.) “It just started to feel like a community, started to have some hope, and now the city is saying, ‘We’re going to tear it all down,’” Elliott said. “It’s difficult to keep people together.”

Miguel Elliott made The Village's cob oven. - PHOTO COURTESY OF MOMO CHANG
  • Photo courtesy of Momo Chang
  • Miguel Elliott made The Village's cob oven.

Still, the community is forging ahead. Elliott said he would like to bring more of his structures, which are made with wooden pallets, stuffed with insulation (including trash, plastic, and clothes), and covered with mud that essentially turns it into an adobe structure that he said is fireproof.

“My designs are considerably more affordable and they’re using all recycled materials, and the residents living here can help build them and learn a skill in the process,” Elliott said. He is hoping to raise some money to demonstrate at the Village how people can build these small homes using materials that are lying around. He estimated it costs between $700 and $1,000 to build one.

Kaleeo Acatar was one of the attendees and volunteers during the recent pizza party. He used to live under the freeway bridge in the encampment. Now, he works at Pixar as a dishwasher and as part of the nightshift maintenance crew. He’s saving up for a place of his own but currently lives in his car nearby. “None of the houses have a stove where they can cook,” he said. And the pizza? “It was delicious. It was definitely appreciated.”

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