Thursday, April 9, 2020

Homestead Restaurant Debuts a New Sandwich Venture

The Humble Sandwich, now offering upgraded deli classics, will outlast the shelter-in-place.

by S. Rufus
Thu, Apr 9, 2020 at 4:00 AM

  • Photo courtesy of Homestead Restaurant

The owners of Oakland's Homestead Restaurant have just debuted a new business concept that is meant to outlast the Covid-19 crisis.

Currently operating at the restaurant's 4029 Piedmont Ave. space Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. via curbside pickup and Caviar or Doordash delivery, The Humble Sandwich comprises a selection of classic deli sandos made with the same high-quality ingredients for which the seven-year-old restaurant is revered.

The Humble Sandwich "is not a replacement for Homestead but a new venture that we are planning on continuing after the shelter-in-place is lifted," said co-owner Fred Sassen, who opened Homestead in 2013 with his wife and fellow chef Elizabeth Sassen. He had previously cooked at Farallon in San Francisco and Camino in Oakland; she had cooked at San Francisco's Waterbar and also at Farallon.

"We are not changing Homestead at all; it will reopen when appropriate and continue serving dinner as always," Sassen said.

Priced between $10 and $16, The Humble Sandwich's options include grilled ham and cheese with Black Forest ham, gruyere, and aioli; a grilled Cuban with smoked ham, chile-roasted pork shoulder, gruyere, mustard, aioli, and pickles; grilled herb-rubbed steak with horseradish crème fraîche and arugula; Italian cold cuts with coppa, salami, soppressata, lettuce, pickled chile, and provolone; roast turkey with avocado, sprouts, chile aioli, and aged cheddar; a vegetarian option with goat cheese, avocado, cucumber, lettuce, sprouts, and roasted pepper; and a kids' combo featuring cheddar and provolone grilled cheese with chips.

The Humble Sandwich's menu also includes mixed green salads, kettle chips, and chocolate-chip cookies.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Off The Grid Gives Free Meals to Grocery-Store Workers

Two East Bay giveaways are scheduled for today: April 8, in Alameda and Emeryville.

by S. Rufus
Wed, Apr 8, 2020 at 4:00 AM

  • Image courtesy of Off the Grid

Off the Grid will stage a two-part free-meal giveaway today, April 8, from 12 noon to 1 p.m. at Nob Hill Foods Alameda and from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Pak 'N Save Emeryville.

It's part of the Grocery Employees Meal Fund, which OTG recently launched to help creators feed grocery-store employees and their family members throughout the Covd-19 crisis.

Grocery-store workers are on the front lines during these strange, scary days.

A full 100 percent of proceeds raised will support creators as they curate the free meals, and OTG will match the first $5,000 contributed to the fund.

Food-truck operators and chefs belonging to the OTG mobile-food-movement organization are making not just single-meal giveaways but multi-day assemblages containing five reheatable meals each. Today's East Bay giveaways include tasty elements from Bombzies BBQ and 333 Truck.

“Off the Grid is proud to continue supporting our Grocery workers on the frontlines,” said Off the Grid founder and CEO Matt Cohen.

“The ability to coordinate local food businesses with help from our community is really the essence of what OTG wants to be," Cohen said.

Bombzies specializes in Asian barbecue dishes, while 333 Truck brings together three disparate cusines — Mexican, Korean, and Indian fusion — under one mobile roof, by offering protein choices from each cuisine in taco, burrito, and rice-bowl styles.

Anyone can contribute to the fund, which can be accessed here. A "Meal Plan" represents a $50 donation providing five meals to a grocery-store employee. Other-sized donations are also possible.

For today's giveaways, the truck will be parked in designated areas of the parking lots at Nob Hill Foods (2531 Blanding Ave.), then at Pak 'N Save (3889 San Pablo Ave.).

"We look forward to trying to make as large of an impact as we can through more of these types of campaigns in the future," Cohen said.

"We are very grateful for all of the donations, which allowed us to help provide meals to these workers."

Monday, April 6, 2020

alaMar Will Serve Free Meals to Restaurant Workers

The Grand Avenue seafood restaurant is partnering with The Lee Initiative to help restaurant workers.

by S. Rufus
Mon, Apr 6, 2020 at 4:00 AM

  • Photo by Kristan Lawson

Oakland's alaMar Kitchen & Bar is about to start serving 1,500 free meals per week to restaurant workers who have been displaced and derailed by the coronavirus outbreak.

Located at 100 Grand Ave., chef Nelson German's popular seafood restaurant has just issued this announcement:

"We are here for you, Oakland! ... Due to the closure of restaurants in California, we have an urgent need for assistance for the thousands of restaurant workers who find themselves suddenly without work, without a paycheck, and without a support system.

"Independent restaurants are at the center of the vibrant growth in America. For the past decade, we have relied on the stellar hospitality and positive PR of the independent restaurant scene to make this a city we are incredibly proud of. But now restaurant workers need your help more than ever. If we don’t take a stand and do something now, there will not be an independent restaurant industry to speak of when the coronavirus crisis is over."

Starting this Wednesday, April 8, "in partnership with @makersmark and @leeinitiative @chefedwardlee, @chefnel4 and @dcpatterson, we will turn @alamaroakland into a relief center for restaurant workers who have been laid off or have had a significant reduction in hours and/or pay," the announcement reads.

Those who can "show some identifying paperwork to prove recent employment at a restaurant — a paystub will suffice in most cases" — are invited to collect meals between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Wednesday through Sunday evenings at the restaurant, where staff will provide free meals via contactless curbisde pickup. Hundreds of meals will be offered per night, as funding and supplies permit.

No disposable cutlery will be included.

The restaurant is also seeking donations of produce, meat, to-go containers, gloves, and other supplies (email the restaurant at as well as monetary contributions via The Lee Initiative.

Reem's California Has Closed

Chef-owner Reem Assil announced the closure at Istagram.

by S. Rufus
Mon, Apr 6, 2020 at 4:00 AM

  • Photo courtesy of Star Chefs

Noted restaurateur Reem Assil has decided to close her Fruitvale restaurant, Reem's California.

"From the bottom of our hearts, we'd like to thank everyone who has supported us in keeping our humble oakland restaurant operation a force in our community. Today will be our Fruitvale location's last day open to the public for the foreseeable future," Assil announced on Istagram late last week.

"After much reflection and conversation, we have decided that it is no longer viable or desirable to try to sustain our current model in an economic system that will never allow us to live out our values," lamented Assil, a former labor organizer who was named a Rising Star Restaurateur last year by the Star Chefs organization, and who attracted controversy because one wall of Reem's California featured a large painting of Palestinian activist Rasmeah Odeh, who was convicted of being linked with a 1969 grocery-store bombing in Jerusalem that killed two students.

"Instead we want to use this time as an opportunity to be more radical--to act from a place of love, not fear and panic," wrote Assil, who recently opened a new bakery in San Francisco — Reem's Mission — which she assured readers would stay open for lunch "with limited hours" for the foreseeable future.

"The scrambling for dollars just to keep us 'in the game' is a distraction from the more important work we must do. That is to take care of our own in the absence of government and confront power to demand change.

"We need healthcare for all, regardless of employment. We need human rights for all, regardless of status. We need a society with no walls and no cages. And we need redistribution of wealth immediately.

We have no desire for the food industry to return to the way it was. When we rebuild it we must ensure we do so equitably, centering those who have been hurt the most by its exploitation," Assil wrote.

She also reassured fans that, over the next few months, "we will turn our space into a commissary kitchen providing hundreds of meals a day to those most vulnerable in this pandemic."

Friday, April 3, 2020

Matt Horn Will Stage Another Pop-Up Giveaway

The Oakland pitmaster will serve free lunches outside Horn Barbecue on April 4.

by S. Rufus
Fri, Apr 3, 2020 at 4:00 AM

  • Photo courtesy of Horn Barbecue

Renowned Oakland pitmaster and chef Matt Horn is serving free meals tomorrow — Saturday, April 4 — to those most affected by the Covid-19 outbreak.

From 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., or as long as supplies last, the meals will be given away in front of Horn Barbecue at 2534 Mandela Parkway.

This is the second popup giveaway that Horn has served. During the first one, on March 25, over 500 free to-go orders were served — inspiring Horn to keep up this practice.

The Horn Initiative is a philanthropic effort kindled by Horn's long-term commitment to helping those in need.

He has also established a Gofundme account to help him continue helping others.

"Our hearts are heavy, given the current circumstances of the COVID-19 virus and the impact it's had on the food and hospitality industries," reads the account's website.

"In an effort to support those affected most ... we will be hosting a series of cooks outside of our Oakland restaurant. Now is the time to step up and support those that have been affected by the current circumstances of this untimely pandemic, and we feel we have a responsibility to do what we can to support those in need. We are grateful for the help we can get to make these meals possible."

At last month's free giveaway, Horn and a team of volunteers placed servings of pulled pork and barbecued chicken in styrofoam containers on a table while wearing gloves and maintaining social-distancing measures.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

East Bay School-Lunch Company Pivots to Drive-Thru Pickup

Danville-based Choicelunch now lets customers order staples online.

by S. Rufus
Thu, Apr 2, 2020 at 4:00 AM

  • Photo courtesy of Choicelunch

A Danville-based school-lunch program has recently shifted its efforts to bring fresh food from local distributors straight onto the plates of consumers throughout the greater Bay Area.

Founded in 2003, operating five kitchens, and employing 200 workers, Choicelunch was accustomed to serving school lunches daily to 25,000 students at 300 schools.

But statewide school closures required the company to discover new ways of providing consumers with food.

“Almost everyone had stockpiled groceries prior to the shelter-in-place order, but we knew we were all going to be in it for the long haul,” said Choicelunch founder and CEO Justin Gagnon, a third-generation Danviller.

“We saw the frenzy and stockouts in the grocery stores, but knew that our food-service distribution partners had excessive capacity from restaurants and food-service businesses slowing down and even shutting completely.

"We wanted to find a way to reliably get the products our community needed into the hands our residents," Gagnon said.

He worked through last weekend building an online ordering platform — the Choicelunch Pantry — while his partners Keith Cosbey and Ryan Mariotti researched sourcing ingredients. Meanwhile, Gagnon's mother and sister, Mary Gagnon and Robbie Anderson, sewed protective masks for Choicelunch workers to wear.

The pantry is now offering milk, meat, seafood, eggs, bread, and other staples. It's accepting orders for pickup at its Danville kitchen and has also expanded to offer staples to consumers in Hayward, San Jose, Rossmoor, and other locations.

As he was building the ordering platform, Gagnon noticed a Facebook post by his friend Jason Pera, whose parents own San Jose's 117-year-old Roma Bakery.

Depicted on social media, "Jason’s mom was standing outside in a strip mall selling loaves of bread from a folding table. ... I knew there was a way I could help a friend’s family" and expand the Choicelunch Pantry's span of options, Gagnon said, "so I ran with it.”

Choicelunch has kitchens in both San Jose and Danville, and Gagnon plans to have a Choicelunch team member collect fresh bread daily in San Jose, then deliver it to Danville for drive-through pick-up the same day.

“My wife loves the saying 'Do the next right thing," and I’m a big believer that in times of crisis, that’s really all any of us can do,” he said.

“This is more of a community service than anything. Many of our neighbors are nervous about going to the grocery store or frustrated that when they do go, staple ingredients are often out of stock.

"My own brother couldn’t believe that we can get eggs," Gagnon said.

"Our goal right now is to help our community by getting food safely to our neighbors, and help our people by keeping as many of them working as possible.”

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Berkeley Farms Is Closing

The 110-year-old Hayward-based dairy brand will soon cease to exist.

by S. Rufus
Wed, Apr 1, 2020 at 4:00 AM

Hayward-based Berkeley Farms is about to close permanently — with 315 workers set to lose their jobs.

Its parent company, Dean Foods, has just announced that although it had hoped to sell the 110-year-old dairy brand, this never came to pass and now the plant is set to close by the end of April.

Hailed as California's oldest continuous milk processor, Berkeley Farms provided Northern California stores with milk, cultured products, cream, butter, juice, and ice cream.

As reported by KTVU, Dean Foods — whose other brands include Alta Dena, Dairy Pure, Meadow Gold, and more — is now seeking to sell the real estate on which the Berkeley Farms plant now stands.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Emeryville's Grocery Outlet Is Strategizing for the Covid-19 Outbreak

After a wildly successful 2019, the supermarket group is "purchasing aggressively."

by S. Rufus
Fri, Mar 27, 2020 at 4:00 AM

  • Photo courtesy of Grocery Outlet

Emeryville-based Grocery Outlet has just announced this week that its earnings throughout the last fiscal year and 2019's fourth quarter surpassed all forecasted earnings goals.

The fiscal year saw net sales up 11.9 percent to $2.56 billion for the national supermarket group compared to $2.29 billion in 2018.

For last year's fourth quarter, which ended on Dec. 28, net sales surged 12 percent to $655.5 million from $585.2 million a year earlier, as reported by Supermarket News.

In a conference call with analysts on Tuesday, the company's CEO Eric Lindberg and president RJ Sheedy discussed Grocery Outlet's strategies for going forward through the Covid-19 outbreak.

“Due to our significantly higher customer demand, our buying organizations, supply chain teams, and IOs" — independent owners" — are working around the clock to keep shelves stocked for our customers. Our purchasing team is intently focused on working with our vendor partners to replenish the high-demand products for our stores,” Lindberg said in the conference call, as reported by Supermarket News.

Grocery Outlet maintains nearby stores in Oakland, Richmond, and Alameda.

“We have been working very closely with suppliers to purchase these basic needs, such as water, paper supplies, rice and beans, and canned goods. We are, amongst many others, experiencing some delay for those items. But broadly speaking, we continue to have good access to product and are purchasing aggressively to keep our warehouses full,” Lindberg said.

“As for the supply chain,” he added, “we are working hard to get products into stores as quickly as possible. We’ve made several adjustments in the past week based on sudden spikes in demand that we’ve seen.

"I want to recognize everyone in our logistics network for their dedication to supporting stores and customers. That includes our distribution center employees, our transportation fleet drivers, our third-party vendors, our DSD suppliers and their drivers, all of whom are working nonstop to keep goods on the shelves.”

At the end of 2019, Grocery Outlet had 347 stores in six states, up from 316 at the end of 2018. Ten more stores were exected to open before the end of March, chief financial officer Charles Bracher said during the conference call.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Would You Like a Cocktail to Go With That Take-Out?

The Department of Alcoholic Beverage & Control's COVID-19 Response: Cocktails To Go! 

by Daedalus Howell and Stephen Buel
Tue, Mar 24, 2020 at 2:48 PM

Thanks to a recent relaxation of California alcohol laws, Margaritaville is closer than ever.

Cocktails can now be ordered to-go and delivered curbside to customers courtesy of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) and its response to COVID-19.

The department enacted the regulatory relief to "support the alcoholic beverage industry in its efforts to assist California in slowing the spread of the virus while assisting the industry in dealing with the economic challenges it is facing as a result," it said in a statement.

The ABC arrived at this decision after careful consideration of the public's health safety or welfare and whether it be negatively affected. "Exercised on a temporary basis," the ABC thinks not. There are rules, however — to-go cocktails can only be purchased with a matching meal, whether that be through a drive-thru, pick up or delivery. Other adult beverages available in this manner include wine and beer.

"Any such alcoholic beverages must be packaged in a container with a secure lid or cap and in a manner designed to prevent consumption without removal of the lid or cap (e.g., no lids with sipping holes or openings for straws)," reads the ABC's "notice of regulatory relief."

Naturally, consumers acquiring cocktails and other alcoholic beverages are discouraged from drinking them while driving or break open container laws by allowing non-drivers to do so.

Even though breweries have always been able to provide take-out containers and delivery directly to people's homes, the rules change has prompted Original Pattern Brewing near Jack London Square to rethink its business practices, owner Max Silverstein said on Sunday.

"The changes the ABC made were really for bars and restaurants," Silverstein said. "Breweries have always been able to deliver direct to people's houses. We never did it before. Now we are."

Breweries are permitted to deliver cans, growlers, and "crowlers," which are basically giant 32-ounce cans of beer. But since growlers and crowlers are meant to be consumed right away, Silverstein said Original Pattern is delivering just cans.

"This last week, we were still delivering cans," he said. "We would deliver a keg but no one was ordering any. Some restaurants that used to get kegs are now ordering cans to go with their to-go food."

"People are coming in," he said. "It's definitely nowhere close to as busy as if we were open and people could hang out and drink. ... We have a lot of inventory that we expected to use over the next two weeks."

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Restaurants and Cafes Take Steps to Combat Coronavirus

Some places ban cash and reusable cups, while others have ended dine-in services or have closed temporarily.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Mar 17, 2020 at 3:36 PM

Attempting to curb the spread of coronavirus via social distancing has hit large gatherings hard, from the suspension of the NBA season to the sudden cessation of performances of Hamilton to the closing of Bay Area public schools.

Most restaurants' capacities fall well under the 250-person event maximum that Governor Gavin Newsom called for last week. But as community gathering spaces, many restaurant owners are taking extensive steps to keep customers and food service workers safe.

On March 12, The Lumpia Company announced via Instagram that it would temporarily stop accepting cash. Al Pastor Papi, a San Francisco-based taco truck that vends at Temescal Brewing on Thursdays, also announced that it would accept credit cards only, and that all areas would be thoroughly disinfected every 15 minutes. Al Pastor Papi also offered to provide gloves to customers upon request.

And while several cafes started encouraging customers to bring reusable cups and charging customers for disposable cups earlier this year, it looks like some cafes are concerned about the safety of reusable cups. Subrosa announced last week that all food and drinks would be served in to-go containers. Farley's East also announced that it would no longer accept reusable cups, and that utensils and hot sauce would be handed to customers rather than self-serve.

Some restaurants have shut down their dine-in services entirely, opting for delivery or take-out options instead. Last Thursday, Monster Pho announced that its Oakland location would only be offering food through takeout and Door Dash, and offered 10 percent off all to-go orders. La Marcha in Berkeley also offered a special promo, offering 40 percent off of bottles of wine ordered to go. Meanwhile, other restaurants, including Binney Park in Oakland and La Note in Berkeley, are offering customers the option of drive-by pickup.

Food events have been hit hard, too. Taste of Temescal announced last week that its March 17 event would be postponed, likely until May. Oakland First Friday also canceled its upcoming April 3 event, with plans to return on Friday, May 1.

Some restaurants have decided to temporarily close down for the safety of all involved. Superhero Desserts in Alameda announced that it would be closed starting March 16, and Hangar One Distillery announced that its tasting room would be closed until further notice. Last week, Nick's Pizza announced via Instagram that it would be closed until at least the end of the week. "Safety of our community is top priority and the shop is too small for safe distances," the post read. "If you go out to eat/shop please give service people physical space, they are dealing with hundreds of people a day. Wash your hands, sanitize your credit cards, don't touch anything you don't need to."

Unfortunately, other restaurants were forced to temporarily close due to financial repercussions from the coronavirus outbreak. Last week, The San Francisco Chronicle reported that two large Oakland Chinatown restaurants, Peony Seafood Restaurant and Buffet Fortuna, are temporarily closed, with no scheduled date for reopening. In that article, Carl Chan, the president of the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, reported that business in Oakland Chinatown restaurants had dropped by 50 to 75 percent on average since the onset of coronavirus fears.

Looking to support your local restaurants during this trying time while staying at home? Consider purchasing a gift card as a way to help local small businesses stay afloat.

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