Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Tilden Cafe Benefits the Deaf Community

The new food truck celebrated its grand opening at the California School for the Deaf in Fremont, serving its signature smoky grilled cheese sandwiches.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Oct 23, 2018 at 10:22 AM

  • Photo by Katherine Hamilton

On Oct. 12, a crowd of more than 200 people gathered at California School for the Deaf in Fremont for the grand opening of a new food truck, Tilden Cafe. Little clouds of smoke billowed from the truck’s wood-burning oven, which the staff used to bake loaves of bread and make their signature smoky grilled cheese sandwiches. Three options were available: a three-cheese grilled cheese, a caprese grilled cheese, and a grilled cheese and ham with onions. The side of the truck read “Say Cheese!” along with a picture of two hands making the sign for “cheese” in American Sign Language.

Tilden Cafe is the newest venture from Deaf Counseling Advocacy and Referral Agency (DCARA), founded in 1964 and headquartered in San Leandro, with offices throughout the Bay Area. The nonprofit provides deaf people with social, employment, and advocacy services, and more.

According to executive director Raymond Rodgers, DCARA is shifting its focus toward operating as a social enterprise, meaning that it’ll operate other nonprofit businesses. “They get revenue and use it to support the services so they don’t have to depend on grants, donations, or government assistance,” Rodgers said through an interpreter. “And now Tilden Cafe is one of our businesses.”

Rodgers said he came up with the idea to start a food truck last summer while talking with a member of the organization’s development staff. Shortly after, while Rodgers was talking with one of the founders of San Francisco deaf-owned-and-operated pizzeria Mozzeria, they mentioned that they were thinking of selling one of their food trucks. So DCARA got a bank loan and did some online fundraising, and the next thing they knew, the truck, complete with a wood-burning pizza oven, was theirs. The staff named the truck after Douglas Tilden, a renowned deaf sculptor from the Bay Area whose work appears in Fremont, Berkeley, and San Francisco.

“It was an impulsive move because of the timing,” Rodgers said. “It’s like the universe [was] telling us to go ahead.”

Tilden Cafe has two goals. The first is to raise money to support DCARA’s services. “There’s a high demand for more services within the deaf community,” Rodgers said. “And the cost of living is rising here, and so we need new streams of funding.” And the second is to provide much-needed vocational training to deaf people.

“The food industry, all over the nation, is really expanding, and deaf people need to be part of that,” Rodgers said. In fact, an increasing number of deaf people are opening up their own businesses, like restaurants and breweries. “It became a hot trend for the deaf community to set up businesses, but the problem is, where’s the training for that? …. You can’t set it up without being taught or consulted.”

Many deaf people looking to get involved in the food industry had to learn from hearing people who knew a little bit of sign language, or use an interpreter. “It’s like a three-way conversation, so they miss out on a lot of stuff,” Rodgers said. “I really identified the need to set up some kind of training program connected to the food industry.”

So far, Tilden Cafe has hired three employees, all of whom are former Mozzeria employees. The manager, Mark Farr, worked at Mozzeria for four years using the same food truck that now belongs to Tilden Cafe. And the menu was designed by Debbie Call, a former culinary instructor at the California School for the Deaf. Tilden Cafe plans to eventually hire and train new employees, including referrals from the California Department of Rehabilitation and students from the California School for the Deaf.

But there have been some bumps in the road along the way. Tilden Cafe originally planned to park the truck on the site of the Deaf Community Center in San Leandro — a property that belongs to DCARA, conveniently located across the street from the San Leandro BART station. But San Leandro zoning laws didn’t allow for more food businesses at that location. “We went back and forth, and we couldn’t bend that rule,” Rodgers said.

Now, Tilden Cafe is partnering with Food Truck Mafia and hopes to partner with Off the Grid. They’ll soon apply for permits in different cities in the East Bay. Meanwhile, grilled cheese lovers can track Tilden Cafe’s progress on Instagram (@tildencafe) or on DCARA’s website (DCARA.org).

Rodgers is excited about Tilden Cafe’s future. He hopes to open more trucks in different locations throughout the region. And beyond the Bay Area, Rodgers said, Tilden Cafe is in the “spotlight, nationally, for the deaf community. They’re all kind of looking to see what happens.”

… On Oct. 25, select Bay Area restaurants and bars will be participating in the Dine Out for Democracy fundraiser. A portion of the proceeds from participating restaurants and bars will be donated to two organizations: The National Voter Protection Action Fund, which combats voter suppression, and the Alliance for Youth Action, a network of organizations dedicated to encouraging young people to vote. Participating restaurants and bars in Oakland include Doña Tomás, Make Westing, Ramen Shop, Starline Social Club, Camino, Home of Chicken and Waffles, and Beauty’s Bagel Shop. Participating Berkeley businesses include Saul’s Deli, Gather, Tacubaya, and Homemade Cafe. For more information, visit DineOutForDemocracy.com.

Corrections: The original version of this story erroneously stated that Debbie Call is an instructor at California School for the Deaf. She is retired. The story also should have stated that Tilden Cafe is partnering with Food Truck Mafia and hopes to work with Off the Grid.

What’s New at Swan’s Marketplace

Yammy’s Ethiopian food, plus Cupcakin’ coming soon.

by Momo Chang
Tue, Oct 23, 2018 at 10:20 AM

  • Photo courtesy of Yammy’s Deli & Café

Swan’s Market in Old Oakland, which celebrated its 100th year last summer, has some new tenants. Many of the food businesses who have moved in since the re-opening of Swan’s are first-time food entrepreneurs — and many are women of color.

Yamrout Gebremedhin said she’s always dreamed of opening a restaurant, and now, at 50, her dream has come true. Gebremedhin recently opened Yammy’s Deli & Café (542 9th St., Oakland), serving mostly traditional Ethiopian food to the downtown lunch crowd, along with deli sandwiches. She worked as a massage therapist for 20 years, most recently at the Claremont Resort & Spa. But since she was a child, she wanted to run a restaurant.

When the previous tenants, Dallaq Market & Deli, were leaving, she jumped at the opportunity. The previous market and deli served Ethiopian and Middle Eastern cuisine; Yammy’s has included some of the same on her menu, including cold deli sandwiches, and of course, Ethiopian food.

The self-taught cook is left-handed; while she was growing up, she was not allowed to help cook. “Left-handed is a curse in that part of our culture. They didn’t let me touch anything,” she said. She learned by watching her grandmother and mother cook.

Gebremedhin says she takes a lot of inspiration from her grandmother. “She was the best cook.” Her grandmother was a coffee farmer before the Marxist revolution in Ethiopia in 1974, when the government then took over land. After that, her grandmother ran a hotel and restaurant.

Gebremedhin grew up in Addis, the capital of Ethiopia, and moved to the United States in 1990. “I came to this country, and I was hungry,” she said. “The food was weird. I needed to start making my own food. I’d been watching my mom and grandma do it all my life. Out of nowhere, I just knew what to do.”

Yammy’s serves many traditional dishes, such as a veggie sampler. Gebremedhin says most Ethiopian restaurants serve the same dishes because of the long tradition of culture. “There’s a lot of deep history. We’ve never been colonized. The Ethiopian identity has always been there. We’ve never eaten with a fork. And we still don’t want to do it.”

She said that, because of the strong culture and history — showing in a swift motion, twisting her wrist, and motioning picking up food with injera, the classic thin bread made from teff flour — there’s also resistance within the community to change recipes that have been passed down for generations.

However, forks are available at Yammy’s, and instead of injera, one could choose rice. Gebremedhin also rolls her own injera burritos — a vegetarian version, and what she calls “Ethiopian style sloppy joes,” made with minchet abish wot, an Ethopian ground beef dish, wrapped in injera.

  • Photo courtesy of Cupcakin’ Bake Shop

Old Oakland had several food shakeups recently, including the closing of Smart & Final grocery store last month and the opening of Benchmark Pizzeria. Another tenant will be moving into Swan’s later this year. Cupcakin’ Bake Shop will be operating the space where Hen House used to be (907 Washington St., Oakland). Owner Lila Owens currently has a store in Berkeley (2391 Telegraph Ave.). She plans to open the Old Oakland Cupcakin’ in late November or early December. After that, she will run the space at the former Virginia Bakery (1690 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley), which will also serve as the commissary kitchen for her business.

The cupcakes, with flavors such as key lime pie made with a graham cracker crust and lime curd, will be similar at the Old Oakland shop, plus a few specialty items exclusive to Oakland. Owens was born and raised in Oakland, so opening a storefront in Oakland has always been a dream. “I’m excited to be coming home,” Owens told the Express.

  • Photo courtesy of 1951 Coffee Company

… In other food news, the nonprofit 1951 Coffee Company is now selling its own coffee roast. The company recently launched a line of single-origin and coffee blends in partnership with Coffee Manufactory. The coffee is roasted in Oakland and will be served at the store in Berkeley (2410 Channing Way) and at other local cafes, such as Third Culture Bakery (2701 Eighth St., Berkeley). 1951 Coffee Company trains baristas who are newly arrived refugees or asylum seekers; each year, they train about 100 baristas and help place them into coffee-related jobs.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Alameda County's New Pop-Up Program

The new program, which is expected to be in operation by December, addresses a gap between California food safety laws and the East Bay restaurant scene.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Oct 16, 2018 at 11:51 AM

Korean-American pop-up restaurant Nokni was shut down by an Alameda County health inspector. - PHOTO COURTESY OF JULYA SHEN
  • Photo courtesy of Julya Shen
  • Korean-American pop-up restaurant Nokni was shut down by an Alameda County health inspector.

Restaurants such as Nyum Bai and Augie’s Montreal Smoked Meat both started as humble pop-ups with unusual concepts, and today, they operate as successful brick-and-mortars. That’s why the East Bay restaurant industry was shocked when an Alameda County health inspector shut down Nokni, a Korean ssam pop-up inside the Kebabery, on Aug. 21, declaring that “pop-ups are illegal.”

On Sept. 10, recognizing the important role pop-ups play in the East Bay restaurant industry, the county announced its decision not to enforce laws prohibiting pop-ups until it could establish pop-up regulations. “The pop-up restaurant scene here in Alameda County is important and evolving faster than existing food safety laws,” said Wilma Chan, president of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, during the September meeting.

San Francisco has explicit regulations regarding pop-ups, while Contra Costa and San Diego counties have used existing regulations within the California Retail Food Code to allow for them. Ronald Browder, director of the Alameda County Department of Environmental Health, reviewed these counties’ regulations while developing the county’s new pop-up program, which will explicitly allow for pop-ups using existing California Retail Food Code provisions.

At an Oct. 8 board of supervisors meeting, Browder laid out the proposed regulations for Alameda County’s pop-up program. Under the proposal, pop-ups may be hosted only in permitted food facilities, known as host facilities. Host facilities will be required to notify the health department of all proposed pop-up operations and submit an application, including dates and times of operation, a proposed menu, and a to-be-determined fee. Pop-ups must also have a person-in-charge from the host facility, and there must be at least one person with a food safety certification on staff. Only an ABC license holder may serve alcohol. The program is expected to be go into effect by December. Sherri Willis, public information officer for the Alameda County Public Health Department, said these proposed regulations are still open for comment and subject to change.

Chan praised the health department for quickly developing the pop-up program to address the discrepancy between state law and the current reality of the East Bay food scene. However, Steve Joo, one of the chefs from Nokni, said at the meeting that the health department was “a little out of touch” with the food industry today, referring to restrictions regarding menu changes and that some staff he spoke with from the Department of Environmental Health didn’t know what a pop-up was. The supervisors noted that the Department of Environmental Health would be open to discussing these issues with Joo and other pop-up owners in the future.

...In other food news, a new woman of color-owned coffee bar, Fig and Poe (396 11th St., Oakland), has opened in downtown Oakland, serving Ritual coffee and Firebrand pastries. Popular Temescal tofu soup hotspot Pyeongchang Tofu House opened its second location on Oct. 9 (1269 University Ave., Berkeley). A new permanent dinner series at the Gastropig, Abstract Table (2123 Franklin St., Oakland), opened on Oct. 5 and will feature five and seven-course seasonally changing dining “exhibitions.” And Oakland restaurant Camino (3917 Grand Ave., Oakland) is scheduled to close at the end of December after 10 years in business.

Brown Signs Controversial Law on Charitable Food

AB 2178 seeks to makes it easier for nonprofits to charitably feed people. But some activists say the law threatens to cause more harm than good.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Oct 16, 2018 at 10:26 AM

  • Courtesy of Food Not Bombs

Keith McHenry, one of the co-founders of Food Not Bombs, has been arrested more than 100 times for illegally feeding people without a permit. All over the world, Food Not Bombs volunteers gather donations of fresh produce from local supermarkets and serve hot, home-cooked vegan meals several days a week in outdoor public spaces, like parks.

A new law, AB 2178, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed last month and will take effect on Jan. 1, purports to make it easier to legally charitably feed people. The bill, which was introduced by Assemblymember Monique Limón, D-Santa Barbara, sets out regulations for a new category of feeding operation called limited service charitable feeding operations.

Traditionally, groups giving out hot food to the public in California had to register for food service permits, which can be costly and difficult to obtain. Under the new law, organizations that want to charitably feed the public are not required to have permits. Instead, they can register as limited service charitable feeding operations and pay a fee to the local enforcement agency, a process with fewer regulations than obtaining a permit. But the new law comes with strict limitations on the kind of food they can prepare.

Limited service charitable feeding operations can give away whole, uncut produce and prepackaged, shelf-stable food, like granola bars. They can also heat, portion, or assemble small amounts of commercially prepared food — for example, they can heat up canned soup or make sandwiches from packaged ingredients. They can also store or distribute frozen foods.

That means operations like Food Not Bombs that cook warm meals from scratch would not be able to register as a limited service charitable feeding operation because their food is not commercially prepared or prepackaged. McHenry said the types of food service allowed under AB 2178 aren’t actually very helpful for the homeless.

“The people living on the street can’t use produce because they don’t have kitchens, and they definitely need hot full meals. … We’d end up in a situation where we’re trying to raise money … to buy packaged food to give out, which would be wholly inadequate to people living on the streets.”

McHenry says Food Not Bombs’ policy is that they will never accept or apply for a permit, and they also don’t plan to register as a limited service charitable feeding operation. He acknowledges what Food Not Bombs does was illegal in California prior to the passage of AB 2178 (although some cities and counties chose not to enforce it), and will continue to be illegal under the new law. But McHenry is concerned that the new law will only lead to stricter enforcement surrounding charitable feeding. He’s recently seen a rise in anti-homeless organizations reporting Food Not Bombs events to the authorities in an attempt to push the homeless out of sight.

“My concern about the new law is … it’s being advertised [by lawmakers], ‘now it’s easier to get [registered]’ …. Then the anti-homeless organizations will be able to go to the Environmental Health Department and say, well now there’s this new easier [registration] for them to get, so why aren’t they getting it? It’s an attractive form of propaganda that’s now available to them.”

Justin Malan, executive director of the California Association of Environmental Health Administrators, which supported the bill, said they’re trying to lower the barriers to charitable feeding while still protecting food safety. He said limited service charitable feeding operations will not be subject to regular inspections like food facilities with permits — the goal of registering these charitable feeding operations is so that health inspectors can trace any outbreaks of foodborne illness. “We have taken it to what we perceive as the lowest level of regulation. … We are not going all the way and completely deregulating charitable feeding.”

As to the food safety issue, Barbara Brust, founder of Consider the Homeless, which delivers homemade, hot soup to people on the streets of Berkeley, said she has never received complaints about anybody getting sick. She provides all new volunteers with information about food safety practices, makes sure they wear gloves, and uses a food warmer to keep the soup hot.

Brust said AB 2178 would leave “people where they need to either panhandle to buy [junk] food, or dumpster dive, and I think that’s a lot more unhealthy than getting fresh homemade food.”
Food Not Bombs will hold meetings at Omni Commons in Oakland on Nov. 10, 11, and 12 to discuss a statewide response to the new law.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Navajo Tacos in Oakland

The Lodge features fry bread tacos from Rocko’s Tacos, plus Americana food from Lovely’s.

by Momo Chang
Tue, Oct 9, 2018 at 10:21 AM

  • Photo by Momo Chang
Fry bread is a food that was created in the 1800s during a dark period of American history: from the enslavement of first nations peoples by the U.S. Army who were given government rations like flour, yeast, salt, sugar, and powdered milk. “We call it slave bread,” said Rocky Yazzie, who grew up on a Navajo reservation in New Mexico. “We always used masa.”

Now, fry bread has taken on a life of its own. In Arizona, Navajo tacos were voted the state dish in 1995. South Dakota designated fry bread as the official state bread in 2005. Sweet fry bread, often seen at state fairs, is also known as elephant ears.

Yazzie runs Rocko’s Tacos at The Lodge (3758 Piedmont Ave., Oakland) on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday evenings, serving his version of Navajo tacos. The typical way of eating it is simple: “Fry bread and beans is what you’re usually eating. It’s what you would get on a reservation. It’s super OG,” Yazzie said.

When you have extra toppings, “it means something good happened,” like a wedding, a celebration, or payday, he added. “We didn’t have refrigeration on the rez. Whatever we buy, it would go that day. If you see cheese and lettuce, it would be special.”

Yazzie’s fry bread is made from flour, baking powder, salt, and warm water. Slightly crunchy on the outside, and pillow-y on the outside, it’s the perfect palm-sized comfort food.

Typical toppings can include a combination of beans, beef, lettuce, tomatoes, and shredded cheese. Yazzie, a Scottsdale Le Cordon Bleu grad, adds his own flair. Think fry bread with hatch green chili sauce, pork potatoes, and roasted corn salsa. Or a vegetarian Navajo taco with New Mexican red chili beans, cheese, and tomatoes (vegan without the cheese). A sweet one could be dusted with powdered sugar, drizzled with honey, and filled with fresh strawberries and blueberries.

Tacos are $6 a pop, with half off Tuesdays, but Yazzie insists he just wants to feed the people. “It’s a suggested donation. I don’t care if people don’t have cash. Just eat. I’m not turning away anyone for not having cash.”

When Yazzie first started, he was cooking on a camp stove on an ironing board outside of a San Francisco bar, Pops. He gained a following over time and ended up cooking at El Rio for five years.

Yazzie is also a part of Turqouiz Noiz as a guitarist and vocalist. It’s an indie rock band that he describes as “ratchet rock” and “powwow punk.” His other job is working at Helios in West Oakland as a stained glass builder. Yazzie hopes to one day start his own restaurant, serving Southwestern food and traditional Navajo dishes.

While the Navajo tacos are a unique offering to the East Bay, Yazzie shares a kitchen at The Lodge with “Mikey” Yoon, who operates Lovely’s on the other days of the week: Wednesdays through Saturday evenings. Yoon serves his interpretation of Southern food: burgers, fried chicken, and hush puppies. Yoon grew up in Baltimore with parents who owned a deli that sold hamburgers, fried chicken, and Philly cheese steak: “No frills, mom and pop Americana food.”

While seemingly simple, these comforting dishes belie Yoon’s cooking pedigree: He also makes seasonal farmers market salads that are fit for a Sunset Magazine photo shoot — think fig and tomato salad from Fully Belly Farm with blue cheese from Point Reyes.

Yazzie, who is from a Navajo reservation in Four Corners, N.M., says he learned how to cook from his grandmother. His recalls first time making fry bread was when he was 5. “Everything I’m doing is what my grandma taught me. It’s all instincts. It tends to take care of me well.”

Monday, October 8, 2018

Benchmark Pizzeria Opens in Old Oakland

The highly rated Kensington pizzeria has expanded to a second location — this time with a full bar.

by Katherine Hamilton
Mon, Oct 8, 2018 at 4:43 PM

  • Photo courtesy of Benchmark Pizzeria
Benchmark Pizzeria, whose original location in Kensington earned praise from the Express in 2016, opened its second location in Old Oakland on Oct. 4.

According to Benchmark’s general manager, Corin Weihemuller, owners Peter and Melissa Swanson originally met in Oakland while working at Oliveto, so they always hoped to open a second location there — and when the Old Oakland space became available, they jumped on the opportunity.

At Benchmark’s Old Oakland location, everything revolves around pizza — literally. The owners kept the same wood oven from the previous tenant, Desco, but remodeled the space so that the wood oven could take center stage. Peter calls his style of pizza “Neo-Neapolitan.” It’s Italian-inspired with a few twists. The pizzas are made with a unique yet temperamental sourdough using a starter that Peter has kept alive for over seven years. One of the Kensington location’s most popular pizzas is a fried sage pizza with house-stretched mozzarella, parmesan, brown butter, lemon, and shaved garlic. That pizza will be available at the Oakland location, too, along with a salami and Calabrian chili pizza, a mini charm tomato and fennel pizza, and more.

Aside from handmade pizza, Benchmark’s Kensington location is also known for its fresh pasta made from scratch. Choices range from strozzapreti bolognese to spaghetti cacio e pepe. “Peter’s really passionate about his pizza and making housemade pasta every day, so that will not change,” Weihemuller said. “We’re not gonna mess with a good thing there, but we’re gonna expand more.”

The Old Oakland location has a bigger kitchen, which allows the Swansons to expand the menu to include more entrees, such as chicken alla diavola and short rib ragu with gnocchi. Benchmark uses locally sourced, sustainable, and organic produce wherever possible, so there’ll be some seasonal changes to the menu. On the menu for fall is a farro and delicata squash salad with pomegranate.

While Benchmark’s original location only serves beer and wine, the Oakland location features a full bar with cocktails designed by Tamir Ben-Shalom of Bull Valley Roadhouse in Port Costa. Weihemuller said the “inventive, yet accessible” cocktail menu is designed to reflect the food. Amaro-based drinks are the highlight of the menu.
The On the Down Low cocktail features Lo-Fi Gentian Amaro, Dolin Blanc vermouth, and Fino sherry, while the New Wave Tiki combines Mosswood Day rum, lime cordial, balsamic vinegar, Giffard Crème de Mure, and Amaro Aplomado.

Weihemuller said that opening night went smoothly, and the Benchmark team is excited to be up and running in Oakland.
“I’m really happy to be working in Oakland. I think Oakland’s an amazing city. … And the East Bay restaurant community is such a tight-knit, really great community.”

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Investing in West Oakland

Community Foods Market is launching a direct public offering before its December store opening, allowing people to buy shares in the new West Oakland grocery store.

by Momo Chang
Wed, Oct 3, 2018 at 10:42 AM

  • Courtesy of Community Foods Market
Community Foods Market, slated for a December opening (formerly called the People’s Community Market), is making a final push for public investors before the grocery store opens in West Oakland, long considered a food desert, and where there hasn’t been a full-service grocery store for more than 40 years.

The project was one of the first in California to offer this counter-model to IPOs. Community shareholders, who are California residents and mostly small-scale investors, can buy in for a minimum of $1,000. West Oakland residents who qualify can receive financial assistance as well.

The previous two major pushes for investors came about in 2012 and 2016, from which they have raised a total of $1.7 million. The 14,000-square-foot grocery store and cafe is on land owned by the nonprofit East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation (EBALDC). Community Foods Market has a 30-year lease with EBALDC. An angel investor lent funding to EBALDC so they could buy the property and lease it rent-free.

The latest round of public offerings is the market’s final push before the store opens to pay for operating costs, hiring employees, and more. The market hopes to raise at least $400,000 through public offerings, with the possibility of a foundation matching that. “It’s critical to the business,” said Brahm Ahmadi, CEO and co-founder of Community Foods Market.

Initially, they didn’t think to use the direct public offering model to raise capital. Ahmadi sought funding from angel investors, but the project didn’t fit: Most investors were not interested in an early stage business that didn’t have the promise of large profits and scalable growth. They also didn’t want to resell the project to a corporation if that came about. “We’re all about being in this neighborhood in the long-term,” Ahmadi said.

While similar to crowdfunding, DPOs are a different way of raising money. It’s not a pure donation — shareholders are investors and are part of the ownership. Investors will receive a 3 percent annual interest and 1 percent in store credit.

The minimum to buy in is $1,000; there are currently more than 500 DPO investors, and most of them are Oakland residents. They also offer financial assistance to West Oakland residents — up to receiving $1,000 worth of stock for $100. An anonymous foundation in the Bay Area funded this to allow low-income people to become shareholders. So far, 30 of their investors utilized financial assistance.

Ahmadi is holding a series of webinars and in-person tours of the construction site (3105 San Pablo Ave., Oakland). Webinars are offered every first and third Friday from 3-4 p.m. Visit CommunityFoodsMarket.com for more information.

… In other food news, San Francisco-based 4505 Burgers & BBQ will bring their Best Damn Cheeseburgers, grit cake sandwiches, and spicy fries made with chimichurri sauce and lemon parsley aioli for Burger Mondays from 5 to 9 p.m. at Degrees Plato in Oakland’s Laurel. On Sundays, they’ll be partnering with Ghost Town Brewery for a smoked meat barbecue cookout from 1 to 7 p.m. 4505 Burgers & BBQ plans to open a spot in Oakland in the future.

Boba Goes Local

Boba Guys is the first U.S. company to make tapioca balls — at its East Bay facility.

by Momo Chang
Wed, Oct 3, 2018 at 10:20 AM

  • Courtesy of US Boba Company
Making boba, the (usually) dark brown pearls sitting at the bottom of a cup of bubble tea, is a lot harder than it looks. No one knows better than the guys from Boba Guys, an artisanal bubble tea shop that opened as a pop-up in 2011 in the Bay Area, now with a dozen brick-and-mortar outlets in San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles, and soon expanding to other locations.

Andrew Chau, one half of the founding partner of Boba Guys (with Bin Chen), said he’s been thinking about making their own boba since they first opened shop. It just seemed like a reasonable trajectory for a high-end bubble tea shop making classic boba drinks along with their own signature drinks, house-made syrups, and grass jelly, and using organic milk from Straus Family Creamery.

“I thought, if we’re going to do craft, artisanal boba, it was only natural to have our own tapioca one day,” Chau said.

But being able to actually make boba from scratch — which is essentially tapioca made from cassava flour, plus several other ingredients — turned out to be a bigger feat than expected; one that no one else is doing in the United States.

Bubble tea is a drink that originated in Taiwan in the ’80s, spreading soon after to parts of the U.S., such as the San Gabriel Valley. The boba craze has definitely hit the Bay Area, including the East Bay, where teens nowadays sip on bubble tea as much as, if not more than, drinks from Starbucks.

Chau said he faced a lot of discouragement — making boba in the U.S. meant higher costs than importing tapioca from Asia, and that was just one obstacle. “As Boba Guys were growing, I was tempted every single time,” Chau said about wanting to make the tapioca in-house.

About three years ago, Chau re-connected with David Fan, who owns Fanale Drinks, a bubble tea supplier based in Hayward, and Teaspoon, a bubble tea shop chain. Fan was on board — he had some know-how, and Boba Guys had the brand. The three of them — Chau, Chen, and Fan — started US Boba Company.

Currently, their Hayward-made boba is used exclusively in the Boba Guys and Teaspoon shops. But down the line, they hope to become a supplier to other shops and chains nationwide. In a year, they hope to begin tours of their Hayward factory to demystify the boba-making process. Chau said their 18,000-square-foot factory has the capacity to supply boba balls for the majority of bubble tea shops in California and beyond.

So far, so good. They started rolling out their Hayward-made boba in August, and within the next few weeks, all of their Bay Area shops will use their own boba.

… In other food news, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the “Craft Distiller Op-pour-tunity” Act — SB 1164 proposed by state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, allowing small craft distillers to sell directly to the public, which we wrote about in May. In other East Bay beverage news, several of our local breweries won prizes at the 2018 Great American Beer Festival presented by the Brewers Association. Drake’s Brewing Co. in San Leandro won a gold medal, Original Pattern Brewing Company in the Jack London neighborhood won a silver medal, and 21st Amendment Brewery in San Leandro and Faction Brewing Co in Alameda won bronze.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Smart & Final’s Old Oakland Location Closes

The closure is one of several shut downs of longtime businesses following the purchase of much of Old Oakland by 11 West Partners.

by Katherine Hamilton
Wed, Sep 26, 2018 at 10:46 AM

  • SmartandFinal.com
Smart & Final’s Old Oakland location at 901-933 Broadway closed on Sunday, Sept. 23 after over 24 years in business. The store opened in April 1994 and was the only supermarket in Old Oakland.

The shuttering of Smart & Final is one of a number of closures of longtime Old Oakland businesses, following the purchase of much of the district by 11 West Partners three years ago.

Smart & Final district manager Mike La Placa said he was notified about a month ago that the store’s lease would not be renewed. When he learned of the closure, La Placa held a meeting with the store’s employees and worked to ensure that each employee would be relocated to another nearby Smart & Final store. “Everyone is happy; they got the store of their choice,” La Placa said.

La Placa said the store served a variety of clientele: restaurant owners, nearby residents, and downtown office workers who picked up groceries during their lunch breaks or on their way home from work. He said that business at the Old Oakland location was good, as well as at the other Smart & Final stores throughout the Bay Area. A new Smart & Final location in San Jose opened earlier this month.

La Placa said Smart & Final hopes to open another store nearby. “We believe in the community, we love being downtown. We want to have a bigger presence here.” Smart & Final’s East Oakland location remains open at 1243 42nd Avenue.

La Placa said he’s unsure what the landlords plan to do with the ground floor retail space. The second floor is currently home to Kaiser Permanente offices. The building’s property managers could not be reached for comment.

The building is named Delger Block after its original owner, Frederick Delger, a prominent Oakland real estate speculator. According to Old Oakland’s website, the building was completed in 1881 and measures nearly 36,000 square feet. The building originally housed an apothecary firm on the ground floor called Bowman Drug Co., and the second floor was home to law offices, giving the block the moniker “Lawyer’s Block.” The basement of the building housed a saloon called The Montana, where several years ago renovators found remnants of what they believed was a boxing ring in the basement. Delger Block was designated as a landmark by the City of Oakland on April 12, 1983.

Smart & Final’s closure follows recent shut down of several other long-term Old Oakland businesses. Italian restaurant Desco, which opened in 2013, closed on December 31, 2017. In an interview with Oakland Magazine, owner Donato Scotti cited the reason for the closure as an “inability to come to a long-term agreement that would allow us to make updates to the restaurant space and concept.”

Pacific Coast Brewing, which had been in business for 29 years, closed in November 2017 after learning that the two-year lease extension they were offered could be terminated with only two months’ notice. All three properties, along with the rest of Old Oakland, are owned by 11 West Partners, which purchased the complex in October 2015.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Assembly District 15 Candidates to Discuss Food and Farming Issues in the East Bay

Plus, California passes a slew of new food-related laws.

by Momo Chang
Mon, Sep 24, 2018 at 4:13 PM

Jovanka Beckles and Buffy Wicks.
  • Jovanka Beckles and Buffy Wicks.

Our agricultural system doesn’t just affect the food on our plate; it also intersects with issues of climate justice, environmental concerns, and food equity, among others. That’s why an upcoming candidates’ forum will tackle these issues as they affect the East Bay — and the region.

“Food in the 15th,” to be held on Wednesday, Oct. 3, in Richmond, will feature Jovanka Beckles and Buffy Wicks, the two candidates running for Assembly District 15 in November. Moderated by Nina Ichikawa, policy director of the Berkeley Food Institute, the forum will give voters the chance to hear the candidates’ views on issues such as minimum wage, the affordability of food, soda taxes, immigration and labor issues, and agriculture’s impact on the environment. Audience members will also be able to submit questions for the candidates. California Food and Farming Network, a Sacramento-based coalition that represents 40 organizations statewide, is organizing the forum.

“One of the major hopes for this coalition is that these candidates understand that food and farming issues impact all of our lives,” said Beth Spitler, organizing and policy consultant at the Pesticide Action Network, a member of the California Food and Farming Network. “We really want to raise the profile of food and farming issues, and food equity issues, in particular, so the candidates are better acquainted with them, and so they know there’s a constituency in the East Bay and really all of California that will hold them accountable to these issues.”

Beckles is a Richmond city councilmember and Wicks worked on President Obama’s campaigns and served as deputy director of engagement in his administration. The district covers the northern part of the East Bay, including Richmond, El Cerrito, Albany, Berkeley, Emeryville, Piedmont, and parts of Oakland, among other areas.

The forum will be preceded by a free dinner provided by Urban Tilth, a Richmond-based organization, which will source the produce from its gardens and farms. Organizers will also offer Spanish translation as well as childcare for children who are potty-trained.

The event will take place at the Richmond Memorial Auditorium in the Bermuda Room (2540 Nevin Ave., Richmond) from 6:30-8 p.m. Admittance is free but attendees are asked to RSVP via Eventbrite to receive a ticket.

… In other food news, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a slate of bills that affect food: AB 626 (which we wrote about last week), allowing home cooks to legally sell their food; SB 946, which legalizes food vendors to sell on sidewalks; AB 1871, which guarantees free and reduced-price meals for charter school students; and AB 1884, which bans full-service restaurants from passing out plastic straws, unless someone asks for them. … Finally, there’s a new coffee shop in East Oakland: It’s A Grind recently opened in the Seminary Point shopping center (2521 Seminary Ave., Ste. #3, Oakland).

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