Posted May 24, 2018 by Editorial Staff in Eat+Drink

The Restaurant Scene of Tomorrow Will Look a Lot Like Oakland Today

oakland restaurant scene
oakland restaurant scene

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Luke Tsai | Photo: Illustration by Clark Miller | May 21, 2018

When the revolution comes, don’t be surprised if it starts in a kitchen in Oakland.

It’s been about a decade since the culinary cognoscenti awoke to the richness and vibrancy of the Oakland restaurant scene, with its dense concentration of risk-taking, trend-making, wildly diverse eateries. But the truth is, the Town is one of America’s great food cities for reasons that go beyond what’s on the plate. Despite the old adage about not mixing dinner and politics, the Oakland food community has long been a wellspring of radical activism—a legacy that goes back at least as far as the Black Panther Party’s free-breakfast program for West Oakland schoolchildren during the 1960s. It should come as no surprise, then, that in today’s hyper-politicized age, Oakland restaurants and food businesses are on the vanguard again. A handful of restaurant owners have been outspoken about their desire to fight against gentrification, even as they’ve benefited from an influx of affluent customers ready to plunge into the Oakland food wilds. One local coffee shop made national headlines for its policy of refusing service to cops in uniform. And an entire brigade of brilliant female chefs is helping to lead a national conversation about the toxicity of restaurant workplaces—a culture epitomized by disgraced Oakland restaurateur Charlie Hallowell, who was recently outed as a chronic sexual harasser. These aren’t contradictions. It’s just the reality of a city where complicated battles are being waged actively, day after day. Here are five ways that the revolution is already brewing.

On a Thursday afternoon in April, two black men minding their own business at a Starbucks in Philadelphia were led away in handcuffs. Their crime? A store manager had called the cops because they’d been sitting for too long without first placing an order—or, as some put it, waiting while black. A viral video of the incident sparked calls to boycott Starbucks, followed by an apology from the megacorp and a vow to conduct trainings in implicit bias.

In East Oakland, just one month earlier, another, very different café-cop confrontation took place. At Hasta Muerte Coffee, a Latinx worker-owned coffee shop, a staff member asked an on-duty Oakland police officer to leave the premises—revealing, in a subsequent Instagram post, the café’s policy against serving uniformed police. Pushing back against a law-enforcement establishment that “routinely criminalizes and terrorizes black and brown and poor folks,” the post explained that the policy is meant to protect the “physical and emotional safety” of the shop’s largely black and brown customer base.