For these Oakland restaurants, popularity is a blessing and a curse



During the pandemic, long-standing restaurants closed permanently while new establishments struggled to find their place. Even restaurants that have successfully racked up a loyal following say they face staffing issues, supply chain delays and shortages, and the detrimental impact the service industry has on their mental and physical health. .

“Keeping up with demand is always difficult, but it’s what keeps your restaurant alive,” said Merissa Lyons, who, along with her mother, owns Trinidadian restaurant CocoBreeze, which opened in the fall. 2020. According to Oakland restaurateurs who spoke to The Oaklandside, running a successful business isn’t just about attracting customers, it’s about juggling a host of other issues that many customers never notice.

The front door of the Lion Dance Cafe. Credit: Amir Aziz

Lion dance cafe

CY Marie Chia and Shane Stanbridge own the Lion Dance Cafe in downtown Oakland. The two chefs combine a variety of flavors ranging from Singaporean Teochew recipes to Californian Italian sensibilities to cook reimagined herbal dishes from Chia’s childhood. The couple opened their first brick-and-mortar business in fall 2020 after years of operating a pop-up called S + M Vegan.

Even as a pop-up, their business drew long lines, but their popularity increased after SF Chronicle food critic Soleil Ho proclaimed their Shaobing sandwich to be the best sandwich in the area. the Bay. According to Stanbridge, meeting demand in a permanent location is very different from managing a pop-up. “The very nature of a pop-up is scarcity and that’s somehow inherently limited, whereas with restaurant people expect every item to be on your menu,” Stanbridge said. .

Chia said that while it is normal in the service industry for a restaurant to lack an ingredient and not be able to prepare certain dishes, “it’s not what people expect.”

The constant supply chain disruptions during the pandemic did not impact their access to fresh produce, but a current shortage of edible oil has forced them to hold on to their use when they can. “Oil is the basis of a lot of recipes, so we can’t really change that,” Stanbridge said.

More often than not, supply shortages limit the types of take-out containers and prep gloves they can get. “We were looking for high quality but affordable compostable products,” Chia said, “and sometimes they aren’t just available, or the specific product we need doesn’t exist.”

The front facade of La Dolce Vita, which opened at 3931 Telegraph Ave. in May. Credit: Amir Aziz

La Dolce Vita café and bakery

Tegsti Woldemichael, an Eritrean-born entrepreneur who has lived in Oakland for decades, has always enjoyed working for herself. Woldemichael has operated a variety of Oakland-based businesses, from a cemetery headstone design company to a coffee shop, and owns La Dolce Vita, an Italian bakery on Telegraph Avenue in North Oakland.

Woldemichael opened her store last May, after “I couldn’t find the kind of baked goods I liked, so I learned to cook on my own,” she said. Woldemichael’s home country was colonized by the Italian government in the 1800s, bringing dishes like pasta and panettone to the region, where they were merged with East African ingredients and flavors. . Since opening, La Dolce Vita has drawn a steady stream of customers to the neighborhood, many of whom are Ethiopians and Eritreans who live nearby and recall its baking style from their childhood.

Nearby Woldemichael’s favorite bakery, Genova Italian Delicatessen, closed in 2016 due to rising rental prices. Her decision to open a bakery “stems from my love for cakes and sandwiches,” she said. “After [Genova] I used to drive all the way to Walnut Creek, where they moved, and then I said, “Why don’t I open this? I like it, I’m sure other people like it too.

Woldemichael’s biggest struggle so far has been finding new workers to meet the demand. Staff members have come and gone, and Woldemichael has relied on a consistent employee, along with his sister and teenage son, to keep his business running.

“We have a lot of customers, but we couldn’t serve them all at the same time,” she said. It got to a point where Woldemichael had to remove her business from the Doordash directory because “we didn’t have enough manpower,” she said.

La Dolce Vita was also part of a recent wave of lawsuits brought by Orlando Garcia, a man from San Diego, who filed lawsuits against wheelchair accessibility and accommodation.

According to Woldemichael, she received a complaint from Garcia’s attorney in July that he had visited her bakery when it opened in May and that she did not have legally required wheelchair accessible seats.

“We’ve made it ADA compliant now,” she said, “but now they’re asking for $ 10,000,” a cash settlement that Woldemichael can pay to avoid a court battle. While business has been good, Woldemichael said paying the $ 10,000 could shut La Dolce Vita for good. She is still undecided as to what to do about the costume. “When I start to think about it, I get really frustrated,” Woldemichael said.

Every morning, Annabelle Goodridge, co-owner of CocoBreeze, refreshes the front of her restaurant. Credit: CocoBreeze / Facebook

CocoBreeze Caribbean Restaurant & Bakery

CocoBreeze
2370 High St. (near Fairfax Avenue), Oakland

Chef Annabelle Goodridge and her daughter Merissa Lyons opened East Oakland’s CocoBreeze Caribbean Restaurant & Bakery in August 2020 to receive rave reviews from the local Caribbean community.

“I think we’ve bridged a gap because there are a lot of Caribbean shops, stores, and restaurants on the east coast, but on the west coast there seems to be a void,” Lyons said.

Goodridge, who immigrated to the Bay Area decades ago, owned LaBelle’s restaurant in Berkeley Trinidadian in the 1990s and 2000s, and then operated a restaurant business. Over the years, the family’s business model has remained the same: using quality ingredients to serve an array of traditional recipes such as oxtail, goat curry, and roti wraps while offering vegetarian options and vegan.

“We want to make sure we have something that is accessible to all palates, but you still get that real flavor,” Lyons said. “I cook a whole batch of food every morning and then we have to cook the next batch of food because we don’t wait for it to run out,” Goodridge said. “Everything must be fresh.

CocoBreeze’s commitment to using fresh ingredients is not without its setbacks. According to Goodridge, the prices of meat and agricultural products continue to rise. “Every week they increase the price of oxtail. They grow simple things like garlic – I couldn’t believe it, ”Goodridge said of price increases for food suppliers across the country.

Aside from current issues such as supply chain disruptions and understaffing, Goodridge said some of her biggest challenges in the service industry came from being a black woman and an immigrant homeowner. business.

“I’ve been in this country for 42 years, and people regard us on a different level than others,” Goodridge said. “I had to understand the system that America has, because they don’t hold the [same standard] for black-owned businesses, immigrant-owned businesses and women-owned businesses.

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