Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Tanya Holland brings TV glitz to West Oakland

West Oakland twice struck out landing the Wayans Brothers, who were going to build a movie studio thing on the old Army Base until they realized their children's "fun zone" would be right next to toxic emissions from giant container ships. Woops.

Now the neighborhood has finally landed a development from a TV star, albeit on a slightly smaller scale and a lot more healthy: Tanya Holland, who previously hosted "Melting Pot" on the Food Network and ran the kitchen at Le Theatre in Berkeley, is opening Brown Sugar Kitchen next month at the former home of Triangle Cafe at Mandela and 26th.

The concept is "cooking with soul" using "locally grown, organic and seasonal ingredients whenever possible." Wines are from African American California vintners -- and from the South of France. There will be microbrews -- and Blue Bottle Coffee.

Think of soul food combined with formal French training. The recipes in Holland's cookbook should give you some idea.

Holland is doing a cooking demo Friday night at the Museum of California (in Oakland).

More in my Business Times update: Food Network star to open West Oakland restaurant (free link)

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Oakland hipster slams restaurant in RECORD TIME, so John Birdsall is now obsolete

Flora, a cute little restaurant in downtown Oakland, has been open for approximately four hours, so of course it has already been declared DEAD AND PASSE AND LAME by a snide local hipster who has better taste in restaurants than you, because you live on the wrong side of the Caldecott Tunnel and work in an office and are probably wearing Dockers.

Kevin Cook, food writer at Novometro.com, hasn't actually been to Flora, but he has read another writer's blog about when she went to Flora earlier this afternoon, and he has already had it up to here with the restaurant, which he vows to never visit again, or ever, since he's never actually been in the first place.

Based on seven pictures and a 193-word review, Cook declared, in the comments of course, the following:
I will never understand why a place like flora attracts anyone. I don’t care how new the kitchen staff is–making a decent vinaigrette shouldn’t take any practice or time for a professional. Tuna melt? Come on, this place sounds like an upscale togos for the walnut creet office worker lunch crowd.
To recap: Kevin Cook does not understand why Flora does not throw in the towel and shut down and admit it's over, already, since it has managed to ruin its reputation in the four hours it has been open by making a bad vinaigrette and, uh, serving sandwiches, to people who work in offices. And possibly live in Walnut Creek. Ew.

This is the glorious future of food criticism, which shows why reviews printed on dead trees by so-called professionals who secretly love sandwiches and Contra Costa County and cubicles are now obsolete forever, oh holy god I want John Birdsall back they laid him off I didn't want to tell you but there it is The End.

(Seriously, the East Bay Express laid off Birdsall and six other staffers, including Kara Platoni.)

A Better Oakland: Flora opens tonight! (Updated with pictures)

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Exclusive Flora pic! (... link. Exclusive Flora pic LINK. Still exclamation-mark worthy!)

The team behind high-end Mexican restaurants Dona Tomas in Oakland and Tacubaya in Berkeley are close to opening their Uptown Oakland joint, Flora.

I walked past the restaurant last night and spied a small group inside, putting on the finishing touches. It is looking like the casual cocktail cafe we were promised last year, with a definite Raymond Chandler, late 1940s feel.

My cell phone shots are awful, so go check out this picture, taken by one of my companions last night.

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Chow eyeing Jack London Square in Oakland, even as food hall shrinks

San Francisco restaurant Chow is interested in a location in Oakland's Jack London Square, the East Bay Express reported Wednesday, even as the square's developers struggle to attract other food tenants.

Meanwhile, the developers have cut way back on the restaurant and food component of the so-called "Harvest Hall" at the center of the Jack London Square expansion, I reported Friday. It was going to be 185,000 square feet of sit-down restaurants, food stalls, produce shops, meat markets, a cooking school, exhibitions and other food attractions.

Now it's two-thirds offices, with only the lower two of six floors dedicated to food. Apparently this was allowed under the entitlements approved by the city council a couple of years ago.

The changes were put forward after the developers closed on $200 million in construction financing for the first half of the development. Office is easier to fund these days than food, particularly if you are taking a Slow Food approach.

Business Times: Oakland's Harvest Hall will be mostly offices / Developers line up $200M to begin (free link)
East Bay Express: Back to Square One

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

UC Berkeley to finally get a decent hotel

Chip Conley's Joie de Vivre Hospitality is opening its first hotel in the East Bay following its takeover and planned $9 million renovation of the historic Hotel Durant, one block from the UC Berkeley campus.

Joie de Vivre is also poised to takeover the Waterfront Plaza hotel at Jack London Square in conjunction with Ellis Partners LLC, which owns Jack London Square.

Based in San Francisco, Joie de Vivre is expanding aggressively throughout California. It entered the Los Angeles market just two years ago and now has four hotels there, including the recently-acquired Sportsmen's Lodge in Studio City. Conley told me the company is finishing negotiations with two more LA-area hotels. (None of this LA stuff made it into my story).

The Durant in Berkeley is an interesting buy for Joie de Vivre. The company may finally give the University of California the hotel it so richly deserves.

I have lived in Berkeley for 13 years, including 9 years within a block of this hotel, and my wedding guests lodged at the Durant this past June. The hotel has a lot of potential, with great bones, a rich history and a bustling bar.

But like the other major hotel near campus, Hotel Shattuck, it lacks in both amenities and service. The Durant is 80 years old and it shows, from the creaky elevators to the lack of air conditioning to the unreliable plumbing.

If you want a better hotel, you have to go to the Claremont, an expensive resort up in the hills, or to the DoubleTree at the Berkeley Marina. Neither are within easy walking distance of the campus.

The Faculty Club on campus has just 10 spartan rooms. The Bancroft Hotel across the street from campus looks nice from the outside but only has about two dozen rooms.

The university wants to partner with Carpenter & Co. on a fancy hotel and conference center just west of campus, a better location than the Durant from both the freeway and BART, but there is skepticism over whether this plan will ever happen at all.

Business Times: Hotel firm Joie de Vivre makes first East Bay foray (free link)

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Larry Biggie writes in to defend what remains of his honor

A couple of weeks ago I noted that a couple of Oakland entrepreneurs were trying to follow the path blazed by Cafe Gratitude of San Francisco and get customers to finance their cafe bar by pre-paying for gift cards ("The future of restaurant finance is here: Oakland man pre-pays for $1000 of beer").

According to the Oakland Tribune article at the time, the aspiring cafe owners had sold only about $14,000 of the $125,000 they needed in pre-sales, almost entirely to friends and family.

But then there was Larry Biggie, of Adams Point, who pre-paid for $1000 in gift cards.

I wrote, "That's a lot of organic beer, Larry." Heh. I crack myself up sometimes.

Anyway, Larry, who is apparently a banker and also apparently a real, actual person with the best ever name "Larry Biggie," has emailed to say he had coffee more in mind than beer.

He was a good sport about the whole thing and apparently got a good laugh out of my post, which is awesome, because people with that much caffeine in their system usually take every little thing wayyyy too seriously.

Come to think of it, Larry, are you sure you aren't a beer kind of a guy?

I also heard from one of the Awaken Cafe people, Cortt Dunlap, also a nice guy. And yes, Cortt, you're right, I am both a journalist and self-styled programmer, which makes me pretty much the perfect demographic for a place that sells alcoholic beverages and coffee, respectively. Given the scale of my habit I'll need about $6k per year, which I'm not sure I can swing, but on the other hand I did just meet this overcaffeinated banker ...

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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Michael Bauer gets his Izakaya

Photo courtesy SiFu RenkaWhat Michael Bauer wants, Michael Bauer gets!

Well, except for a decent table where other patrons don't brush against him a million times an hour, or a small plates restaurant with any sense of pacing, or a respectful hostess half the time, or ... well ... maybe he can't exactly snap his fingers and get whatever he wants.

But he's getting Izakaya!

And the news comes within just two months after Bauer noted on his blog that "the Japanese izakaya way of dining has largely passed us by" in the Bay Area. Izakaya is Japanese bar food.

Exhibit A: The planned Japanese restaurant and baseball lounge at O (free link, see fourth paragraph) in the Japantown Miyako Hotel, soon to be renamed Kabuki Hotel, is supposed to focus on Izakaya dishes. Supposedly they have the designer who did Bix and Myth, they had not named the chef by the time I wrote that story but supposedly were excited about a local up and comer. This is a Joie de Vivre property -- look for close to a dozen new restaurants from them over the next two years, openings overseen by their new food and beverage director David Hoemann.

Exhibit B: SF restaurant Ozumo, which is planning two distinct restaurants in Oakland, is planning an Izakaya menu (free link) at the one carrying the Ozumo name, at Broadway and Grand Ave.

(Photo courtesy SiFu Renka)

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Ozumo on a roll in Oakland. Get it?? Shut up.

Ozumo is doing it YET AGAIN -- going for a new location in Oakland. They can't get enough of the Uptown district!

This is in addition to the new, second Ozumo at Signature Properties' Broadway Grand condo project.

Going beyond that done deal, the team behind Ozumo told me they plan -- but had not yet signed the lease to -- do a wine bar, wine shop and restaurant concept in the large basement of the historic (and attractive) Cathedral Building just a few blocks away from Broadway Grand. They have already applied for a liquor license.

My understanding, by the way, is that Ozumo will not be using the name "Ozumo" in connection with the new location, per agreement with their original Oakland sugar daddy/landlord Signature Properties.

For those who don't know, Ozumo is a swanky sushi place on the San Francisco Embarcadero near the financial district. Owner Jeremy James has been drawn to Oakland in part by lower costs there as the minimum wage rises in San Francisco.

I was tipped off to this story by The DTO, the Web site that broke the news. Go check it out! I'm still marking this "scoop" because I confirmed the advanced negotiations and plans and got details on the concept. Plus I'm MSM -- I'm evil like that. Muhahahaahahaa!

Business Times: S.F. sushi place plans second Oakland spot (free link)

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Ozumo East is confirmed

OzumoI reported a month ago that Ozumo was likely to go into Oakland; I report today on the Business Times website that the deal has closed and Ozumo's Oakland location confirmed (free link).

Ozumo Owner Jeremy James told me in January:

"We're a well established, highly thought of San Francisco restaurant. Opening a second store in Oakland would be very comforting ... It always feels good being wanted."

"In terms of a more welcome business climate, Oakland is right off that bat," James said.

Ozumo's Oakland location will go into 8,000 square feet at the new Broadway Grand condo project in the Uptown district, at Broadway and Grand Ave. The project is still under construction but sales begin Feb. 24.

The new Ozumo will include an "Izakaya" menu of bar snacks.

There's more on Broadway Grand in the Chronicle. I confess I sat on this item for a few days and only corrected my delinquency when I saw it mentioned briefly in the Chron story this morning.

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Friday, January 19, 2007

Levende Lounge and Ozumo expanding to Oakland

OzumoLevende Lounge has just taken out a lease for "Levende East" in Old Oakland, at the former Rex's bar and grill at Washington and 8th St, right across the street from another SF transplant B's (from the Boxed Foods people).

Ozumo is "eager" to close late-stage negotiations with Signature Properties at Broadway Grand in Oakland's Uptown district. Though this is much further along than the Town Hall deal that fell apart, it's never a sure thing until the doors open.

And, as reported elsewhere, Rich and Rebekah Wood sold Frascati in Russian Hill to open Wood House in the former Grasshopper in Oakland's Rockridge district. (As not reported elsewhere, they are bringing over their old Frascati executive chef, Maximilian Dimare.)

Three makes a trend, so I dig into the three deals in a front page story in today's Business Times (free link).

All restaurants involved site rising costs in SF as at least one of the reason for crossing the bay. Downtown Oakland restaurants are also just a few minutes from SF by BART or, on good days, bridge, which makes it easier to train and oversee staff. Some of the owners live in the East Bay. There's also the building boom in downtown Oakland, combined with the scarcity of existing high-end restaurants.

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

No Town Hall in Oakland

The discussions between the Town Hall guys and Signature Properties, which would have brought the restaurateurs to the Oakland's Uptown district, have fallen through.

The impression I got was that Doug Washington and Mitchell and Steven Rosenthal, the Town Hall partners, had their hands full with Salt House, a new concept two blocks from the original Town Hall in SF's SoMA district. Without heavy financial incentives from Signature, they probably weren't going to come to Oakland.

And what condo developers is going to sink a lot of money into incentives amid a tumultuous market and falling prices?

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Italian boss says 'no chains' at Jack London Square

The new food hall at Jack London Square in Oakland will all but ban national chains, I write in the Business Times Wednesday.

I spoke with slow food leader and Jack London Square resident Renato Sardo, who has been hired as a consultant by developers to lord over the leasing of the food hall. His advisory committee includes representatives from green investing funds and plenty of Slow Food International vets, including PR queen Eleanor Bertino.

The committee's guidelines, due out within a few weeks, will emphasize
  • local producers
  • quality producers
  • environmental sustainability
  • small producers
The committee would also like to see a farmer's market at the food hall, known as Harvest Hall and set to span 185,000 square feet, including 18-22 restaurants and a grocery store. The developers are counting on the size of the hall and its diversity of restaurants, plus the grocery store, to distinguish it from places like Ferry Plaza Marketplace, Market Hall in Rockridge or Epicurious Garden in Berkeley.

Sardo said:
We are not looking for national chains ... if there is a particular chain we regard as high quality or arrives with a particular concept, we may consider that. But probably we won't have big chains there.

Renato's initial consulting contract runs out in nine months.

Story link, free starting Jan. 2: No link to Oakland project for big chains

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Friday, October 27, 2006

Shopping and scotching at Cesar

I finally spent an evening at the new Piedmont Ave. Cesar, which I wrote about in Sept. 2005 (about a month before the Chronicle).

The new location has about 50 percent more seats than the original Cesar Berkeley. And all the extra space in between the seats and tables makes the Piedmont location much easier on your eardrums.

Having been to the Berkeley location many times, I was prepared for a drawn-out battle to secure a table or bar position, but upon walking in at 7pm on a Thursday, four of us were quickly presented with a nice wooden table, and there were a few other spots open.

What jumped out at me about the new location wasn't its expanded menu or reliably food selection of whiskeys and rums -- it was the retail-and-takeout section off on the right side of the restaurant.

The Cesar partners call this "cesar mercado" and have been wanting to do retail since at least three years ago, when they considered putting a retail outlet in the Berkeley gourmet-to-go food hall then in the planning stages.

That deal fell apart but has been reborn at the Piedmont location. They sell wines, oils, spices and other goods for a "Spanish pantry." There are also takeout and finish-at-home items.

Charles Phan is doing something similar with his Out the Door concept, which originally went in next to his Slanted Door restaurant at the Ferry Building but is soon to open in a new, expanded form at the Westfield San Francisco Centre. Bette's Ocean View diner in Berkeley has a next door shop, as does Girl and the Fig in wine country.

The idea seems to have several merits:
  • Make use of staff during slow weekday afternoon periods.
  • Use the restaurant brand to sell higher-margin, lower-labor products than menu food.
  • Put products in people's homes that will remind them of your restaurant and, presumably, bring them back in more often.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Town Hall in Oakland deal

In Friday's Business Times, I reported that Town Hall is advanced negotiations to take space at the Broadway Grand condo development in Oakland, at Browdway and Grand Ave. in the Uptown district, right across the street from Luka's Tap Room.

Town Hall's publicist cautions that "this is not a deal with all signed on the bottom line" and "the ink is far too wet to make it for real."

Another important caveat: Though backed by the same team as Town Hall, the new restaurant would not carry the Town Hall name, per agreement with their SF landlord. They are also still racing to open their first spinoff, Salt House, two blocks from the original, by the start of November.

The link is subscriber-only until Nov. 6: S.F. restaurants eye opening Oakland outposts

Town Hall was one of the SF restaurants mentioned in my earlier post about restaurants in Oakland's bustling Uptown district.

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Thursday, September 28, 2006

'I'm not made of money -- swim toward Oakland.'

The Oakland Tribune stretchhhhhhhes reality with the headline
East Bay on rise as destination for international travelers.
The only evidence for this is a statement from someone at the Berkeley CVB.

The story is well reported and shows why some international visitors like the East Bay, but it does not support the headline.

The numbers you won't find in the Trib's story: passenger tallies at Oakland International declined by 110,000 for the first seven months of this year to 8.4 million, which I am guessing is due to higher fuel prices.

This didn't keep "Oakland/East Bay" hotels from lifting business a bit. Their revenue per available room rose $7 per room per night to $69 through July, according to PKF Consulting. In the same period in San Francisco, revenue per available room rose $12 to $125.

Maybe people are landing at SFO, where international passenger counts are up 170,000 to 4.9 million through July, and venturing into Oakland. But we just don't know, and I have not yet heard of this happening from anyone (as someone who covers both hospitality and Oakland for the Business Times). It seems more likely that international visitors would go to wine country with their spare time, unless they landed directly in Oakland.

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Friday, September 22, 2006

Oakland: the knives are for more than stabbing

There's a fascinating restaurant boom under way in Oakland.

Specifically, in the Uptown district of downtown Oakland, which is stealing some thunder from Rockridge, the upscale Oakland neighborhood that long ago earned its foodie stamp with Oliveto.

I report in today's Business Times that Belgian-themed bar and restaurant Luka's Taproom is planning to open a wine bar right across Broadway from its existing location. This comes directly from the owner of Luka's, Rick Mitchell.

In the days since I wrote that article, I have heard that three San Francisco restaurants are looking at making the leap into Uptown. I can't think of this ever happening before with restaurants of this caliber -- two are three Chronicle stars, one is two-and-a-half, and all are A-list in terms of street buzz.

It's worth noting that when San Francisco magazine in August named the top 10 new restaurants of the past year, two were in Oakland (Tamarindo in Old Oakland and Pizzaiola in Temescal) and one was in Berkeley (Sea Salt).

Existing East Bay stars are clamoring to get into Uptown, including (as previously reported ad nauseum) the team behind Dona Tomas and Tacubaya and, allegedly, a three-star Oakland restaurant who I am not naming yet.

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