When it comes to the O2 Artisans Aggregate, a vast industrial site in West Oakland that houses a wide variety of ecologically minded craftspeople and businesses, there’s a Japanese principle that applies, says O2AA general manager Aitan Mizrahi: If you need to know, you’ll know.
But after tasting the perfection that is June’s Pizza and delicious products — like kimchi bacon spread, the most delicate matcha and coconut cream eclairs and a completely addictive furikake Chex mix — sold at Magnolia Mini Mart, one could argue that many more need to know about these two resident food purveyors at O2AA, especially as both businesses opened during the pandemic.
Surrounded by warehouses, urban manufacturing facilities and a few condos, O2AA is found in a part of West Oakland without a lot of food options. Called “the block” by those in the area, its best-known tenant is handcrafted soba noodle destination restaurant Soba Ichi. But in recent months, in-the-know food lovers have been stopping at the complex, visiting neighboring refurbished shipping containers across Soba Ichi’s courtyard to try the newest eats.
The addition of June’s Pizza and Magnolia Mini Mart is part of a larger overall plan to increase food options for the many workers in the neighborhood, Mizrahi told Nosh.
“We’re in the design phase of looking at purchasing a shipping container and converting it into a commercial kitchen that will be in the courtyard and talking to some potential chefs to make it into an outdoor food court,” he said. The food court could be ready by early next year.
But this visitor says there’s no reason to wait until then.
Open since March 12, June’s Pizza is the project of Craig Murli, who hails from Connecticut, where, he says, “pizzerias are everywhere, and they’re all pretty good.”
Murli worked at a number of fine-dining restaurants over the years, including San Francisco’s three Michelin starred Atelier Crenn, but pizza was such a large part of his life growing up that Murli naturally gravitated towards it when deciding what he wanted to do next.
His pizza crust is thin, using a naturally leavened sourdough starter, made with flour sourced from the Petaluma-based Central Milling.
“I knew I wanted some whole wheat in there, with flecks of bran and germ,” Murli said. He bakes 40 wood-fired pies daily, Wednesday through Sunday, that must be reserved by phone, starting at 1 p.m. June’s Pizza doesn’t offer online or app ordering; Murli prefers orders made the analog way — speaking with a real person.
There are always two options: margherita and a special. Pies cost $27 for the margherita, $29 for the special, cash or Venmo. (If it seems like a lot for a pizza, it’s a huge one, and perhaps more importantly, Murli believes in paying his cooks a living wage, noting that “so much is broken about this industry.”) On my visit, the special pie featured paper-thin sweet potato slices, scallions and scratch-made ranch dressing, which had strong accents of sage. Murli scrawls the menu on butcher paper hung outside O2AA; he also posts it on Instagram. The special changes every two weeks.
Murli insists on using Connecticut-based Calabro whole milk mozzarella — because of its low moisture point — and canned tomatoes from the East Coast in homage to the pizzas he ate growing up, but he gets his produce from local farms, including Full Belly Farm and Off Beat Farm, but especially from Gomez Farm. Murli likes going in-person to his friend A.J. Gomez’s farm in Winters, where he harvests what’s in season for his weekly special.
“Aside from being a great friend, he’s the scrappy, enterprising frontiersman and organic farmer of my dreams,” Murli said of Gomez. “I sell those specials to support him, and what he grows defines what half of our menu is.”
Murli got into the O2AA site because of his friendship with its owner, master craftsman, Zen Buddhist priest and Ippuku and Soba Ichi co-owner Paul Discoe. He started planning June’s Pizza about a year before actually opening. He did the build-out himself — with help from some friends — including the stucco work and building the chimney for his wood-fired oven. In the meantime, he was working as a private chef for one San Francisco family.
When COVID hit, his employer let him go, effective immediately. A few days later, he opened June’s Pizza.
Murli says his pizza joint’s name evokes East Coast pizzerias that are often named after somebody, like Ray’s Pizza or Pepe’s Pizza. In his case, it’s named after his mother, June. Murli pays homage to his mom both because she gave him the needed funds to open June’s Pizza when he lost his job, and because “she’s had a tough life and needed a tribute and I wanted for her to be part of it in some way.”
Murli is already hoping to expand June’s into a sit-down place when things reopen, and hopes to be offering slices for lunch soon, too.
“People have responded to it really well,” he said of his pizzas (an understatement; it’s no easy feat to claim one of these limited pies). “It’s pizza. I don’t have to reinvent the wheel, it just works.”
Magnolia Mini Mart
Magnolia Mini Mart has gotten some attention for being one of the outlets that sells Basuku, Japanese-inspired Basque cheesecakes made by Charles Chen. Since San Francisco Chronicle food critic Soleil Ho wrote about Basuku, some 4,000 people jockey for about the 10-14 cakes that Magnolia Mini Mart sells weekly. But there’s so much more noteworthy food for sale at this tiny kiosk.
The market came to be when Alexandra Tejada, a veteran of many Bay Area restaurants and bars like Hakkasan and Coqueta, met Timothy Chu, a Korean American chef who had been laid off due to COVID-19, at a friend’s gathering just before the shelter-in-place orders came down. Having so many friends in the same predicament led Tejada and Chu to think about how to help them.
“Due to her previous work, Alex has all these contacts from restaurants and party vendors,” said Jessica Seggman, one of Magnolia Mini Mart’s two managers. “As a manager, I get to see how much she’s networked in her past and how it’s paying off now. This is purely about people helping people; at the end of the day, she just wants to help people survive this.”
Before the pandemic, Tejada operated Brekkie, a pop-up offering breakfast sandwiches and burgers out of Soba Ichi’s courtyard. A few weeks after the pandemic started down, she opened Magnolia Mini Mart.
Chu’s entrees anchor the Mini Mart. Visitors will find daily lunch specials, like bento boxes, Korean fried chicken (KFC) and an extremely generous Loco Moco, a Hawaiian specialty, that Chu makes with Spam, beef patties, a fried egg and gravy with pickled green beans over white rice.
In addition, the mart sells fresh produce, pastries by Tarts de Feybesse — a home-based business by Paul and Monique Feybesse, who met in Copenhagen’s first three Michelin star restaurant, Geranium — and various kimchis and other packaged offerings made by Chu. His “kimchi bacon” is a spread that is the right balance of fat, acid and salt, “which is what you want on everything,” according to Seggman. “It can also be used as a spread or a base for a soup. Our customers keep telling us how they’re using it. It’s genius how he put kimchi and bacon together.”
Another big seller is the Furikake Chex Mix from Ono Snax, a small outfit specializing in Hawaiian-style food from Desi Valencia, who also works with Murli at June’s Pizza. Rather than the traditional garlic and onion powder seasonings, Ono Snax’s version combines Chex, Cheerios, Honeycomb and pretzels with furikake, a Japanese blend of seaweed, sesame seeds and other flavorings — it’s a mix that’s both sweet and salty. (As Nosh recently reported, Ono Snax will soon open its own brick-and-mortar shop in Berkeley, at the former Secret Scoop location.)
Because of the quality of the items sold there, Magnolia Mini Mart has grown through word of mouth, with other artisanal food producers coming by to drop off samples.
“A lot of people come by to ask if we’d be interested in selling their products, and we also get a ton of inquiries through Instagram,” Seggman said. “If it’s up our alley, we’ll consider it.”