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An outdoor dining area outside Roses’ Taproom, one of many businesses participating in Picnic on Telegraph. Credit: Temescal-Telegraph BID

Daol Tofu and Korean BBQ opened three years ago in Temescal, one of Oakland’s hottest spots for food. But Juhong Bae, the restaurant’s manager, said they didn’t have enough time to build up a loyal customer base before the pandemic hit. This is why Bae welcomes an upcoming all-day neighborhood street festival meant to draw customers back to what used to be a busy retail strip.

“We are a relatively new restaurant, so this is a great opportunity for us to really introduce ourselves, who we are, and what we serve to a lot of community members,” said Bae.

The Temescal Telegraph Business Improvement district is planning to host a picnic on Telegraph Avenue on Sunday, October 25. The event will mark the first time the neighborhood’s businesses take advantage of Oakland’s new Flex Streets initiative, which allows shops and restaurants to take over a portion of the street for dining, events, and retail. 

Bae views the festival as a lifeline for local businesses. 

“We are incredibly excited and honored to participate in this festival. Finally, we have the opportunity to bring out tables and dine out, have that engagement, and interact with our customers,” Bae said. 

According to Shifra de Benedictis-Kessner, executive director of the Temescal Telegraph Business Improvement District, the event was originally planned for Sunday, October 4, but it was rescheduled because of poor air quality. 

“After a really hard summer, with our small businesses struggling through shelter in place orders and various stages of opening, I think it’s exciting to let the East Bay know that Temescal is open for business,” Benedictis-Kessner said. “This not only will help folks on the day of picnic on Telegraph, but for weeks and months to come.” 

Telegraph Avenue will be closed to motor vehicle traffic between the intersections of 39th street and 51st street from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. that day. Attendees can check out an array of outdoor dining options, including food from ice-cream donut parlor Ice Scream Donuts, Marufuku Ramen, and Daol Tofu & Korean BBQ, and lounge on newly constructed parklets. For those who are more interested in spending their Sunday getting active, Square One Yoga will be hosting yoga classes and 9Round Fitness will be giving kickboxing demonstrations. 

Visitors can also indulge in a little retail therapy with sidewalk sales from stores such as Wild Child Boutique and pet store Leading the Pack. Attendees can also play a selection of games provided by It’s Your Move Games, or watch outdoor dance performances by Flying Studios in front of 4835 Telegraph. 

The business district plans to follow strict sanitary protocols in order to minimize the risk of transmitting COVID-19. Organizers will have 20 sanitary stations spread out on Telegraph Avenue. Mask wearing is mandatory for anyone attending the picnic, and eating is allowed only in designated areas. Four business improvement district ambassadors will also be handing out free masks.

According to Benedictis-Kessner, her organization is treating the picnic as a pilot for how they might safely close Telegraph Avenue for future events. Shops and restaurants on Telegraph say they hope the picnic leads to much more business so they can begin to recover from the pandemic-induced shutdown.

Juhong Bae and his mother, Sunny Bae, who owns the Daol Tofu and serves as its main chef, came to the United States from Seoul in 2001. According to Juhong, his mother owned a restaurant there, but it shut down in 1996 due to South Korea’s economic recession. Juhong said his mother worked “every kind of job you could think of” right after they landed in the U.S., including cleaning houses and cooking in other Bay Area restaurants. Sunny slowly began saving money she made in the hopes she would one day open her own restaurant again, all while raising Juhong.

Juhong grew up enjoying his mother’s cooking, especially her tofu soup, which you can try at the restaurant. “It’s very nutritious and easy to digest,” he said. “I always eat it with a side of rice, kimchi, and bean sprouts. It keeps me healthy and gives me energy throughout the day.” Sunny usually makes the soup with beef bone broth, but customers can also purchase the soup made with veggie broth. 

While they eagerly await the opportunity to build their clientele, Juhong and his mother have been staying busy with online orders. They have also been providing meals to Korean seniors through several groups including the Korean Community Center of the East Bay, East Bay Korean-American Senior Services Center, Korean American Community Foundation, and World Central Kitchen. 

“We want to support one another, and that is something which is greater than the restaurant itself,” Juhong Bae said.

Here’s more information about the Picnic on Telegraph.

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Ricky Rodas is a member of the 2020 graduating class of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. He has spent the last two years reporting on immigrant communities in the Bay Area as a reporter for the hyperlocal news sites Oakland North, Mission Local, and Richmond Confidential. Rodas, who is Salvadoran American and bilingual, joins us through a partnership with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities. Rodas will be reporting on small and immigrant-owned businesses in Oakland.