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After a long, dark 10 months, Duende is preparing to reopen
“I’m getting kind of stoked,” Paul Canales said. He spoke to Nosh after a month spent working on reopening his 8-year-old Uptown Oakland restaurant Duende, which he temporarily shuttered last fall after he realized “we just couldn’t make it work on takeout.” Canales said that his business, which focuses on Spanish food and small plates, staggered through the summer of 2020 “at three-fourths break-even,” which is a nice way of saying that he was operating at a 25% deficit every month. “Every restaurant has debt, but this last year really put some places underwater,” he said. That’s why he shut the whole operation down last August, to keep losses low and so he could reopen as soon as it seemed like “people are pumped to go back out again.”
Duende isn’t in a location that’s conductive to outdoor dining, Canales said, so waiting for indoor dining to reopen in Alameda County was his only option … and then, until he could be sure that there wouldn’t be another round of reopening and reclosing. “I just can’t do that to people — hiring them, then closing down again,” Canales said, essentially describing what happened at most Bay Area restaurants last winter.
“But now we’re ready to get rolling again,” Canales said. His excitement at getting Duende back on track is evident, as he describes the menu he has planned. Unlike some spots, “I have no big plans to change” Duende’s offerings, Canales said, so diners should expect as many of their favorites as the supply chain allows, like the lamb-and-beef Duende Burger, a wide selection of paellas and jamón galore. There’ll also be some seasonal dishes like a homemade sausage made with locally sourced fennel (“so tender,” Canales said) and seafood from local supplier Monterey Fish Market.
“There’s no firm opening date yet,” Canales said, citing the multitude of tasks that need to be completed to revive a long-dormant restaurant, including hiring staff for front-of-house (much of Duende’s prior kitchen and chef staff will return, Canales said). “We’re shooting for the beginning of June,” but if this past year has taught us anything, it’s that nothing is certain. Except, maybe, it’s certain that people are thrilled at the prospect that Duende will rise again. “I did a little social media post just saying we’re getting ready to open and people went crazy,” Canales said. “I can’t wait to open up and just get slammed with business.” Duende, 468 19th St. (near Telegraph Avenue), Oakland
Liege Spirits will close at the end of May
Old Oakland nightclub Liege Spirits will permanently close on May 31, owner Chris Rachal announced on Instagram. The bar opened to positive reviews in 2010, and was known for its popular taco Tuesdays and Sunday brunches, as well as a wide-ranging menu that has spanned Asian, Latin, Southern and Middle Eastern cuisines over the years.
According to Rachal, fans should watch the venue’s social media accounts for details on a “huge block party” to mark the end of the Liege era. “It was a hell of an 11-year run,” Rachal says, “and when one door closes bigger and better opportunities open.” Liege Spirits, 481 9th St. (near Washington Street), Oakland
Soba Ichi, Cat House reopen to customers
Soba Ichi, the West Oakland Japanese handmade noodle spot that pivoted to a prepare-at-home model during the pandemic, reopened to sit-down dinner customers on May 6. According to a post on Instagram, diners must order at the counter for first come, first served seating in the courtyard. Current hours are 5-8 p.m., Thursday through Sunday. Soba Ichi, 2311 Magnolia St. A (at 24th Street), Oakland
And coming up Friday, May 14, (nearly) five-year-old Lakeshore Avenue bar the Cat House will reopen on Friday, May 14. The cat painting-adorned cocktail spot “will be accepting hugs along with drink orders,” it says via Instagram. The Cat House, 3255 Lakeshore Ave. (near Lake Park Avenue), Oakland
Mama to reopen with help from an SF restaurant empire
It’s been a wild couple of years for Mama, the Italian-inspired restaurant on Grand Avenue from Bay Grape‘s Stevie Stacionis and Josiah Baldivino. The red sauce joint opened to raves in the summer of 2019, but (like everyone else) struggled to find its footing after the pandemic shut the Bay Area down that following spring. First, it temporarily closed, then reopened as a takeout-only Italian sandwich shop, saying then that the restaurant’s tight quarters mean that it would have to operate as a casual, to-go spot “for the foreseeable future.” But by August 2020 — that is, about a year after the spot first opened — it closed down again, with its owners saying that “this ‘indefinite’ closure is the right move so we can preserve our remaining resources for a future hopeful reopening when dining can resume.”
Eater SF reports that those preserved resources will get a boost from Hi Neighbor Hospitality Group, the San Francisco restaurant company behind lauded spots like Trestle, Corridor and the Vault. Characterized as a “strategic partnership,” the deal is Hi Neighbor’s first East Bay effort, and means that the sandwich plan is off the table. Instead, Hi Neighbor’s Jason Halverson will take over the menu, tweaking the restaurant’s fixed-price dinner plan to allow additional entrees (among other changes). According to its website, Mama is currently “hiring/revamping/parklet-building/menu developing in anticipation of a mid-June resurrection,” but Mama fans can get a peek of the new offerings at a San Francisco tasting dinner on May 23. Mama Oakland, 388 Grand Ave. (between Perkins Street and Staten Avenue), Oakland
Broc Cellars opens a backyard wine and snacks spot
Broc Cellars, vintner Chris Brockway’s urban winery in a bottle-dense area of Berkeley, has expanded into the outdoors. The winery, which began with a 25-case Zinfandel in 2002, opened patio seating last month complete with handmade furniture from Berkeley’s Rafi Aji and a menu of snacks from nearby Standard Fare, in a space that it’s calling Backyard at Broc.
The star of the backyard show are guided Broc tastings of the winery’s roster of natural wines (“100% of its grapes are grown without synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, or fertilizers,” a Broc spokesperson says), for groups of up to six guests. Capacity in the spot is 30 people total, so reservations are strongly recommended and can be made via Tock. Backyard at Broc, 1300 Fifth St. (at Gilman Street), Berkeley
Sweetgreen opens an Oakland location
Sweetgreen, the 14-year-old D.C. chain of hip salad shops, has been slow to expand in the East Bay; even as it added location after location across San Francisco and the Peninsula, its 6-year-old restaurant on Shattuck Avenue — the first NorCal outpost for the company — remains its only East Bay venue. That changes on Tuesday, May 18, when it’ll open an Oakland location at 831 Broadway with a menu of greens and grain-based warm bowls. On opening day, for every bowl sold, Sweetgreen will donate a bowl to Oakland’s Roots Community Health Center’s Dream Youth Clinic, which provides drop-in health care to unhoused and trafficked teens. Sweetgreen, 831 Broadway (at Ninth Street), Oakland.
East Brother Beer Co. is hustling to save its eponym
Richmond’s East Brother Beer, which has made a practice of using its profits to support worthy causes, is working to generate support for the East Brother Light Station. Located on a small island just off Richmond’s coast, the light station lost power in March, a situation that can’t be resolved without about $1 million in repairs.
Lightkeeper Desiree Heveroh has mounted a fundraiser to save the 1873-era lighthouse, and has generated over $77K so far — but there’s still a long way to go. Now East Brother Beer is pitching in to help the landmark that gave it its name, promising to donate 20% of the proceeds from sales of its beloved Freighter Series of beers to the lighthouse’s fund. “Let’s help them raise money,” the company said on Instagram, “so that we can all go visit and enjoy a nice cold Bo Pils as [we] watch the boats go by.” East Brother Beer Co., 1001 Canal Blvd. (at Wharf Street), Unit C-2, Richmond
House of Curries is taking over the old Moxy Beer Garden
Pakistani mini-chain House of Curries is shutting down its Elmwood neighborhood shop at 2984 College Ave., but fans of its squash curry or goat tikka masala won’t have to travel far to fulfill their halal cravings: the restaurant is moving to a new location at 3136 Sacramento St., the former home of Moxy Beer Garden. Co-owner Shahid Malik tells Nosh editor Sarah Han that seismic retrofitting construction at the Elmwood location prompted the move. When we checked in with the restaurant today, the changeover date was still unclear as some final work at the Moxy space was still in progress, however, we were told that the new location could be open as soon as Sunday or Monday. Business at its Albany spot, at 1497 Solano Ave, will continue uninterrupted. House of Curries, 3136 Sacramento St. (near 66th Street), Berkeley
Your weekly roundup of other East Bay food news to know. Heads up: We sometimes link to sites that limit access for non-subscribers.
- Dozens of Berkeley and Oakland restaurants have joined up with a Danish app focused on the fight against food waste. (SF Business Times)
- Danville/Pleasanton Turkish mini-chain Sultan’s Kebab will open a Walnut Creek outpost. (East Bay Times)
- Five Benicia pizzerias are giving $25 gift certificates to 16- to 24-year-olds who complete both phases of COVID-19 vaccination. (ABC 7)
- Cocobreeze, Oakland’s only Trinidadian restaurant, is now open three days a week. (East Bay Times)
- San Lorenzo’s old Otis Spunkmeyer cookie factory has a new owner. (SF Business Times)
- A car was crushed on San Pablo Avenue in Richmond after a Burger King sign mysteriously collapsed. (NBC Bay Area)