378 Embarcadero West Unit #101 (in the Modera building), Oakland
Monday-Friday 10:30 a.m.-3 p.m.
Rana Chang, Anson Abdulla and Hani DeSouky are familiar names on the East Bay food scene: Chang is the founder of House Kombucha, that fermented drink brand available at grocery stores across the region. Abdulla’s resume includes Oakland egg distribution company Golden Egg, he owned Berkeley coffee shop People’s Cafe and he opened an initially booze-free bottle shop called People’s Local Market a few months into the pandemic. DeSouky’s Egyptian street food pop-up attracted long lines in Berkeley in 2020. The trio are the team behind Oakland’s new Belladi Kitchen, a restaurant that marries all three of their interests in one delicious, zero-waste package.
You’ve read about Chang and Abdulla on Nosh before. The entrepreneurs came together in 2019, when Chang opened a kombucha taproom inside People’s Cafe, which over the years had transformed from a typical coffee shop to a zero-waste and mostly vegan restaurant. Rent pressures prompted Abdulla to shutter the cafe a few months into the pandemic, after briefly turning its kitchen over to DeSouky for his pop-up, called Baladi (the word means “country, original, homemade, homestyle” in Arabic) of halal meats, fava falafel and savory kushari.
Baladi wasn’t on Chang’s mind when she first looked at the ground floor retail space at Modera, a 134-apartment development at Oakland’s Jack London Square. Her initial idea was a House of Kombucha tap house or another cafe, but the possibilities presented by combining DeSouky’s menu with Abdulla’s and her sustainability goals proved irresistible. Chang signed the lease in February 2021, and they spent the next year building out the space.
“Little by little, we built it out piece by piece and managed ourselves,” Chang told Nosh. “The location and footprint were small and doable,” especially since the restaurant has no dining room and is to-go only, though there’s plenty of outdoor seating along the waterfront in Jack London Square.
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A priority for the new space was creating a professional kitchen where they could cook good food, including a ventless high-tech oven that saves on food waste and energy. “We were limited at People’s Cafe because we didn’t have a real oven,” Chang said. “I didn’t want to be stuck in that world again where we’re just making toast [and] coffee.”
“Before, we were just drink makers,” said Chang. “Now, we’re trying to professionalize as a food business with a smaller footprint,” she said.
Part of that smaller footprint involves to-go meals served in steel containers provided by Dispatch Goods, which customers can keep for future use, return it to Belladi Kitchen or to any of the Dispatch Goods’ locations. Orders also come with an optional compostable fork and are presented in a reusable bag.
The menu was created with care, Chang said, and reflects Abdulla’s and DeSouky’s backgrounds. “They have long, long histories [in] food. Hani is Egyptian. His parents were cooks and butchers. So he can feature the food of his homeland. Anson is Yemeni and has an agricultural lineage; food, grocery, and egg distributor.”
Spices, homemade sauces and slow-cooked food set Belladi Kitchen’s menu apart: its rice, for example, is steamed with clove, cinnamon, peppercorns and cardamom. Carrots are caramelized with brown sugar, and potatoes are butter-roasted three times. Meat (which are grass-fed and halal) are marinated and rubbed with spices and sliced to order for pitas, salads and rice bowls.
Vegetarian and vegan options include roasted eggplant, cauliflower, falafel and an Impossible burger kabob. Items are accompanied by a scoop of the orange blossom flavored rainbow slaw or fassoulia (green and garbanzo beans in a tomato base). Health is also a priority for each dish, Chang said. “Whether through meat, veggies, or lentils, garbanzo [or] green beans, everything has a lot of nutritional value.”
Customers can also purchase an extra side of DeSouky’s homemade sauces. Sahawak is a Yemeni serrano pepper, similar to chili peppers or jalapeno peppers, that’s ground up with other spices for a hot fresh salsa. The Shaata red hot sauce made from harissa chili peppers is garlicky, spicy, and sour. And, as is the current East Bay trend, there’s vegan, garlicky toum.
Of course, there’s also kombucha: four unique flavors from Chang’s company are on tap: ginger peach, citrus hibiscus, coconut ginger and strawberry lavender. They’re flavors chosen to pair with the food. “A lot of my drinks are, in a way, influenced by the Middle East,” Chang said. “One of my top sellers, Rose Black, is fragranced with rose water.” Bottle mixes include ginger and peach-infused green tea with pure hemp and jasmine green tea with sweet apples.
In another zero waste move, kombucha drinkers can refill their own 16- or 64-ounce container on site, or purchase a half-gallon glass growler with a custom logo for continued reuse. Chang has also expanded her product range to include cold brew coffee from Yemen Farm Project Coffee beans. Customers can purchase a bottle, keg or whole beans to prepare at home; Belladi will give 5% of revenue back to the producers to help build new irrigation systems.
Currently, Belladi Kitchen is only open for lunch. However, plans are in the works to launch breakfast service with a selection of pitas, steel-cut oatmeal, potatoes and eggs and nut-based smoothies. Expect zero-waste practices for that meal, too, including compostable cups and reusable jars.
It’s a strategy that Chang said will help the planet, but just feels nice, too. “You’re not eating out of plastic,” she said. “That feels good to me when it comes to presenting food and just feeling good about your meal.”