The rise in restaurant merch popularity, which started long before the pandemic but gained traction over the last few years as a way to help support local businesses while looking cute, is here to stay. From Delirama’s skating pickle ts to the Egg Pals x Molly’s Refresher shirt to this delightfully dissonant LA-based Anti Social Social Club and Jollibee collaboration, it’s a choice way of standing out while aligning one’s identity with one’s favorite go-to spot. Plus, it’s a delicious way to escape Patagonia’s stranglehold of aggressively boring functionality. The best – and most recent – looks come from Cut Fruit Collective, whose new merchandise tips its hat to Oakland’s Chinatown.
Cut Fruit Collective was born out of Save Our Chinatowns, an organization that engaged in a number of innovative ways to generate support for Oakland and San Francisco Chinatowns since the pandemic began. In 2021, it published an illustrated zine that highlighted recipes and love of Oakland’s Chinatown. After founder Jocelyn Tsaih stepped away last year, two of her volunteers, Daphne Wu and Maya Kulkarni, stepped up and took over, rebranding the outfit as Cut Fruit Collective.
The nonprofit’s latest effort to boost area businesses — called the Community Prosperity Collection — includes merch for two beloved spots, allowing you to saunter around town sporting looks emblazoned with designs featuring Green Fish Seafood Market (333 Eighth St. between Webster and Harrison streets), one of the top spots to score Dungeness crab as the season arrives, and Cam Anh Deli (920 Webster St. between Ninth and 10th streets), one of the best places to grab a caphe or banh mi.
Cut Fruit Collective co-founder Maya Kulkarni, an artist with a background in fashion, worked alongside area business owners to create the looks. The Greenfish Seafood Sweater ($50), for example, which comes in French navy, bottle green and royal blue hues, features food items that connote specific meanings in Chinese culture — all of which are held inside a delightful and characteristic plastic bag. (Avert your pious eyes, tote bag hoarders!)
“Finnie Phung [Greenfish Seafood owner] was very meticulous about what items were to go in that bag,” Wu told Nosh. “So you have lucky oranges, you have apples, which represent peace and safety, a fish for bounty, and then crab because, well, it just happens to be a customer favorite.” The receipt hovering at the bottom of the bag is a whimsical and spot-on touch.
Cam Anh Deli’s bánh mì long sleeve tee ($38), available in poppy, honors the Vietnamese baguette sandwich staple with a simple, clean illustration of said savory treat emblazoned with “happy Vietnamese deli” arched above. Other Cut Fruit Collective items you can get your hands on include a Green Fish Seafood adjustable trucker-style cap (specifically requested by Phung!), the fruit stickers sweater, a community safety crop sweater, and this downright darling minimal tangerine bucket hat, which comes in blue, olive and black. All profits from sale of items go directly to the businesses.
“It’s been really rewarding to work together with Green Fish Seafood Market and Cam Anh Deli to find new ways for them to be more resilient in the face of all the hardships that they’ve been dealing with over the past few years,” Wu said. In addition to the COVID-related financial drain that has hit Chinatowns across the United States, other nefarious factors, like pandemic-fueled anti-Asian hate and assaults, have also hurt the community.
“There hasn’t been quite the momentum to bring people back,” Wu said. “The residents of Chinatown, of course, are still shopping in Chinatown, but then the regional visitors aren’t coming back.”
Cut Fruit Collective, which has done several design collaborations in the past for Oakland Fortune Cookie Factory and Huang Cheng Noodles, plans on continuing their merch offerings for other local AAPI eateries. So if these designs don’t strike your fancy, a future collection from the group might be the merch you’re looking for.
To purchase the items featured in this story, head over to Cut Fruit Collective and peruse its Community Prosperity Collection.
Another effort to attract people back to Chinatown is the upcoming Lantern Festival happening Sunday, Feb. 5 (3-5pm) at Pacific Renaissance Plaza (388 9th St., Oakland). Cut Fruit Collective, along with nonprofit Oakland Bloom, which supports immigrant and refugee chefs through its incubator program, will spearhead a night market, hosting such tasty local purveyors as Chanamon Shop, A&M Patisserie, Big Boi Mochi, That Hausa Vegan and Blind Gurl Bakery, just to name a few.
“We’re trying to inspire people to come back to Chinatown in the evenings,” Wu said. “I understand it won’t result in an immediate, overnight change, but at least we can inspire and encourage people to come back to Chinatown for at least one night.”