“Voting will not save us from harm, but silence will surely damn us all.” —Stacey Abrams
November is still a while off, but for now, one way we can vote is with our forks. Edible East Bay decided to gather recommendations for local Black-owned food businesses to support by reaching out to other Black business owners for their views on establishments they admire.
Steven Day tells the story of how he first found Genny’s Fire Pit
Steven Day is co-owner of The Cook and Her Farmer, a cafe and oyster/wine bar located inside Old Oakland’s Swan’s Market. His remarkable and varied career has wandered in and out of teaching. “It’s my chosen craft and my very first professional love,” he says
It was teaching that first led Day past Genny’s Fire Pit, which served up Southern home-style cooking from an East Oakland storefront for decades until it closed.
“Several years ago while working at Castlemont High School, I drove down Bancroft and smelled some cooking that reminded me of home in Memphis, Tennessee,” Day says. ” I saw this small corner restaurant and pulled over. As soon as I walked in, this lady shouted at me from behind the counter;
‘You, come here, you look hungry; I have smothered pork chops cooking!’
‘I replied, ‘Who got some smothered pork chops?’
“She and her cooks just started laughing at me and she gave me a taste. I’ve never forgotten it. I noticed the large brick smoker and fire pit that sits prominently in the middle of the kitchen, and I felt that I was back home again. She had everything on the menu that I love. Her friendly, but commanding, auntie-style of communication endeared me right away. I hope that she considers me a nephew. I loved Genny’s cooking at Genny’s Fire Pit, and I love Genny. Her food was absolutely delicious. She heaped plenty of advice on my business partner Romney Steele and myself as we were launching our small cafe.”
Fern Stroud of Black Vines narrows it down to three restaurants and 12 beverage companies
Fern Stroud runs Black Vines, a membership organization dedicated to creating connections between wine and art lovers and Black winemakers and artists. She gave us a trove of ideas on how to meet this moment:
“During this time of pandemic I have found myself frequenting a few of my favorite restaurants, I cannot say I have a top three or five or even 10 because different days spark a different taste. Here’s a short list, but I have tons of local Black-owned eateries I patronize.
“For BBQ, chicken, and fish all in one place, I go check out my longtime friends at Uncle Willies BBQ & Fish. Nick and Craig I’ve known since our early elementary years growing up in Berkeley.
“Our Black Wine Wednesday partners at Miss Ollies, named by the Food Network as California’s Best Fried Chicken. Sarah, the owner, always comes through for me. Chef Leliani’s Magnolia Lounge, pending their official grand opening, has been serving up deliciousness weekly. And to round them off, Kingston 11 Cuisine—Adrian and Nigel never disappoint.
“On the beverage side of the house, I must say I cannot even choose a favorite and we are fortunate enough to have several Black-owned local beverage companies. Although we work with wineries directly, I have two non-wine beverage companies I’m super loving right now. Pinpoint Training has a Ginger Lemonade that is absolutely amazing. And Teas With Meaning can end any evening just perfectly! And of course we have a ton of local wine partners all currently providing fulfillment via their direct-to-consumer channels. They include: Stover Oaks Winery, P.Harrell Wines, McBride Sisters Collection, Theopolis Vineyards, Free Range Flower Winery, Bee D’vine, Thomas T Thomas Vineyards, Bass Note Sangria, Longevity Wines, Fog Crest Vineyards, and Wachira Wines.”
“Chef Dionne Knox is one of my favorites. I love her farm to table meals. It’s fresh, delicious, and clean eats!” (Note that Zella’s is temporarily closed.)
“I love Caribbean food, and I love Miss Ollie’s on Washington Street. Amazing food—and I mean everything. Fresh ingredients, juicy fried chicken cooked and seasoned to perfection, amazing sides. I love the funky decor and cool laid back vibe and great service. An Oakland jewel!”
“Minnie Bells is my go to … Consistent . . . Heart warming . . . I just want to curl up with their cornbread, I literally close my eyes when I’m eating it.”
MudLab co-owners Sara Heady and Vanessa Pope pick two favorites
“Since moving to the East Bay in 2013, I find going to Miss Ollies for Chef Sarah Kirnon’s food is a treat each time,” says Heady. “She’s created a notable and thoughtful menu that showcases her Caribbean roots and impressive culinary training.” For Pope, it’s Oeste! “The people, the bar, and the community are a gem for Oakland!” (Read about MudLab in our Spring 2020 issue.)
Aaliyah Nitoto and Sam Prestianni of Free Range Flower Winery choose their fave five
“We go to Chef Nelson German’s award-winning alaMar Kitchen & Bar for the always-delicious summer seafood boils and also to sit in the outdoor patio in the sun! Sobre Mesa, alaMar’s brand new, beautiful Afro-Latino sister has a gorgeous cocktail lounge. It opened right before COVID lockdown, and we hope the doors reopen soon. Oakland’s mega popular Souley Vegan transforms traditional soul food recipes into tasty plant-based creations. Blackberry Bistro, our favorite cozy local breakfast spot, has great outdoor seating and the best berry-topped French toast! A remarkable neighborhood grocery store, Mandela Grocery has practically everything you could want, from fresh organic locally-grown produce to high-quality organic packaged foods, plus wonderful products crafted by other local African American small businesses.” Read our story about Free Range Flower Winery (and several other urban wineries).
Thinking of growing some of your own food? Then be sure to visit Pollinate Farm & Garden, where owner Yolanda Burrell can provide plenty of expertise along with plants, seeds, garden tools, chicks, and a variety of DIY and urban farm supplies. Read more about Pollinate here.
Please vote in November and help work for systemic change.