A polite way to describe the current state of Bay Street Emeryville is that it’s in transition. Several storefronts are empty or boarded up with “For Lease” signs. J. Crew, The Gap, Pottery Barn, Banana Republic and Old Navy have all retired from the outdoor shopping mall. Some might say for the better. Bay Street, though, has yet to qualify as another candidate for Dan Bell’s Dead Mall video series. On a recent sunny Saturday afternoon, plenty of folks strolled up and down the sidewalks. People ate outside on P.F. Chang’s patio. The Apple Store buzzed as brightly as a hologram. And a small-but-eager line of customers waited to place their order at Maya Cameron-Gordon’s Bougie Smoothie.
Cameron-Gordon is the co-founder, along with her husband Toriano, of Vegan Mob, the popular vegan barbecue-and-soul-food restaurant near Lake Merritt. At home, she’s also a devoted smoothie lover. “Anyone who knows me knows that I drink a smoothie every single day,” she said. She also loves sharing recipes and encouraging her friends and family to drink them. But the idea of opening a store exclusively devoted to them came about randomly.
Last year, while driving around town with her husband and stepdaughter, the name “Bougie Smoothie” popped up in Cameron-Gordon’s mind out of nowhere. “I turned around to my stepdaughter and said, ‘We should open up a smoothie place,’” Cameron-Gordon said. Within 24 hours, she had registered the name to take the first steps towards starting the business. Shortly thereafter, she planned and held her first pop-up in San Francisco, at the grand opening of her brother-in-law’s car wash. Mayor London Breed stopped by, ordered the Blueberry Baddie and officially announced that she loved it.
In addition to an abundant amount of blueberries, the Blueberry Baddie contains blackberries, mango, banana and oat milk. And, like some of the other smoothies on the menu, sea moss also appears in the list of ingredients. Cameron-Gordon explained that it’s a popular superfood, especially within the Black community. She said that the late Dr. Sebi brought it to people’s attention for its various health benefits. “It’s great for your gut and the immune system,” she said, adding, “You don’t taste it at all.”
My favorite Bougie Smoothie, as of this afternoon, is listed on the menu under “Juices.” I tried the Orange Pick-Me-Up, with orange, carrot, mango and chia. I did feel healthier while I drank it, as it was a change from the usual morning pastry, and I was drinking something good—or better—for my body. “One thing that I wanted to do with the menu was to use fruits that are hard to find at other smoothie establishments,” she said. “We use a lot of pitahaya, which is dragon fruit. And we try to use super fruits like papaya.”
When I asked Cameron-Gordon what her five-year-plan was for Bougie Smoothie, she didn’t hesitate over the answer, “Jamba Juice.” A mall like Bay Street seems the perfect place to launch the inaugural store of a statewide or national brand. The Torianos are originally from San Francisco but live in Oakland now. She liked Emeryville as a destination, because it’s right between the two cities. When she and her husband initially looked at the empty space there, they were in search of a second location for Vegan Mob.
“Honestly, I fell in love with the space, the high ceilings,” Cameron-Gordon said. “I could see where everything was going to go, the TV where we could listen to Bay Area hip-hop music.” Part of Bougie Smoothie’s mission statement is to empower women. “I play a lot of music videos by female hip-hop and R&B artists. We’re a business that’s women-owned and operated 100% by women of color.”
And the papers have officially been signed for Vegan Mob’s second location. In an email, Cameron-Gordon wrote, “We will be opening on Broadway, down the street from Cookies and Dope Era, two other businesses owned by Bay Area rappers. We’re converting the bar into Bougie Smoothie’s smoothie bar.”