Last Tuesday, approximately 200 community leaders, organizers, restaurant workers, and community members gathered to celebrate the opening of Restore Oakland, a long-awaited job training facility and community resource center in the Fruitvale district.
Restore Oakland is a first-of-its-kind, multi-story hub that houses several social justice-oriented nonprofits. It was created after hosting several community meetings to find out what resources were most wanted and needed in the neighborhood. It’s now the permanent home of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, a nonprofit aimed at reducing incarceration rates and improving resources for communities of color. It’s also home to Causa Justa/Just Cause, a grassroots organization that builds Brown-Black unity, combats unjust housing policies, and fights the criminalization of immigrants. Other partners include Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth and Community Works.
The space is also home to a number of resources for restaurant workers and food entrepreneurs. Restaurant Opportunities Center United, which purchased the building along with the Ella Baker Center, will offer a variety of resources. ROC, which was founded in New York City in 2001 by Fekkak Mamdouh and Saru Jayaraman, is aimed at improving working conditions and wages for people working in the restaurant industry — particularly for women and people of color. It’s something that’s especially needed in the Bay Area: A 2016 ROC study found that the Bay Area has the largest race wage gap in the country, with workers of color making an average of $6.12 less per hour than their white counterparts.
The ground floor will be home to ROC’s COLORS Restaurant, a full-service restaurant that offers hands-on job training, hires from the community, and pays a livable wage. The restaurant, which has locations in New York and Detroit, is expected to open in the fall.
Meanwhile, ROC will continue to offer its Culinary and Hospitality Opportunities for Workers program, which provides free bartending and service classes for those who are just getting started in the restaurant industry or who are looking for a pathway into higher-paying front-of-house positions. “Even though I have been serving for over eight years, I definitely feel like because I’m a brown woman with an accent … I run into a lot of … ‘where have you served; what experience do you have; do you know about wine,'” said Carolina Santos, an experienced cook, server, and food business owner who has completed CHOW’s bartending and serving classes.
“It’s like a bridge,” she said. “It helps folks transition from the back of the house to the front, if that’s what they are willing to do.”
Food incubator La Cocina, based in San Francisco, has opened its first East Bay workspace at Restore Oakland. Geetika Agrawal, program director at La Cocina, said there’s plenty of demand for La Cocina’s services in the East Bay, particularly in the Fruitvale district.
“A lot of the lower working-class communities, and especially immigrant communities and Latin communities, were moving to the East Bay,” Agrawal said. “There was room for doing more effective outreach and connecting in with other communities that maybe we don’t have the same established relationship with.” As of January, 42 percent of La Cocina’s active businesses in incubation and 50 percent of all businesses La Cocina serves (including graduates) come from the East Bay.
Oakland’s La Cocina will focus on community outreach. There’ll be orientations offered in English and Spanish for those interested in starting their own food businesses. (The next orientation will be 6-8 p.m. Wed., Oct. 6.) It’ll also serve as the space for La Cocina’s drop-in market, allowing budding food entrepreneurs to offer samples of their products and pitch their business ideas to small business partners.
“The Bay Area is changing so much, and it feels really exciting to know there’s an anchor building in the Fruitvale, really meant to serve the Fruitvale,” said Agrawal.