Oakland North

Could the newest trend in Bay Area food be… edible insects?



Their table was a tableau of a meal interrupted: a platter of half-eaten roast chicken, a bowl of Jap chae noodles, a can of Diet Coke tipped over on its side, and dishes slick with the residue of dipping sauces, kimchi, and pickled vegetables. They talked and they laughed as the rain poured outside. Their food grew cold and their drinks turned warm and they bobbed their heads to the music as they waited for the waitress to bring out their last dish: a bowl of soup.

They smelled it before they saw it: salty and rich, smoky with a beefy undertone. It came in a small stone bowl on a small black plate. Bits of browns and yellows and greens floated on the surface of the steaming russet broth and someone remarked that it looked like minestrone soup. Except that it wasn’t minestrone soup. It was beondegi: vegetable soup with boiled silkworms.

“I grew up eating this,” said Howard Kim, the manager of Dan Sung Sa, as he dipped his spoon into the briny broth. “It’s more common in Korea, but you can still find it in markets or drinking spots like here.” Beondegi, he said, was one of the first dishes that was added to the menu of this late-night Korean bar (also known as a soju bar) in Oakland. (Click here to read more)

After Oakland Hills Fire, Residents Build Off-The-Wall Homes

–Published on OaklandNorth.net on October 19, 2011–



Robert Pennell shifted the gear to neutral and parked the car along the side of the road. “There,” he said, pointing out the open window to a cluster of houses across the street. “That one is modern and the one next to it is traditional. Then you have a contemporary California ranch style house and over there you have an English Tudor.”

A partner at Jarvis Architects, Pennell navigates the narrow hillside streets with an ease that comes from years of driving through and working on the homes in this post-fire destroyed Oakland Hills neighborhood.  Although there are some trees, they are young and sparse, and the streets are drenched in sun, causing Pennell to squint behind his gold-rimmed sunglasses.  It wasn’t just the houses that burned, he said—much of the vegetation, including the canopy of trees that once shaded the streets in this sleepy, secluded neighborhood, were burned, too. (Click here to read more)

Jennifer LeBarre Makes Sure That Oakland Students Get A Healthy Lunch


The bell rings— a prolonged buzzing signaling the end of class.

Attention students: lunch is being served in the cafeteria, announces a female voice over the intercom. Lunch is being served in the cafeteria. There’s chicken wings and fries, pizza and fries, and salad bar.

Within moments, hordes of students come rushing into the Oakland Tech cafeteria, sidling up in line in front of the kitchen and dropping their backpacks and jackets off at one of the circular red tables. You can tell they’re hungry. They joke and they jostle and some try to cut ahead in line by joining up with their friends.  Pizza and hot wings are popular entrees, as evidenced by their almost daily appearance on the menu—but today’s piece de resistance is the big pile of strawberries in the salad bar.

“Hey, hey, hey! Only four strawberries a person,” says Sharif Patterson, a transitional trainer for the special-needs students, who’s volunteered to watch over the salad bar today.   And next to her, arms folded, dressed entirely in purple, is Jennifer LeBarre, the director of nutrition services for the Oakland Unified School District, who is on a site visit at Oakland Tech this Wednesday afternoon.

“Every week I just go out and I try to get to as many schools as I can,” she says. “It’s one thing to be at the desk and hear from people, but I really want to see how things are operating.”

(Click here to read more)

City Council Meets To Discuss Occupy Oakland Camp

–Published on OaklandNorth.net on November 4, 2011–



The first thing the crowd noticed at the Thursday night Occupy Oakland City Council meeting was the table piled with signs, shields, and protective gear that police had taken from demonstrators during Wednesday’s Occupy Oakland-led strike. “They’re bringing in signs and stuff. Really? Oh my God,” said Ishua Bnjoube, an unemployed Occupy Oakland demonstrator who was leaning against the back wall of the Council Chamber. “This is going to be really interesting.”

The meeting, which began a little after 5:30 pm and continued until 11 pm, was held to discuss recent events pertaining to Occupy Oakland, notably the vandalism and property damage that occurred late Wednesday night, when protesters clashed in the street with police officers. Almost 150 people signed up to speak before the council.

All eight city council members were present at the meeting, although Councilwoman Patricia Kernighan (District 2) and Mayor Jean Quan arrived roughly an hour late. By the time the meeting began, a couple hundred people had packed into the council chambers. The extra screening rooms on the first floor of City Hall were also used to accommodate the crowd.

During the first speaker session of the council meeting, a majority of speakers decried the mayor’s, city council’s, and police department’s treatment of the Occupy Oakland camp and its supporters since the group’s initial eviction from Frank Ogawa Plaza in late October. (Click here to read more)

At Dumpling Wars, cooks face off over potsticker prowess


THE FOUR JUDGES — the Nelson sisters and two of their friends, eight-year-olds Mia Nobal and Won-hwi Chun-le—passed from table to table, stabbing dumplings with forks and cradling a can of now-warm soda.  They didn’t take notes and they didn’t ask questions—but they didn’t need to. They had “really good” memories, they said, and besides, they were only playing a game. They weren’t the competition’s official judges—there were already three of those—but they were judging the dumplings nevertheless, each one of them determined to choose their favorite dumpling by the end of the night.

Presented by San Francisco’s Kearny Street Workshop and held at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center on Thursday night, the Dumpling Wars was a light-hearted, humor-infused cook-off between six teams intent on creating the best dumplings imaginable. Since taste is subjective, each team had two chances of winning and thus two different groups of voters to appeal to: the audience and a team of three official judges that were pre-selected by the Kearny Street Workshop. (The Nelson sisters’ team was strictly freelance.)

(Click here to read more)

Jewelry designer Laura Bruland turns old book covers into wearable art


SOME JEWELERS WORK WITH GOLD. Others beads. As for Laura Bruland, she works with books.

But this wasn’t always the case.

Bruland, 25, started her jewelry company Yes and Yes Designs in 2007 as a fun side project in addition to her day job as a barista at Oakland’s Subrosa Coffee. Her initial creations were made solely out of wool fabric, which she crafted into flower-shaped designs for use on headbands and pins.

But fabric flower jewelry, it turned out, was already a lot more popular than Bruland had thought. “I was seeing a lot of fabric flowers out there, so I was thinking maybe I’m not adding that much to inspire people,” she said. “I didn’t see why I should keep making something that other people were making.” (Click here to read more)

Oakland Underground Film Festival Showcases the Unexpected


You never know what to expect from the Oakland Underground Film Festival. In fact, neither does the staff.

“These are organic, living, breathing films,” said Kal Karn, the festival director. “It all depends on what films are currently being made, what’s being shown, and what films are available. We like to try new things and stretch the boundaries, so each year our focus is a little different.”

The 2011 festival series started Thursday night at the historical Grand Lake Theater with the screening of actress Victoria Mahoney’s first film, Yelling to The Sky, a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age tale about a mixed race African American teenage girl growing up in New York. Nearly 300 people attended the event, and some of them werevstudents from a San Francisco State University class, “Issues and Images in Black Visual Media,” that Mahoney was invited to visit on Wednesday to discuss her film. (Click here to read more)

Girls Inc. headquarters moving to Oakland, rehabbing downtown building


THE INSIDE OF 510 16TH STREET IS A DISASTER. The carpets are stained and the whitewashed walls are blinding. Each floor is a maze of office suites and if it wasn’t for the overhead lighting, the windowless place would be completely dark. “This is like a 1980’s nightmare,” said Kirsten Melton, chief development officer of Girls Inc. of Alameda County as she walked through the site, which was last renovated thirty years ago. But starting this June, it will be renovated again. “The whole building is going to be gutted,” Melton said happily, passing a monolithic partition of clear glass cubes.

Last June, Girls Inc. of Alameda County purchased the five-story building as the site for its new headquarters. Located a few blocks from Frank H. Ogawa Plaza in downtown Oakland, the 34,000 square foot structure will include staff and administrative offices, a mental health clinic, fitness center, teaching kitchen, and other amenities for the 145 teenage girls who are served by the organization. The Girls Inc. program was founded in 1864 as a network of local organizations providing services for working class girls in the United States and Canada. Today, there are almost one hundred organizations geared at providing services—such as after school activities, academic achievement programs, and mental health counseling—to underserved high school-aged girls from low-income households.

For the last 20 years, the Alameda County branch, one of the largest in the country, has been occupying a 13,500 square foot warehouse in San Leandro. But over the years, as the size of their staff and the number of girls in the program has grown, the site has become cramped. “We just ran out of space there,” said chief executive officer Linda Boessenecker of the building which houses both their center for the girls and staff offices. The site is also difficult to reach by public transportation. The nearest BART station is 30 minutes away and commute by bus can take close to two hours for many of the girls who live in Berkeley or Oakland.

(Click here to read more)

Actual Cafe’s owner raising funds to open Victory Burger, a burger stand next door


IT’S LUNCHTIME AND YOU’RE HUNGRY. “Hamburger,” your stomach growls at you.

OK, you’ll get a hamburger—a simple, inexpensive, easy to eat sandwich. You want something substantial; a hamburger made from quality ingredients and grilled to perfection, not like the ones served at North Oakland’s fast food joints. But where can you get one like that?

If you’re anything like Sal Bednarz, the owner of Actual Café, you’ve been in this situation before. “I love burgers, but most of the burgers around here are just not that interesting,” Bednarz said on a recent Wednesday morning. “The good burgers, of which there a few, are almost all fine dining white tablecloth $15 burgers.”

This, he said, has to change. Good burgers at a reasonable price should not be so difficult to find. Not only are they  an American staple food, but their mere existence stems from the fact that they are inexpensive. Hamburgers are a product of the industrial revolution, invented to feed the growing masses of people who had little time to both cook and consume their food. And people today, Bednarz reasoned, are not that much different. “We, as a society here in Oakland today, like our food,” he said. “But we don’t always want to take a half a day and fifty bucks to go eat it.”

His solution? Victory Burger. Slated to open next fall, Victory Burger, Bednarz’s latest culinary endeavor, will be, as he said, “a casual experience where you can still get a really good burger.” It will be located around the corner from—or, depending on how you look at it, behind—Bednarz’s other business on San Pablo Avenue, Actual Café, and will be “more like a food truck without wheels,” he said, albeit one with plenty of outdoor seating.

The plans for Victory Burger started last fall, but Bednarz, who has lived in Oakland for the last 22 years, said that the idea has always been in the back of his mind. “This neighborhood is just lacking in food options,” he said. “I live four blocks away and just so many nights when I don’t feel like cooking, there’s no place to go.”

(Click here to read more)

Oakland biking group Fix Without Dix puts on a heated alley cat race

–Published on OaklandNorth.net on August 30, 2011–



Mikey Hodgson and Cecilia Lanyon are early.

“Well, technically we’re on time,” says Hodgson as he surveys the tree-lined square outside of the Lake Merritt BART station in downtown Oakland.

It’s empty. Hodgson and Lanyon are the first to arrive. They wheel their bikes over to a low brick wall and sit down. It’s 1:30 on a Sunday afternoon and the sun beats down mercilessly. Sweat pools beneath Hodgson’s grey beanie and Lanyon presses a can of Diet Coke against her cheek to cool down.

To pass the time, they talk. Hodgson tells her about how he brought his Doberman into a pizza joint last night, but admits that he can’t remember much else because he drank so much that he blacked out. They both confess to having painful hangovers, and say that neither of them got more than four hours of sleep.

“But I had coffee. Lots and lots of coffee,” says Lanyon whose eyes are still caked with last night’s shadow and mascara.

“Me too,” says her friend. “And a super taco from the Mexican market on the corner.”

You wouldn’t know it from looking at them, but Hodgson and Lanyon are about to compete in a 30-mile bike race. They’re not wearing helmets or cycling shoes or moisture-absorbing fabrics. But they do have bikes—which is all that is required.

“I’m ready to race,” Hodgson declares, stubbing out his second cigarette. “I’m ready to go. And I’m gonna win. I seriously think I can get first place this time.”

(Click here to read more)

At open house on redesign of Lake Merritt BART area, talk of bike lanes, security improvements

–Published on OaklandNorth.net on September 13, 2011–



Dave Campbell, the program coordinator for the East Bay Bike Coalition, wants wider bike lanes, and Alisha Tran from Asian Health Services wants improved safety measures on the streets. Mark Shimamoto from the Buddhist Church of Oakland wants a community center for Madison Square Park, but Laney College student Valerie Stout would rather have more parking spaces. The demands of the community are diverse—now it’s just a matter of which improvements city officials will choose to implement first in the redevelopment of the Lake Merritt BART station neighborhood.

“It’s a question of priorities and figuring out what the most important ones are,” said Ed Manasse, the strategic planning director for the City of Oakland, who helped organize the open house for the redevelopment project on Monday evening in the Laney College Student Center. “Everyone can agree on changing Streets X, Y, and Z, but which ones do you focus on first?”

In 2009, the City of Oakland, BART and the Peralta Community College District received a grant of over $1 million from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments to create a plan for redeveloping the area around the Lake Merritt BART station. The project focuses on an area a half-mile across which includes many downtown neighborhoods and institutions—Chinatown, Laney and Peralta Colleges, Madison Square and Chinese Garden Parks, the Oakland Museum of California, and the Lake Merritt Estuary. The redevelopment plan would make changes to land use, buildings, design, circulation, streetscapes, the BART station, parks, and public spaces in the area.

The goal of the project, said Manasse, is not only to improve and redevelop the area as a whole, but to do so in a way that appeals to the community members and groups that use the area. “After all,” he said, “they’re going to be the ones who live, work, shop, and play in that area on a daily basis.”

(Click here to read more)

Skateboard shop moves out of old Hooper’s building

–Published on OaklandNorth.net on September 22, 2011–



By Wednesday night, Sam Worth, 20, had loaded almost all of the remaining wood from the deconstructed skate park into the back of his truck— a white 1995 Ford pickup that he borrowed from his father. It took him over a month to build the skate park, but only 12 days to take it apart.

“It was great while it lasted,” he said, heaving an armful of the well-worn boards onto the bed of the truck and stacking them neatly against the side. “But in the end, we couldn’t make the $7,000 rent.”

Once he’s finished loading the car, he’ll head east on the CA-24 to his parents’ house in Orinda, where he’ll add this batch to the heaps of wood already piled on the front lawn.

For now, he plans to keep the wood, one of the last remaining relics of his brief but enjoyable stint as the owner of Hooper Vintage Skateboards and Chocolates, which closed last month.

In early 2011,Worth signed a lease to rent the long-vacant Hooper’s Chocolate Shop on Telegraph Avenue in North Oakland. It had everything he was looking for: a great location, tons of space, and a unique interior.  But despite his best efforts, the store was plagued with financial difficulties.

(Click here to read more)

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