Oakland North: Some Oakland business owners recognize “Day Without Immigrants”

When patrons started pouring into Jana Pastena’s restaurants on February 16, there were almost no staff on duty, and most of the items they wanted to order were not available. Pastena had to explain to them that she and her co-owner, her husband, supported their staff, who had decided to strike that day as part of the nationwide “Day Without Immigrants” protest, designed to show the effect immigrants have on the American economy and to protest President Donald Trump’s efforts to limit immigration from Muslim-majority countries.

The guests still stayed.

Pastena, co-owner of Calavera, Chop Bar and Lungomare restaurants, is one of the business owners in Oakland who participated in the protest. While some restaurants closed shop, others decided to open with reduced menus and to donate part of their sales to groups that support immigrant communities. Pastena gave 10 percent of her restaurants’ sales that day to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

“We raised $1,000. I think that was a pretty successful day. Maybe even more importantly is just the awareness that it raised,” said Pastena, who posted signs on the restaurants’ windows and status updates on social media. On the restaurant’s Facebook page, the restaurateur posted: “The United States cannot be great without immigrants.”

Her message continued: “’A Day Without Immigrants’ is a national day of action to protest Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant policies by demonstrating the positive contributions immigrants make every day. We support immigrant rights and stand in solidarity with this day of action.”

In Pastena’s view, the protest sent a message and educated people about what is happening and how business owners are fighting for people who work for them. “We really had an opportunity to talk with customers, passersby, regulars, and other guests, as well as each other, as a team about what these anti-immigration policies mean to us and how they’re affecting our team,” she said.

A San Francisco Chronicle preliminary list of Bay Area restaurants that intended to participate in the protest showed 93 shops, with about 10 percent coming from Oakland. These included Bar Cesar, B-Dama, Cafe Gabriela, Caffe Trieste, Cosecha Café, Dona Tomas, Hen House, Luka’s Taproom, Miss Ollie’s, Nido, Rudy’s Can’t Fail Café, The Cook and Her Farmer, and Xolo Taqueria.

Oakland restaurants also posted notices on Facebook or used the #DayWithoutImmigrants hashtag on Twitter. The staff of Luka’s Taproom & Lounge kitchen initially planned to close in the morning and open in the evening, but cancelled the opening all together. On the restaurant’s Facebook, a staffer posted: “Luka’s Taproom & Lounge kitchen will be closed in support of the Day Without Immigrants protest. We come from the United States, Mexico, Guatemala, France, Brazil and other places around the world. We are immigrant run and support immigrant rights as part of the Universal Rights of Man on which our country was founded.”

“We thrive on our staff’s creativity, energy, dedication and hard work. Without our staff we are nothing. They are the talent. They are the stars. Nido is their home, home is where the heart is and our hearts are with our amazing staff,” read a post on the Facebook page of Nido, a Mexican restaurant and bar.

Eric Wright, director of Caffe Trieste, said he had a group discussion with his staff and made sure they were making the right decision for everyone. “Ultimately, we decided to support our staff and immigrants everywhere by taking a stand against Trump’s anti-immigration policies. Our country can’t run without immigrants. Our country is made of immigrants,” Wright said. “We are run by immigrants from all over the world—multiple countries in Latin American and reaching as far as Indonesia and Australia.”

Asked why she participated in the protest, Sarah Kirnon, chef and owner of Oakland Caribbean restaurant Miss Ollie’s, said “Very simple. I am an immigrant, as is 60 percent of the staff.” Kirnon closed her shop during the protest day and paid all 16 staff members.

Miss Ollie’s, as well as most of the businesses that took part in the protest, is part of a group of Oakland restaurants, Oakland Indie Alliance. “The Oakland Indie Alliance is about feeding community, and our community—workers, patrons, neighbors—is filled with immigrants from around the world,” said co-founder Amy Hillyard, co-owner of Farley’s East cafe.

Hillyard said about ten of the alliance’s 50-plus members participated in the Day Without Immigrants protest through full or partial closures, or found other ways to raise awareness or money for non-profit organizations working on behalf of immigrant communities.

“We feel this was an important, somewhat spontaneous expression to respond to. We did what we did because we believe Oakland can be progressive and business-friendly. We saw that with the Women’s March, and to some extent we saw this with this day. If we support our community when it asks us to, we know our community will support us back,” Hillyard said.

Most businesses that participated in the protest in Oakland were small businesses, Pastena observed. “In a lot of ways, we’re a family. We’re trying to protect each other; we’re trying to help them [immigrants] protect their families to the best of our ability,” she said.

“We can’t do this without our team,” Pastena continued. “We understand the implications of anti-immigration policies and the horrible ramifications that it could have. … These policies make our team apprehensive, they feel worried about their future. We’re giving them some sense of hope that everything’s going to be OK.”

East Bay Times: What’s behind the spate of recent Bay Area restaurant closures?

Customers decide to sit at the bar with their food during a soft opening after a re-structuring of AlaMar restaurant on Friday, Jan. 6, 2017 in Oakland, Calif. Nelson German, owner of AlaMar restaurant, decided to change his restaurant from a table-service model to a new fast-casual model in an effort to address the financial pressures he and other restaurant owners are up against. (Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group)

Customers decide to sit at the bar with their food during a soft opening after a re-structuring of AlaMar restaurant on Friday, Jan. 6, 2017 in Oakland, Calif. Nelson German, owner of AlaMar restaurant, decided to change his restaurant from a table-service model to a new fast-casual model in an effort to address the financial pressures he and other restaurant owners are up against. (Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group)

While new restaurants have further solidified the Bay Area as a foodie destination in recent years, many others have succumbed to a perfect storm of economic challenges that shows no sign of abating.

Upward of 60 restaurants around the Bay Area have closed since the start of September alone, with many citing difficulties like the cost of finding and keeping good employees, rising rents, new requirements for providing health care and sick leave, and doing it all while competing with the slew of new dining options.

The restaurant industry has always been among the most competitive and challenging to navigate, and failures are nothing new, but the current struggles have left some wondering if the traditional dining model might be headed for an overhaul.

“We’re at this precipice where the model of the full-service restaurant is being pushed to the brink,” said Gwyneth Borden, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association.

Sal Bednarz, who has owned Oakland’s Actual Cafe for seven years, shut the doors there and at his adjacent Victory Burger restaurant in late December after his struggle to find and keep good employees became “critically bad” in the past two years.

Cafe Rouge, a Berkeley fixture for 20 years, closed Dec. 30, also citing the difficulty of staffing the place. Long-lived eateries like Genova Delicatessen in Oakland, San Jose’s Bold Knight and San Francisco’s Kuleto’s shut down. Pasta Pomodoro, a Bay Area-grown chain, closed all 15 of its remaining restaurants in the region and filed for bankruptcy Dec. 30. Popular Oakland restaurant Hawker Fare announced it will close Feb. 18 due to a change of building ownership.

In an industry where profit margins are slim, making it hard to raise wages or invest in recruitment tools, Bednarz explained, “we have little leverage” when it comes to hiring.

Decades-low unemployment across the Bay Area — 4 percent in the East Bay and 3.5 percent in the South Bay — means that restaurant workers can enter other industries or move to other restaurants. Bednarz said candidates often have not showed up for job interviews.

And the high cost of living here is driving many workers in restaurants and retail (typically lower-wage positions) to other cities and states.

AlaMar, a restaurant that opened on Oakland’s Grand Avenue in 2014, closed temporarily at the end of December to retool its concept from a full-service restaurant with servers tending to tables, to a quick-service model where people order at the counter. It’s a less labor-intensive model, which owners Nelson and May German are using to combat the challenges of hiring and paying staff.

May German said she hopes the new model will also increase the volume of business at the restaurant. Instead of relying on tables to turn over quickly and seat new customers, food comes out more quickly in the quick-service model, allowing the restaurant to serve more customers.

Even fine-dining chefs are exploring the fast-casual concept, as San Francisco chef and restaurateur Daniel Patterson did when he opened up Locol in Oakland with chef Roy Choi. San Francisco restaurant Little Gem has managed a hybrid: counter service during breakfast and lunch and full table service at dinner.

While local and state-mandated minimum wages have risen via legislation in recent years, the so-called labor shortage itself is driving up costs as well, said Borden of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association.

But in one of the country’s most competitive restaurant markets, restaurants do not want to risk shorting customers on good service, particularly because labor is not the only challenge for restaurants.

Both Bednarz and German said the drastic increases in the cost of living in Oakland have put pressure on customers. They had heard from customers who were dining out less to manage their budgets as rents and other costs have risen.

At the same time, restaurant rents have increased. And higher wages mean higher payroll taxes, which are usually taken as a percentage of what employers pay their staff, and higher workers-compensation insurance premiums.

San Jose’s De La Cruz Deli, the last remaining location of a long-lived family of 12 delis, is slated to shut its doors in April after a 41-year run. Randy Nelson, who opened the first of the De La Cruz delis in 1974, said the costs of doing business are tougher than ever. He’s facing a 50 percent rent increase on the deli space when his lease is up, and a San Jose minimum wage ordinance will drive his labor costs up 45 percent in the next several years. Nelson, 73, will close or sell the deli and retire.

Jeffrey Stout, restaurant industry veteran and the chef-owner of Orchard City Kitchen in Campbell, said it’s frustrating to see mandated minimum wage increases without tipped minimum wages, a practice in many states (but not in California) in which tips can be credited toward meeting the minimum wage.

Restaurateurs say they are competing not just with other restaurants — for both staff and customers — but with corporate cafeterias that provide free or discounted meals to employees, drugstores that offer convenient prepackaged fare and grocery stores that host large prepared food sections or cafes inside their stores.

According to the National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Performance Index, just 30 percent of restaurant operators reported a same-store sales increase between August 2015 and August 2016, while 53 percent reported a sales decline.

Nicole Harnett, a vice president of the International Culinary Center’s campus in Campbell, said she has seen a rise in demand for culinary talent from corporate campuses in Silicon Valley that have only been growing their kitchens. They also often pay competitively and offer full benefits and daytime hours.

South Bay chef-entrepreneur Jim Stump, who owns successful full-service restaurants (The Table and Forthright) but has just closed his burger-hot dog eatery, Stumpy’s, echoed the Silicon Valley concern.

“It’s a challenging time,” he said. “There aren’t any more cooks. The tech industry has taken them.”

The Golden Gate Restaurant Association and other industry groups are working to offer training programs to help put more qualified workers into the pipeline of candidates. But there is also a need to educate customers about the true cost of operating a restaurant, Borden said, emphasizing that it is hard for restaurants to absorb the costs of labor and other things when diners are not willing to pay more.

Until then, she said, communities in the Bay Area and beyond will continue to see changes in restaurant models designed to manage costs — smaller menus and features like electronic ordering. Some restaurants have experimented with posting surcharges on menus, or eliminating tips in favor of service charges they can spread around employees in an effort to keep kitchen staff paid as well as tipped servers and bartenders.

Staff editor Linda Zavoral contributed reporting

SF Gate: Protests and peace give Oakland business owners relief

Photo: Paul Chinn, The Chronicle - Thousands gather in Frank Ogawa Plaza for a rally held after the Women's March in Oakland. Local businesses applauded the daytime protest as the right way to do things in Oakland.

Photo: Paul Chinn, The Chronicle - Thousands gather in Frank Ogawa Plaza for a rally held after the Women's March in Oakland. Local businesses applauded the daytime protest as the right way to do things in Oakland.

Some 100,000 people descended on the streets of Oakland to protest over the weekend, but no storefronts were shattered, and no assaults were reported, and no trashcan fires were lit.

For downtown Oakland’s business-owners, many of them mom-and-pop operations, Saturday’s daytime Women’s March brought a welcome respite from the looters and self-described anarchists who have a habit of disrupting otherwise peaceful protests, smashing the same storefronts over and over, spraying graffiti on walls used to the treatment.

Even during Friday’s rowdier protest of President Trump’s inauguration — in which a small, but determined band of protesters clashed on occasion with police by nightfall long after the day’s larger, and peaceful, march had subsided, resulting in three arrests — the damage was minimal.

Two of the arrests were for minor vandalism, and the third for obstructing a police officer, said Officer Marco Marquez, a spokesman for the Oakland Police Department.

Owners of businesses on and near Broadway near Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, which abuts Oakland’s City Hall, said they did lose money with wary would-be customers avoiding the scene entirely. But the toll often tends to be worse.

BAY AREA NEWS

On Friday night, Oakland Police officers wearing riot gear prevented a group of about 50 vocal protesters from marching down Broadway — a crackdown that Steve Snider, executive directors of the Downtown Oakland Association, credited with saving storefronts that have been smashed one too many times before.

“I think we’re going in the right direction” Snider said. “Oakland’s always going to be the center of this protest activity, and most of us want it to be without vandalism or violence.”

Snider and other business owners are quick to mention that they support the rights — and more often than not, the causes — of marchers. They’re just asking for more enforcement on those who use the crowds as cover for mayhem.

Maria Alderete, the owner of Luka’s Taproom & Lounge at West Grand Avenue and Broadway, had braced herself for the weekend. In the past, dating back at least to the protests that roiled Oakland following the shooting by police of Oscar Grant in 2009, her bar has had at least five windows bashed in, she said. And one of her managers was assaulted in one of the more recent election protests, she said.

This time around, on Friday, she said she thought police did a “really good job of containing the crowd,” adding that it took a letter she sent before the weekend to Mayor Libby Schaaf and incoming Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick calling downtown businesses the “local punching bag.”

City officials worked with downtown businesses especially this weekend to help them prepare for the protests, Alderete said, suggesting they haul in flower pots that could be used as projectiles, as well as other preemptive measures.

Saturday, however, there was no need for any of it, as thousands of people filled Oakland’s streets with pink and chants protecting women’s rights.

Though the nationally coordinated march, with so-called sister marches in San Francisco and all over the country, wasn’t technically a repudiation of President Trump, marchers in Oakland made the connection on their own, wielding signs that said “Dump Trump.”

Alderete and Snider said they both joined in Saturday’s march, calling it an example of how to protest the right way, adding that its daytime scheduling was a plus for warding off would-be dissidents lurking in the crowd.

“The whole dinner-and-a-riot concept just doesn’t work,” Alderete said, adding that the Women’s March “certainly did” work.

Though Alderete said she lost about 45 percent of her normal Friday night revenue, things “evened out” with Saturday’s swell in business from peaceful protesters. That normally doesn’t happen, she said. She was lucky, she said.

“Well, I guess the next protest is tax day,” Alderete said. “So, we’ll see.”

Michael Bodley is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: mbodley@sfchronicle.com

SF Chronicle: Oakland businesses again brace for breakage

Photo: Leah Millis, The Chronicle - Vandals loot the grocery store Smart and Final after vandalizing the front and breaking the windows during a protest

Photo: Leah Millis, The Chronicle - Vandals loot the grocery store Smart and Final after vandalizing the front and breaking the windows during a protest

It has come to a point where Alexeis Filipello considers smashed windows a cost of running a bar in downtown Oakland.

Since opening Dogwood in February 2011, Filipello has replaced her 10-foot-wide windows three times: once after the 2011 Occupy Oakland protests and twice during the 2014 Ferguson protests. Each replacement, she said, cost about $2,500, money that came from her pockets.

Other than a few scratches, her windows were spared during the raucous November protests following Donald Trump’s election — but with his inauguration just a few days away, all she can do is hope her windows are shown some mercy once again.

“They just always pick on these buildings, and they have no idea what is happening inside of them or who the people are that run it,” she said of the rioters in downtown Oakland who so often use protests and marches as an opportunity.

In anticipation of the inauguration protests, many small businesses are expecting a scene that unfolds in Oakland several times a year: a well-intentioned evening demonstration that a small group of people turns into an unruly riot that lasts well into the night.

And when the noise clears, businesses are often left with shattered glass, graffiti-covered storefronts, thousands of dollars in lost revenue and big deductibles from their insurance companies.

“It’s highly frustrating,” Filipello said.

An Oakland insurance agent — who declined to provide his name because his firm did not allow him to speak to the media — said there has been a significant uptick in calls over the last few weeks from downtown businesses inquiring about their insurance policies or purchasing new coverage.

Businesses have been weighing their options since the election, he said, as they are expecting the coming protests to be even more turbulent.

Several protests are already planned for this weekend, with thousands expected to participate. More than 25,000 people said on Facebook that they will join the Women’s March in Oakland, while another 23,000 signed up for the Resist Trump — #OccupyInauguration movement hosted by the Socialist Alternative Bay Area group. The organizers of these demonstrations say they will be peaceful and family-friendly.

Since 2014, Oakland has experienced at least 205 unpermitted and permitted marches, according to the city administrator’s office. There were more than 60 reports of vandalism or broken windows during the recent Trump protest, which some city officials described as some of the worst damage Oakland has experienced.

“After the November protests, we were really saddened by how many businesses were hurt, which was counterintuitive to what people were protesting,” said Barbara Leslie, president and CEO of the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, who added that 85 percent of Oakland’s economy is made up of small businesses.

Despite being a hotbed for demonstrations, Oakland has no established fund for helping the businesses affected by them. In the past, the mayor’s office has partnered with the East Bay Community Foundation to help businesses recover from various protests — but the fund has not been significantly active since the 2011 Occupy Oakland protests, said Dan Quigley, the foundation’s senior program officer.

The Oakland Indie Alliance, a group of more than 50 independently owned Oakland restaurants, sent a letter to Mayor Libby Schaaf and new Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick that said the businesses are “deeply concerned” about the protests planned for after the inauguration.

“We have become the local punching bag for these protests and it is unhelpful and unfair,” the letter said, in addition to calling for a “better balance of free speech and commercial interests.”

Maria Alderete, the owner of Luka’s Taproom & Lounge, said the city has “never offered a dime” to help her fix any damage resulting from a protest. Her windows have been bashed in at least five times in the past few years, and she’s shouldered the damages herself to avoid an increased insurance premium, she said.

Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle - Michelle Tolbert, (left) enjoys a beverage at the Dogwood bar in downtown in Oakland, Ca., as bartender Irene Franzen prepares a drink on Friday Jan. 13, 2017.

Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle - Michelle Tolbert, (left) enjoys a beverage at the Dogwood bar in downtown in Oakland, Ca., as bartender Irene Franzen prepares a drink on Friday Jan. 13, 2017.

Most insurance companies offer basic safeguards for clients that find themselves victims of civil disobedience, said Gerard Mannion, a Bay Area trial lawyer. But, businesses that file repeat claims for the same thing may eventually be seen as a liability, he said.

Repeat claims for damages — such as vandalism or shattered windows — could lead insurance companies to either change the policy to exclude the recurring problem, increase the rate for clients, or just drop them all together, he said.

“These are the hidden costs of the protests,” Mannion said. “It’s not just a broken window, but you might be taking away a guy’s insurance coverage.”

Dogwood’s Filipello, for example, left her previous insurance company after it stopped covering her broken windows after she filed repeated claims.

Some businesses board up their windows whenever they expect a protest, but that can get pricey for mom-and-pop shops. According to Vortex Doors, a San Leandro repair business, it can cost $1,500 to $2,000 for a business to board up its storefront.

Travis Kuhl, the owner of Kuhl Frames + Art, said he likely would have left downtown Oakland by now if he did not have metal doors to protect his shop at night.

Officials have been holding meetings with businesses over the past few days and suggesting a list of preparations they could make before this weekend. That is routine protocol by the city whenever it expects a demonstration.

But, regardless of the occasional outreach, many small businesses still lose when protests roil downtown — whether it’s from a broken window, decreased foot traffic or the lost revenue from shutting down early.

Susanné Breen, whose Downtown Wine Merchants bar is right next to Frank H. Ogawa Plaza — a major congregating spot for demonstrations — has accepted protests as an inevitable factor of being in downtown Oakland.

“Every time something goes down in America, we’re at the center of it,” Breen said one Thursday afternoon during the Trump election protests.

Her bar, which is usually packed during happy hour, was desolate that November afternoon.

But, despite having her windows bashed during a round of Ferguson protests in 2014, she chooses not to turn the lights off, board up or close early whenever she anticipates an unruly demonstration.

Instead, she takes a different approach: She keeps the lights on, windows bare and just continues pouring wine.

Trisha Thadani is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: tthadani@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @TrishaThadani

In Oakland, a tale of 2 marches

Photo: Paul Chinn, The Chronicle - Thousands of participants walk past Lake Merritt in the Women's March in Oakland, Calif. on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017 which was organized along with others around the country as a show of unity after yesterday's inauguration of President Donald Trump.

Photo: Paul Chinn, The Chronicle - Thousands of participants walk past Lake Merritt in the Women's March in Oakland, Calif. on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017 which was organized along with others around the country as a show of unity after yesterday's inauguration of President Donald Trump.

Friday and Saturday saw two different marches in Oakland in response to the presidential inauguration.

One march scared local businesses like ours, threatening broken windows, spray paint and lost customers. One inspired us, got us to carry our own signs — one of us went to D.C. while the other marched with our daughters and worked in the cafe, leading to one of our busiest days ever.

One march petered out in the darkness, with the sense of disaster avoided, frayed nerves, a few arrests, too many cops in riot gear and way too much public money spent. One left us glowing in the late afternoon despite cloud-covered sun, ecstatic from experiencing a day of togetherness, community and businesses going at 500 mph to meet customers’ needs.

We see several lessons:

We can protest, in the light of day, and make change. This coincides with our belief that smashing local businesses does nothing to advance the cause of justice. Had something happened Friday night, what would it change for President Trump or his supporters? It would only confirm their bias that diverse, accepting and progressive places like Oakland are cesspools of crime and lawlessness. Instead, they are trembling in their boots in the wake of the global turnout of millions of women and men who showed they are ready to resist the politics of hate.

Political resistance can help our local economy. Saturday was good for business; Friday was bad. Most businesses within a few blocks of us were affected, with business down between 20 to 50 percent Friday, and up more than half on Saturday. Friday’s activities had businesses closing early, boarding up; the usual office crowd left early or worked remotely. Saturday had businesses bursting at the seams to feed new and familiar faces, on a day of the week that can be challenging to attract people downtown and Uptown.

Working with government works. By sitting down with our government in advance — it is, after all, government of, by, and for the people — we all win. Our business community worked in advance with the city of Oakland to convene sessions and get the word out about our situation. We worked with our restaurant colleagues to share strategies and tactics in response to the expected protests. And the marchers, at least on Saturday, provided advanced notice and coordination, and had sparse law enforcement helping redirect traffic to keep marchers safe. We know there are problems with government, at every level, but we accomplish more by working with government officials and holding them accountable.

Oakland can be progressive and business-friendly. We learned again how amazing this home called Oakland is. We hope that the results of Friday mean that destructive tactics, lacking any popular backing that might previously have provided cover, have run their course. Saturday showed that we are bigger than extremists on all sides.

This tale of two marches is just one tale, and we know it is the beginning of a period of resistance for many. There will be more actions. It is hoped these lessons can be taken to heart so that this period of resistance does not run local businesses into the ground.

We are scared enough of the incoming Trump administration; we should not also have to fear local attacks and dysfunction. Let’s do, as we did on Saturday, what we can to coordinate, organize, celebrate, break bread (or make toast!) and feed community together.

Chris and Amy Hillyard are co-owners of Farley’s East, a cafe at 33 Grand Ave., Oakland. They are members of the Oakland Indie Alliance, a group of local, independently owned restaurants.

Farley's East Expanding To Mark Its Eighth Anniversary In Uptown

Written by by Walter Thompson for Hoodline

Uptown café Farley's East is in the midst of expanding into a former Subway located next door; according to co-founder Chris Hillyard, the extra room will give the third-wave roaster an opportunity to expand its menu, staff and kitchen operations.

Hillyard told Hoodline that the sandwich shop closed suddenly last September. “We’ve always said if there was ever the opportunity to expand into that space we’d talk to our landlord about it.” Today, Farley's East has about 1600 square feet, but the ongoing work "will add another thousand.”

Farley's co-founder Chris Hillyard.

Farley's East has operated at 33 Grand Ave. for 7.5 years and was one of the first businesses to step into what its web site describes as a “once ghost-town.” Today, several restaurants and shops line the block, and new office and residential development provide a steady stream of customers.

“We’ll have a larger kitchen now,” said Hillyard. “That’s one of the main drivers for the expansion,” he said. “There are so many businesses around here that want lunchtime catering, but we have space constraints around that at the moment.”

With a larger kitchen, “we’ll also be able to offer a broader food offering as well in the café,” he added. Plans call for beer and wine on tap, as well as additional seating. Today, Farley's East employs 22 people, but “we’ll add a few more positions with the expansion,” Hillyard said.

If the project’s done on schedule, the expanded coffeehouse will open this summer. “We’re hoping June 18, that’s our anniversary,” said Hillyard. “We’ll see.”

Farleys East (510-835-7898) is open from 7–9 Monday to Friday and from 8–9 on weekends

NPR: Silicon Valley advocates for a guaranteed basic income as jobs are replaced by increasing automation

This post on the NPR News blog discusses Y Combinator's basic income experiment here in Oakland, along with some context from other Silicon Valley voices.

The basic thrust is this: if automation is successful at replacing large swaths of the workforce (as some seem to expect), we can't rely only on employers to support our citizens - not only for income for food, housing and other basic necessities, but also for health coverage, family leave, and more.  We've become habituated to jobs filling these needs, but that may not be practical.

The piece talks about restaurant startup Eatsa, which is attempting to eliminate service staff entirely, in favor of having customers interact with automated kiosks. There are strong financial incentives for restaurants to make this sort of move, especially in those sorts of restaurants where service isn't the primary focus in the first place (read: fast casual).

photo via NPR blog - Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

photo via NPR blog - Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Berkeleyside: Berkeley Semifreddi's closes, citing increased rents & wages as the cause

Eater SF has been running a column announcing restaurant closures for quite a while now, but this one caught our eye: Berkeley Semifreddi's will close at the end of this month.  According to Berkeleyside, increased difficulty in hiring, increasing wages, and escalating rents are the reasons.  This is another instance of a decades-old local restaurant shutting its doors in the face of economic pressures.  Genova Delicatessen, a 90-year-old neighborhood fixture just a few blocks away, closed its doors in May of this year.

Open Letter - structural problems with Workers Compensation rating

Dear Governor Brown, Commissioner Jones, Mayor Schaaf:

Small business owners in Oakland, along with peers in certain other California cities, are on the forefront of a wave of increasing wages and other costs which together put the future of our businesses in jeopardy.  This is creating problems in several areas, some of which are dictated by state law or agencies.  Workers Compensation Insurance is one which needs immediate attention.

Workers compensation is a significant cost for restaurants, accounting for tens of thousands of dollars in annual expense for a medium-sized operation.  There are several structural problems which are creating disproportionate increases in cities like ours, many of which are related to rapidly increasing wages:

Minimum wage increases are creating unfair increases in premiums with no increase in risk

As minimum wage increases, restaurant workers (who are heavily tip-compensated) are getting significant raises.  The average cost for our employees in 2016 is 15%-30% more than in 2014.  Workers comp risk hasn’t increased for those workers, but today, we’re paying decidedly more than we were for the same insurance.

Regional rating means that higher-wage cities are subsidizing premiums for neighboring lower-wage cities

Since minimum wages vary widely between cities, and since workers comp rates are generally set by region, here in Oakland we are effectively subsidizing the risk for surrounding cities with lower wage structures.  Employees doing the same work with the same risk exposure in San Leandro are insured for significantly less premium.  This isn’t fair to higher-wage-paying employers.

Settling of fraudulent claims penalizes employers unfairly

Many of us have experienced workers compensation claims which were settled without merit - we’ve seen claimants and their unscrupulous attorneys claim injury where there was none, claim inability to work when the claimants have been observed to be able-bodied and working, and have seen claims expand to include wage and other employment disputes, again without merit, solely to create more leverage for settlement.  The decision to settle these claims is made by our insurers, in the interest of closing the claim as quickly as possible.  But we pay the penalty in the form of greatly increased rates and inability to take our business to another company if we’re unhappy.

We’re looking forward to establishing a dialog about how to address some of these structural problems to help protect our own small businesses and continue to support small entrepreneurship as the important social value we believe it is.

OIA Press Release: Oakland Restaurants Under Increasing Pressure

OAKLAND INDIE ALLIANCE FORESEES ACCELERATING SMALL BUSINESS FAILURES DUE TO RAPIDLY CHANGING ECONOMIC CONDITIONS

 

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - MAY 18, 2016

Inquires to: Sal Bednarz . oaklandindiealliance@gmail.com . 510.735.6016

We are Oakland Indie Alliance, representing over 50 locally-owned and -managed restaurants.  We are seeing our members’ profits in sharp decline, and our employees and customers fleeing Oakland for more affordable alternatives.  We’re increasingly concerned as long-standing small local restaurants give up and close their doors.  We believe this is the beginning of a wave of small business closures which will accelerate if current pressures do not abate.  These closures will not be confined to our membership - they will affect small businesses (especially restaurants) in all Oakland neighborhoods, and will irrevocably change those neighborhoods.  In the end, we will be left with chains and franchises in the casual segment, well-funded high-end establishments (which cater to the growing wealthier population moving into our city), and not much else.

Oakland Indie Alliance was formed in early 2015 as Measure FF brought an unprecedented increase in minimum wage to Oakland, and has continued to grow and evolve. We took a strong stance against an unfair Waste Management contract which recently went into effect, and were a key part of pushing the City and Waste Management to adopt a rate reduction agreement.  We have weighed in on the evolving plastic bag reduction program and food truck policy.  We increasingly are sitting at the table with local politicians and other interest groups to find ways to protect our continued existence, because we recognize that our voice is important and hasn’t been heard in the past.  We know that if we don’t engage in this broader dialog, we will lose.

We are an all-volunteer organization with no funding.  We do this work to support each other, hoping that our effort will benefit our city as a whole.  Most of our members opened their establishments in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.  We took a risk on Oakland when Oakland needed risk-takers.  We created hundreds of local jobs and have cycled hundreds of millions of dollars through the local economy.  We helped create the Oakland we live in today: increasingly livable and still accessible to Oakland residents.

We care about our workers.  We care about Oakland.  And we’re very worried.