Update: This post has been updated after publication to add additional information about Bocanova.
Some big news this week about several high-profile Oakland eateries. First, Uptown restaurant Picán is shutting its doors this week, after final dinner service on Sunday, June 11. Picán, which describes its offerings as “Southern infused California cuisine,” has been at at 2295 Broadway since 2009, when it was opened by New Orleans-native Michael LeBlanc. Located within an expansive 6,500 sq. ft. space, it’s a notably large restaurant, which its general manager Trevor Little told the East Bay Express is part of the reason for its closure. Its size makes it expensive to staff, especially due to rising labor costs and the number of new restaurants opening in downtown Oakland.
But Picán fans need not get too panicked, the restaurant will return. We spoke with Picán’s events manager, Leigh Gross-Mitchell, who confirmed that the restaurant will close on Sunday, but said it is just a temporary closure. “We are planning on closing down for a remodel,” said Gross-Mitchell, adding that the restaurant hopes to be back in the fall within the same space.
Which brings us to the next piece of big news. The San Francisco Business Times reported yesterday that Picán’s space and the vacant 2251 Broadway next door, formerly occupied by Japanese restaurant Ozumo, will be transformed into four smaller spaces. West Oakland soul food spot Brown Sugar Kitchen and Jack London Square’s pan-Latin restaurant Bocanova have already called dibs on two of those spaces. Although it’s possible that Picán may be the third of four in the new row of restaurants on Broadway, owner LeBlanc told the Chronicle’s Inside Scoop that he didn’t believe it would, saying that it may pop up somewhere else in Oakland in late 2018 or early 2019.
Picán and Ozumo, which also opened in 2009, were two of the first splashy upscale restaurants to come to Uptown, part of Signature Development Group’s Broadway Grand “revitalization” project for an area that was previously lacking in high-end restaurants, condominiums or much foot traffic. Both restaurants, which took the place of an empty lot surrounded by auto shops and other vacant buildings, are often referred to as pioneering businesses that helped define and bring more people and commerce to Oakland’s Uptown district.
Bocanova chef and co-owner Rick Hackett told Nosh he is ready to move his restaurant to Uptown. “I’ve been here eight years, waiting for a food market to open and it hasn’t happened,” Hackett said, referring to Water Street Market, an artisan marketplace at 55 Harrison Street that was slated to open in fall 2016, but that is currently on hold. Hackett said he “bought into the idea of the food market going in.” Thinking that Jack London Square would be a food destination similar to the Ferry Building across the bay, he pushed for the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA) to take over the Sunday farmers market, which it did in May 2016. But with Water Street Market on hold, Hackett is now unsure of Jack London’s future, and feels like it’s time to move to Uptown, where he’ll have more foot traffic and cheaper rent.
In the new space at 2251 Broadway, Bocanova will occupy the larger of the two lots, about 5600 sq. ft., which is smaller than his current restaurant, measuring about 7000 sq. ft. (8300 sq. ft. counting the outdoor patio space). Hackett said the new space will be much more manageable, especially as he will not have to account for staffing or scheduling of patio dining. “Scheduling was hard because you never knew about the weather,” he said.
As plans are still being developed, Hackett could not tell us when the new Bocanova will open in Uptown, but he said the landlord hopes to get him into the space by August 1. His goal is to close the Jack London restaurant about two weeks before opening the new one. Hackett said that at the Broadway location, he will develop an Argentinean steakhouse concept, as it the space will have a dedicated hood that would allow for him to install a custom-made wood fire grill “to showcase the true asado in Argentina.” Hackett also plans to offer more family-style plates and build up Bocanova’s cevicheria and oyster bar.
Brown Sugar Kitchen is a popular soul food restaurant that opened on Mandela Parkway in West Oakland in 2008 by Tanya Holland. Known and beloved for its Southern brunch offerings, most notably its fried chicken and waffles, Brown Sugar Kitchen is one of those places in Oakland where it’s a given that there’ll be a wait — which is fine with its loyal fans. Holland’s other West Oakland venture, B-Side BBQ on San Pablo Avenue, was never quite able to find this same devoted customer base, and closed in 2015. Although B-Side shut its doors, it lives on through a project that partners Holland with Blue Heron Catering, and Holland remains successfully busy, with Brown Sugar Kitchen, writing cookbooks and recently, signing on as a chef with a new sustainability startup called BlueCart, which hopes to lessen food waste in restaurant kitchens.
As of publication, we were unable to receive comment from Brown Sugar Kitchen, but we’ll keep you abreast on Nosh of any updates as they come in.