Andreas Ozzuna’s dream to open a café formed many years ago, while she was living in Argentina. As a young girl, Ozzuna helped her grandmother cook for her family, an experience she said developed her love for making food for others. When she moved from Buenos Aires to the Bay Area 20 years ago, she brought her longtime dream with her.
For a long time, Ozzuna had difficulty finding the resources and a location for her café. As far back as 2005, she recalled passing 2300 Broadway and imagining opening up a place in that spot. Back then, Uptown Oakland was much less of a bustling area. “Nothing was built here,” Ozzuna said. But she still liked the neighborhood and saw potential.
In the meantime, she continued to move forward. She opened a commercial kitchen in East Oakland called Wooden Table Baking Co. in 2011. Here, Ozzuna bakes Argentinian desserts called alfajores and bonbons and sells them to gourmet stores and cafés in the Bay Area, as well as Tahoe City, Southern California, Washington, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maine. While the commercial kitchen has proved to be successful selling products to other businesses, Ozzuna always wanted a way to share her creations with customers, face-to-face.
“We had a commercial kitchen for a long time but we never had access to the public,” Ozzuna said. “I always wanted that.”
In 2017, the location she eyed for years became available. She got in touch with the landlord right away and soon found herself signing the lease. She opened Wooden Table Café with her wife Citabria in October last year.
Wooden Table Café offers a Latin-focused menu. For something savory, visitors can choose from an array of empanadas, including ones filled with traditional meat options like chicken or beef. There’s even a vegan-friendly version of the flaky turnover-style pastry, made with kale and butternut squash.
If opting for something sweet, the café serves alfajores and bonbons, naturally. Alfajores are two shortbread cookies surrounding a layer of dulce de leche (milk candy, similar to caramel). And bonbons are pieces of chocolate filled with dulce de leche. Another Argentinian dessert offering are conitos, mound-shaped chocolate cookies filled with dulce de leche and covered in chocolate.
To drink, Wooden Table serves standard coffee drinks, but it’s worth coming here for the unique Argentinian beverage options. One of most common coffee orders in Argentina is the cortado. Like a macchiato, it’s an espresso served with just a little bit of milk. The submarino is hot milk mixed with half a chocolate bar.
The most noteworthy beverage at Wooden Table Café is the yerba mate, a caffeinated drink made from the leaves of the South American holly tree. While these days, you can find yerba mate in tea bags or prepared in cans and bottles at many markets throughout the U.S., most of us haven’t had it served as they do in Argentina. Wooden Table serves it in traditional Argentinian fashion, as a drink to be shared with friends. First, ground yerba mate leaves are steeped in a metal cup with hot water. When it’s served, a silver straw called a bombilla is placed in the cup that filters out the leaves when drinkers sip the liquid. Each person takes a few sips from the straw, then passes it along to the next person.
The communal vibe of yerba mate goes well with Ozzuna’s vision for Wooden Table Café. She wanted to offer customers a place to relax. Appropriately, inside the café, she’s placed a large communal wooden table, which can fit a group of friends or family members. Ozzuna encourages customers to order something like mate and just sit back — a departure from the grab and go culture that you find in many cafés in America.
“I would like to be a place where people gather, where people hang out, where people take time to talk to friends — get some time to really connect with other people, with each other or only themselves if they want,” Ozzuna said. “A place where you slow down.”
Ozzuna’s preference for a slower, relaxed atmosphere in the café applies to her way of life as well. She said she works the best when she doesn’t rush — otherwise, things get overwhelming.
“When I make dinner for friends, for example, I think about that dinner three or four days in advance,” Ozzuna said. “By the time it’s the day people come over, I start early in the morning. I want to enjoy the moment — the process of making something.”
Having the café has also allowed Ozzuna to flex more of her creative muscles. She can try cooking with unique flavors — such as rose water and chai chocolate — and get direct feedback from customers on whether they like them.
Wooden Table Café is about four months into its opening, and Ozzuna is excited to see what 2018 will bring. Beyond food, drinks and a place to socialize and wind down, Ozzuna hopes Wooden Table is also a place of support. On the door of the café, people can see three stickers that read “Woman charged”, “Immigrant run” and “LGBTQ owned”.
“We are giving opportunities to other immigrants to work for us, also LGBT people, trans people,” Ozzuna said. “Before I was just working and doing my thing but I didn’t feel the need to say anything. But now it’s like whoa, I live in a bubble, the world is not the way I think it is.”
Ozzuna added, “We are diverse in Oakland with all different kinds of people — not just immigrants but LGBT, women. We have to show that.”