Celebrated Korean fusion destination FuseBox will officially close its doors after a five-year run in an industrial corner of West Oakland. As co-owner Ellen Sebastian Chang told Berkeleyside on Thursday, she and her husband/chef Sunhui Chang have decided “it’s time to move on,” citing problems renegotiating their lease on Magnolia Street and the high cost of doing business in the Bay Area.
“We don’t want to be in that space any more,” Sebastian Chang explained. “But we brought a lot of magic there.” According to her, there was some “lease jockeying” during the renewal process that couldn’t be resolved and the couple didn’t expect to be out of the space so quickly. The closing is surprising, especially since the Changs actually started expanding the restaurant last year, taking over part of the office space next door and making plans to expand the bar as well. (The office space, for what it’s worth, was part of local restaurant architect/Zen buddhist priest Paul Discoe’s West Oakland compound.)
When it opened, former East Bay Express critic Luke Tsai praised the affordability and quality in Chang’s menu, which featured local takes on the traditional bap sets as well as cult favorites like Korean-style chicken wings and crispy pig ears. Just last year, the Chronicle’s Anna Roth revisited the Changs’ “labor of love” and declared it as good as ever. Although Sebastian Chang told Berkeleyside she and her husband are “grateful that we got the attention we got,” she was pretty explicit about the reasons for the restaurant’s closure.
“We need to stop romanticizing the notion of the small, family-run business,” Sebastian Chang explained. “It takes an incredible level of work to survive in one of the most expensive places in the country.”
“The minimum wage might be $15 but what’s the point if the servers and cooks can’t afford to live here?” she said. “Who can afford to live on $15 an hour in the bay? We feel like shit because we can’t pay them $50 an hour to have a decent life in the Bay Area.”
The restaurant’s last day of service will be this Sunday, April 23rd. After that, the restaurant will be clearing house and selling everything “that’s not bolted down.”