It happened months ago and quietly. Tanya Holland has closed her famous, 10-year-old soul food destination Brown Sugar Kitchen at 2534 Mandela Parkway in West Oakland. Of course, that doesn’t mark the end of Holland’s crispy fried chicken and cornmeal waffles in the Bay Area — she already has a larger restaurant in the works in Uptown, Oakland, as well as a future spot in the San Francisco Ferry Building.
On August 24, Holland posted a quick note on Facebook and on Brown Sugar Kitchen’s website:
For over a decade it has been our pleasure to serve the wonderful Oakland and greater Bay Area community. With two new locations, 2295 Broadway & a SF Ferry Building counter service, opening in the fall, we have decided to close our beloved Mandela pkwy location. Friday, August 24 was our last day of service at Mandela, but we look forward to serving an even larger community at our new locations in the years to come.
Tanya Holland and the BSK family
It’s understandable why the news of Brown Sugar Kitchen’s closure has spread slowly. Frankly, it has been operating on a confusing schedule for some time now. It temporarily closed in May, then it briefly toyed with a quick-service model, and then it was only open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays before finally closing for good.
Holland says it was time to move on from the West Oakland restaurant for a variety of reasons. Its location added challenges — Holland would regularly have to clean up syringes and trash that surrounded the building.
“It’s been exhausting for so many years because of all of the added expenses that I have to incur because of this location — just the blight, taking care of graffiti,” she says. “I’ve had to do all the repairs and maintenance on a very old building. The challenge of being here is that it’s so isolated, the smash and grabs have been an epidemic — they know we have destination diners here with suitcases in their cars.”
Plus, Brown Sugar Kitchen hasn’t been profitable in years, according to Holland. “We were trying to do it for the customers,” she says. The cost of doing business has gone up, and in order to be profitable, “a full bar is a big part of the big picture, having the seats for the demand, and being able to charge the prices you need to charge. I cant charge $15 for a waffle here… I didn’t know the demand was going to be as great as it was, and this facility can’t service that kind of demand.”
Still, it’s certainly the end of an era. Brown Sugar Kitchen opened at a time when most restaurateurs wouldn’t touch now rapidly gentrifying West Oakland, and quickly proved naysayers wrong when crowds descended and patiently waited hours for the likes of gumbo, shrimp and grits, and, of course, fried chicken and waffles.
Update, October 17, 12:40 p.m.: This story was updated to include comments from Holland.