Toriano Gordon has combined his talents as a rapper, social media entertainer, and chef into Vegan Mob, a plant-based barbecue and soul-food pop-up he started this spring. Vegan Mob’s first day as a permanent Oakland restaurant is tomorrow, Saturday, October 5, and you can be sure Gordon is letting all his fans know on his popular Instagram account.
“I incorporate my hip-hop energy into Vegan Mob and that helps it stand out,” says Gordon, who started the business with a free gumbo giveaway at a Safeway in Oakland’s Dimond District and encountered encouraging feedback. Gordon’s boundless energy also helps Vegan Mob’s food stand out from the rest of the vegan pack. For him, avoiding meat doesn’t mean avoiding fun: “I like to entertain, and I like to cook — I want people to enjoy it.”
While Gordon himself is a native San Franciscan, born and raised in the Fillmore, he’s excited about his new digs in Oakland. The spot is 500 Lake Park Avenue, the former location of Grand Lake landmark Kwik Way Drive-In, and most recently the temporary home of Merritt Bakery. The lot is eventually slated for development, but Vegan Mob’s lease will last at least 18 months. And Gordon has made the space his own, decorating the front with Vegan Mob’s logo in green and white. A mural on the side pays homage to the Jacka, the East Bay rapper (and friend of Gordon’s) who was killed in 2015.
Two years ago, with concerns about his health, Gordon switched to a vegetarian, then a vegan diet. “I treasure my life,” Gordon says — and eating well has made him feel healthier than ever.
Vegan Mob’s recipes are adaptations of classics like mac-and-cheese and po’ boys, passed down through family members like Gordon’s Texas-born grandmother, who opened a cafe in the Fillmore in the ’60s, and others like his grandfather on his stepfather’s side, who owned Rue Lepic and Nob Hill Cafe in SF. Cooking vegan is simple, Gordon says: Just substitute out the animal products. In his gumbo, for instance, Gordon swaps in plant-based shrimp and adds seaweed for a fuller flavor, plus imitation bacon for a bit of smokiness.
Some of Vegan Mob’s items incorporate Impossible Foods’ meat, like Gordon’s Impossible Mob tacos, and others use plant-based “brisket” from GW Chew, the Oakland food entrepreneur behind the Veg Hub. Gordon counts Chew and others like Evan Kidera, a childhood friend from SF who founded Señor Sisig, as mentors.
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500 Lake Park Ave Oakland, Ca this Saturday from 1pm-8pm is the grand opening of #VeganMob come get your #barbequito #Smackin It’s Da Mob! #VeganMob #Vegan #VeganBBQ #BBQ #VeganSoul #VeganSoulFood #VeganFoodPorn #FoodPorn #beyondmeat #foodnetwork #sanfrancisco #sanfranciscofood #foodtruck #catering #VeganChallenge
While vegan food has been a personal journey for Gordon, it’s something he’s pursued with the broader community in mind. “In America, we suffer from a lot of things that other countries don’t, and in my culture, in the African-American community, we suffer from cancer, heart disease.... Some people say it’s hereditary, but what’s also hereditary is the food patterns,” Gordon says. With exciting vegan versions of popular foods, Gordon thinks he can help change those patterns.
“I want to educate people. I’m spreading health and wealth through my food. I’m spreading positive energy.”