Fifteen years have passed since real estate developers first hatched the idea of opening a gigantic, Ferry Building-style food hall on Oakland’s Jack London Square waterfront. And for 15 years, various iterations of the project have stuttered, stalled, and just flat-out never materialized. But knock on wood: Hopefully all that will change this summer with the launch of Oakland Assembly, a 40,000-square-foot, two-level market hall that’s slated to open at 55 Harrison Street. And unlike previous incarnations of the proposed food hall, this time around, the project has come far enough along that some of the Bay Area food scene’s buzziest names have already signed on to participate — a lineup of chefs that includes Reem Assil (Reem’s), Preeti Mistry (Juhu Beach Club), and Matt Horn (Horn BBQ).
Developer John McEnery IV, who operates two similar market halls in San Jose and Santa Cruz (the San Pedro Square Market and Abbott Square Market, respectively), says he understands if some Oaklanders feel skeptical that things will turn out any differently for the Jack London Square food hall this time around. That’s why he and fellow developer Greg Crema held off on releasing very many details about the project until now: They wanted to get contacts signed, have drawings and renderings completed, and, perhaps most importantly, lock in a splashy first batch of tenants. “We wanted to make sure everyone knew that we had our teeth sunk into this thing,” McEnery says. “Hopefully people won’t think it’s the boy crying wolf.”
Under the current timeline they’re targeting, construction would begin in earnest at the start of 2020, and an initial batch of around a dozen food kiosks would be ready to open by summertime, Crema explains. As far as the setup goes, the market hall won’t really be a Ferry Building clone — instead, McEnery describes it as more of a massive, family-friendly “entertainment venue,” with a huge bar in the center, an upstairs banquet hall, lots of big-screen TVs for sports viewing, and an indoor stage for live music and other kinds of shows.
The food kiosks, on the other hand, will be laid out in different “curated” sections within the larger market, including an area that’s meant to evoke the kind of outdoor street food market you might find in Vietnam or Singapore, McEnery says. That’s where Mistry will have her kiosk, which will actually be two separate restaurant concepts set up side to side: On one side will be Juhu Chinese, which will bring together a number of the Indo-Chinese dishes she served at her now-shuttered flagship Juhu Beach Club: her wildly popular Manchurian Cauliflower (a dish Anthony Bourdain called her “Stairway to Heaven”), sticky wings, bacon fried rice, Hakka noodles, and cumin lamb. On the other side, at Juhu Snacks and Sweets, Mistry will likely serve her Bombay sandwich (a grilled cheese variant), pani puri, a few different kinds of samosas, a dosa remix of some kind (possibly her popular dosa-waffle hybrid), and some version of Indian ice cream.
The exciting thing about the kiosk/food court model is that chefs like Mistry are taking the opportunity to really hone in on a handful of dishes instead of just serving a stripped-down version of the menu at their main restaurant. Assil, for her part, will focus on two things at her kiosk: al pastor-style chicken shawarma and a few different varieties stuffed falafels — one stuffed with onion, sumac, and chiles; another, perhaps, with a quail egg. As a special, she says she might serve tacos árabes on pita, and she’s experimenting with a kind of Arab soft serve ice cream based on the sweet Lebanese clotted cream known as ashta.
The other tenants who have signed on at Oakland Assembly so far include a number of up-and-coming stars in the Bay Area restaurant world. The other biggest names include the Oakland-based barbecue phenom Matt Horn, who will run a chicken-centric stall called KowBird (separate from the barbecue restaurant he’s opening in West Oakland), and Okkon, the popular Japanese okonomiyaki pop-up, with its first permanent location. Oakland Assembly is also in talks with the tori paitan ramen sensation Mensho Tokyo, whose kiosk would mark its first expansion into the East Bay.
All in all, it’s a marked change from what the popular conception of a “food hall” was even just ten years ago, when the term tended to conjure up more Eurocentric images of sausages, cheese, and charcuterie, Mistry says: “In this decade, there’s been this shift toward Latin-American and Asian night markets and street food.” Now, Mistry says, she has a chance to open something that might be even closer to her original street food vision when she first started Juhu Beach Club as a pop-up in 2011.
Here’s the complete list of tenants who have currently signed on to be a part of Oakland Assembly:
- Reem’s - stuffed falafels and chicken shawarma
- Juhu Snacks and Sweets
- Juhu Chinese
- Okkon - okkonomiyaki
- KowBird - Matt Horn’s chicken concept
- Belly Goat - burgers by Santa Cruz chef Anthony Kresge
- The Bull & The Bird - charcuterie, cheese, panini (also by Kresge)
- Oakland Winery
Correction: November 21, 2019, 10:35 a.m.: An earlier version of this story stated that Mensho Tokyo was a confirmed tenant, based on an interview with Oakland Assembly. A representative for Mensho Tokyo subsequently clarified that the restaurant is still in talks with the food hall regarding a potential lease.