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Oakland’s Trans-Owned Vegan Restaurant Faces Displacement

Hella Vegan Eats hopes to reopen in a new location soon

Hella Vegan Eats/Facebook

For the past three years, Hella Vegan Eats has operated within a vintage car dealership in Oakland — the funky setup has been part of the restaurant’s charm. But now, those days are coming to an end. Hella Vegan Eats will leave its home of Classic Cars West on Thursday, February 28.

Michael Sarcona, the owner of Classic Cars West, asked Hella Vegan Eats owners Tiff Esquivel and Silvi Peligras to pack up because of “many irreconcilable differences,” according to Sarcona. Essentially, Hella Vegan Eats functioned as a big pop-up in the space, serving up vegan comfort food in the spacious beer garden while Sarcona ran the bar, art exhibits, and dealership. Sarcona now wants to run the kitchen, too — he’s hired a new chef who will be serving vegan fare starting March 1 alongside vegan gelato from Kokolato.

“It’s been a wild ride there because there wasn’t too much of an established situation and we were doing our best to maintain that space, but ultimately [Sarcona] was the guy on the lease,” Peligras says.

Despite a steady succession of unfortunate events — losing a best friend in the Ghost Ship fire, ending their marriage, getting hit by a truck, and now losing their restaurant space — Esquivel and Peligras are focusing on two things: finding the next location for Hella Vegan Eats and making sure they can pay their staff in the meantime. They’re looking at spaces in Oakland and hope to establish Hella Vegan Eats as a sole entity next time around as opposed to operating another pop-up, which would make them more vulnerable to displacement.

They started a GoFundMe for moving costs and to support their staff while unemployed. In less than two days, people have already donated more than $7,000 out of the $10,000 goal.

Hella Vegan Eats started off about 10 years ago with Esquival and Peligras selling tamales on the streets during Oakland Art Murmur. They moved onto farmers markets, festivals, a food truck, bar pop-ups, and catering before settling into Classic Cars West, and now they’re ready to find a brick-and-mortar of their own. Their success is certainly in part due to their fun, over-the-top dishes like potsticker burritos and donut burgers, but also the fact that they are brown, trans, and queer people actively creating community.

“We’re trying to hold it down for people who walk and talk differently. We’re trying to be a safe place for the artists, the weirdos, the queers, the trans, the people of color, the people who know what it is to work and struggle. We’re trying to embody what we came to love about Oakland and what Oakland still is,” says Peligras.

“We’re trying to thrive in a space that’s rapidly changing. That’s why we’re here — to show how the world can be different, show that trans people can own businesses, that people of color can come up in the city.”

Hella Vegan Eats

411 26th Street, , CA 94612 (510) 480-6777 Visit Website