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Star Chef Tanya Holland Is Opening a Vegetable-Centric Cafe at the Oakland Museum

Town Fare will be a brand new restaurant concept for the Brown Sugar Kitchen chef

Chef Tanya Holland
Brown Sugar Kitchen chef Tanya Holland
Tanya Holland

When local brunch icon Brown Sugar Kitchen closed its San Francisco outpost last month, customers mourned the departure of its all-world cornmeal waffles — but also, perhaps, took some solace in the hints chef-owner Tanya Holland dropped that she’d be announcing other new projects this year. Today, news of the first of those projects dropped: Holland will be opening a new “plant-forward” cafe called Town Fare at the Oakland Museum of California. Part of a major, $15 million renovation project that the museum is undertaking this year, Town Fare is expected to open in August.

The second-floor restaurant will mainly be open for breakfast and lunch, with occasional dinner service — during the museum’s recurring Friday Nights at OMCA event, for instance, and for other special events, Holland tells Eater SF. It also marks the first time since Holland shuttered her West Oakland barbecue spot, B-Side, in 2015, that the chef will be launching a brand new restaurant concept, completely separate from her flagship Brown Sugar Kitchen. Instead of the fried chicken, waffles, and other California-inflected soul food dishes that Holland is primarily known for, Town Fare will have a major health and sustainability focus. And toward that end, Holland says, the menu will be mostly plant-forward — and while there will be some sustainably sourced meat dishes as well, the focus will be on vegetables.

That said, Holland says she’s only in the very beginning stages of figuring out what she’ll actually put on the money. But to answer the first and last question on everyone’s mind: “There’s definitely not going to be any waffles,” she says, laughing. “Those machines are the bane of my existence.”

There will, however, be a lot of salads and greens. There might be a rice bowl of some kind. There might be pancakes or French toast. There might be just a couple of holdovers from the Brown Sugar Kitchen menu — Holland cited her yams and macaroni and cheese as likely candidates. As for the recent upswing in high-tech plant-based meat substitutes, Holland says she isn’t opposed: “As long as it’s delicious, I’ll give it a shot.”

Mainly, though, Holland says she just wants to get people more excited about eating vegetables and feels that it’ll be a way for her to make a difference in helping to fix the world’s broken food system. Plus, she adds, “As a black woman, as a woman of color, I’m going to be able reach communities that some other chefs won’t be able to.”

Holland notes that the other important part of her vision for the cafe is that she hopes it’ll truly represent the Town — the Oakland community as a whole. Toward that end, she plans to invite other local chefs to contribute menu items. (She named Juhu Beach Club’s Preeti Mistry, Cosecha’s Dominica Rice-Cisneros, and BanhMi-Ni’s Tu David Phu as possible collaborators.) The museum cafe is a large space too — with seating for at least 100, and probably quite a bit more once the renovation is complete. So Holland expects to host a lot of events. Customers will, for instance, be able to book the space for a wedding reception and have Town Fare do the catering.

Town Fare replaces the Oakland Museum’s current restaurant, the Blue Oak Cafe, which will be closed after this weekend as the museum kicks off construction. In the interim, the museum will host a pop-up on the first floor lobby level: Oakland-based Zella’s Soulful Kitchen, which be open for lunch Wednesday–Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Saturday–Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.