Mama Oakland, the cozy, wine-centric Italian-American spot in Oakland’s Adams Point neighborhood, was one of the first Bay Area restaurants to announce, back in early May, that not only would it be transitioning to a takeout-only model, but also sticking with that model for the foreseeable future — regardless of whether the state or county decided to allow indoor dining.
Now, Hoodline reports, a little less than four months into the restaurant’s new identity as a takeout meatball sandwich shop, Mama co-owners Stevie Stacionis and Josiah Baldivino have decided to shut the whole operation down for the foreseeable future. The plan, Stacionis tells Eater SF, is to “hit pause” for now, but to eventually reopen Mama at some point down the road — most likely when indoor dining at close to full capacity is both safe and permissible.
“It’s not worth hustling so damn hard to maybe break even and, more probably, to lose a little bit of money,” Stacionis says.
The restaurant, which is currently still accepting pre-orders for takeout, will have its last day of business on Saturday, August 29.
In many ways, the restaurant’s decision to commit to a takeout-only model early on was prescient: Alameda County never did open for indoor dining, and even in the parts of the Bay Area where indoor seating was eventually allowed, the option to dine in proved to be short-lived. And Stacionis and Baldivino, who also own the Bay Grape wine shop down the street, rightly predicted how difficult it would be for restaurants with small dining rooms like theirs to safely seat customers with the pandemic still raging.
But according to Stacionis, the crux of the matter is that, simply put, takeout sales just haven’t been enough. Their mindset back in May was that they’d “just crush it on takeout.” And for a while, Stacionis says, they did, with with a concise menu of highly takeout-friendly items — mainly meatball and Italian combo subs — that customers seemed excited about.
Over time, though, sales just started to dwindle. Stacionis speculates that there were a variety of factors in play: Eventually, the novelty wore off and customers moved on to the next shiny new takeout option — or began choosing to frequent places that had outdoor dining, which Mama never offered. Beyond that, she says, “The economy is in the toilet right now. People are realizing, ‘Oh shit, we need to save more.’”
It wasn’t for lack of trying to tweak their offerings to give customers what they wanted either, Stacionis says, citing new options they’ve introduced like a pink wine slushie and meal kits that included everything you needed for an ideal SiP date night, down to the flowers, candles, and playlist. They all sold reasonably well. They all proved, in the end, to be nowhere close to enough.
And so Stacionis and Baldivino have decided to shut things down for the time being — a privilege they have because they have a landlord who has been willing to be flexible about rent, Stacionis says; otherwise, they’d have to consider closing for good. Ultimately, they decided to preserve their resources for a time when the restaurant will be better positioned to succeed. For Mama, that reopening most likely won’t feel feasible until indoor dining at somewhere close to full capacity is allowed — which, Stacionis acknowledges, isn’t likely to happen anytime soon. “We just can’t keep pushing this hard to make so little,” she says. “Costs are outweighing benefits right now.”
Stacionis says she’s also wanted to spend time to rethink the future of Mama in terms of being able to offer the kind of pay and benefits that would make working in the food industry a more sustainable endeavor than it is currently. “I don’t think we have the headspace to properly address that when we’re trying to crush sandwich sales,” Stacionis says.
In the meantime, Stacionis and Baldivino will focus their energies on their other business, Bay Grape, which remains open. In fact, the wine shop recently partnered with the Vault, in San Francisco, to offer in-person, socially distanced wine classes out on that restaurant’s vast outdoor patio. It’s an opportunity, Stacionis says, to offer the kind of hospitality and “communing together” that she and Baldivino love — and one that’s been profitable thus far.
“Why wouldn’t we invest more of our efforts in something that’s working than something that’s obviously not?” Stacionis says.
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Arrivederci. This backwards progression of the enjoyment of our beloved Italian Combo is to announce our farewell—for now. We will be open through next week, at which point we must face the painful reality that we have to close to salvage what we can in anticipation of a hopeful, eventual reopening when dining is safe and salient once again. Currently (and we must emphasize we are not alone here), take-out sales simply cannot cover our costs. We tried. Oh! How we tried. Our team, our ownership, our loyal guests have all worked so ardently to support various pivots, approaches and clever new offerings. It’s just... this pandemic, goddamn it all. We will go dark to rest, to save what we can, to recuperate our hearts and bodies. AND we will use this hiatus to seek out and support other businesses in the area still doing the damn thang. We look forward to highlighting them, lifting up their voices and being in community. Keep us in your feed for updates on our last two weeks, final offerings (frozen meatballs anyone?!) and then spotlights on other folks to support until we return. Oh, and ORDER FROM US THIS WEEK AND NEXT! ✌ #mamalovesyou