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Miss Ollie’s Is Launching a New Pop-Up That Celebrates the African Diaspora

The popular Oakland restaurant didn’t wind up closing after all

A plate of jerk Dungeness still in the shell, with lime wedges for garnish Miss Ollie’s/Instagram

For nearly a decade, Miss Ollie’s has been Oakland’s go-to spot for comforting Afro-Caribbean flavors — for curry goat, pholourie, and herb-infused skillet-fried chicken. This weekend, however, the restaurant is launching a pop-up series that includes several new sets of flavors: jerk Dungeness crab, yes, but also North African tagines and barbecue pulled pork from the American South.

“We’re basically paying homage to the diaspora — taking different flavors and giving them our punch,” chef-owner Sarah Kirnon says.

The pop-up kicks off on Sunday, February 7, and will run Sunday through Tuesday (the days when Miss Ollie’s is normally closed), 3–7 p.m., for the rest of February, in part as a way to celebrate Black History Month.

The series will be called “Sanctuary Presents: A Kindred Pop-Up at Miss Ollie’s” — a name that points to the bigger project that Kirnon announced late last year. As Eater previously reported, Kirnon’s initial plan was to close the popular Swan’s Market restaurant by the end of 2020, transforming the business into a nonprofit called Sanctuary that would focus on providing a platform for Black creators — local and visiting guest chefs, as well as artists and musicians. Instead of a traditional restaurant, Kirnon envisioned a sprawling outdoor event — some hybrid mix of a farmers market, the Carnival celebrations in the Caribbean, and Off the Grid.

That’s still happening, Kirnon says, noting that she and her team have already secured an outdoor location on Mandela Parkway in West Oakland, But the Bay Area has only just come out of lockdown, and looking ahead, Kirnon says she’s cognizant that COVID-19 is going to be around for the better part of the year — and that there still isn’t a clear sense of when people will be comfortable with the kind of outdoor gathering she’s planning.

“Having this outdoor pop-up is a commitment to building out,” Kirnon says. “We have to make sure that once we open, we’re not closing every other week.”

A selfie of chef Christian Washington smiling in a gray sweater
Chef Christian Washington will run the food program for Sanctuary
Christian Washington

The spring or summer months are looking like a more likely target for Sanctuary’s outdoor debut, Kirnon says. In the meantime, she felt like a pop-up series at Miss Ollie’s would be a good way to introduce people to the concept and to her collaborator, Christian Washington, the former Chez Panisse cook who will be running Sanctuary’s food program — “a passing of the baton,” as Kirnon puts it.

Together, the two chefs have developed a menu for the pop-up that Washington describes as “super fun” and “super accessible” in the way it pays homage to the African diaspora. So, the dish that Washington is most excited about is a pulled pork sandwich with homemade barbecue sauce — a dish drawing on their Southern roots that, prior to this, they’d mostly only made for friends at home. They’ll also be making fried catfish and a vegan North African tagine that’s lush with squash, sweet peppers, Romanesco, and turnips.

Kirnon, for her part, will be serving grilled jerk Dungeness crab — fat, sweet specimens, she says — with a side of bammy, the dense Jamaican cassava bread, to sop up all the juices. There will be jarred rum and bourbon cocktails, as well as a few fun extras — Black History Month–themed cookies from a local company called Cultured Cookies, for instance.

The pop-up at Swan’s Market also underscores quite a big piece of news for fans of Kirnon’s cooking: that Miss Ollie’s hasn’t closed after all — and in fact, Kirnon now says she’s hoping she’ll be able to keep the restaurant open for the long haul, despite the financial circumstances which made that prospect seem untenable late last year.

According to Kirnon, what has helped is that the landlord at Swan’s Market, the nonprofit East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation (EBALDC), has been quite vocal about wanting to do whatever it takes to hold onto the restaurant as one of its anchor tenants. As a result, Kirnon says, “the preservation of Miss Ollie’s staying on that corner is one of the topics on the table.”

For now, the restaurant is taking it on a month to month basis, but Kirnon says she’s in talks with EBALDC about a more long-term arrangement — especially as she goes through the application process to turn the business into a 501c nonprofit.

“If there’s a way for it to be financially beneficial for both of us, we’re going to make it happen,” Kirnon says.

The Sanctuary pop-up will run 3–7 p.m. every Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday during the month of February. Pre-ordering is available online.

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