Malibu’s, the Oakland temple to sumptuous vegan burgers and milkshakes, will close its Piedmont Avenue location on Wednesday, December 27. Owner Darren Preston says the cost to operate such a large space is too high, and he says he hasn’t been fully utilizing the space like a more formal restaurant might. That said, Malibu’s isn’t gone for good: The entrepreneur known for big flavor and innovative plant-based food is in talks to move to a new location and is currently sorting out where in Oakland — or elsewhere in the Bay — Malibu’s will head next. “The space was always a little too big for us,” Preston says, “and the market is changing. We need to be somewhere that can sustain more foot traffic. But we want to make sure it’s a smooth transition from one place to the next.”
He says that moreover he never felt too welcome on Piedmont Avenue, though he found kinship with the Timeless Coffee team up the street. While he says it was a badge of honor to be a Black-owned business in the upscale area, it wasn’t quite enough to justify the sometimes $10,000 or $11,000 he would spend each month between rent and bills to keep the doors open. “I had neighbors for years who never said hi to me,” Preston says. “I tried to be friendly. But I’m going to take the opportunity to build a new community.”
The business has seen its fair share of ups and downs over its almost three-year tenure. In March 2022 Preston filed for bankruptcy when it became clear the loan the entrepreneur had taken for his business was itself bunk; Preston ended up working with the Small Business Majority and provided testimony for a Senate hearing about predatory lending as it impacts Black Americans. Still, Preston just welcomed his second child into the world in late November and is ready to move toward something more stable and less harrowing than pinching pennies every day.
Nimble business mechanics run in Preston’s blood. His mom, chef Lourdes “Lulu” Marquez-Nau, hit the Bay Area with her then-catering business Casa Borinqueña in 2020, bringing Puerto Rican vegan food to the Bay Area. She opened her 750-square-foot permanent location at 6211 Shattuck Avenue in Oakland in 2022, but after investing $100,000 in fixing up her new space she closed that location in August 2023. Thankfully for fans of the family’s approach to plant-based food, Marquez-Nau is slated to open in IKEA’s new San Francisco food hall on Market Street.
Malibu’s is far from over, too, as Preston says he knows this isn’t the end. The last year was challenging, feeling not terribly comfortable in his neighborhood anymore. The response that he should be thankful for how fortunate he is for his popularity and location smacks to him of the backlash that LeBron James received for his activism in the NBA. “I fell a bit out of love at this location,” Preston says, “but this is my life. People would say ‘But you’re on Piedmont Avenue.’ I’m grateful, but I’m over it.”