San Francisco Chronicle - (Sunday)
Chefs withdraw from food hall
When news of the Oakland Assembly food hall broke in 2019, it was announced with a lineup of buzzy Bay Area chefs and a prediction that the development would transform Jack London Square into a vibrant dining destination.
A Port of Oakland news release at the time listed Matt Horn of Horn Barbecue, Reem Assil of Reem’s, Preeti Mistry of Juhu Beach Club, Abram Plaut and Tomoharu Shono of Mensho Tokyo, Satoshi and Sachi Kamimae of Oakland okonomiyaki popup Okkon, and Anthony Kresge of Shadowbrook in Santa Cruz among the “celebrity chefs” who “have already signed on to the project.”
But the pandemic has thrown a wrench into the future of the splashy, muchanticipated development. All but one of the previously announced chefs confirmed they are not opening at Oakland Assembly or are considering pulling out due to uncertainty about the food hall’s future. “When I think about Grand Central Market in Los Angeles or Chelsea Market in New York or Ponce City Market in Atlanta — all of those businesses depend on being packed with people eating and drinking to survive,” said Mistry, who is on the fence about whether they will open two planned street food concepts at Oakland Assembly.
John McEnery IV of real estate company Kinzie Bridge Holdings, the group that operates Oakland Assembly, said the group has been in a holding pattern since the coronavirus lockdown last spring. Construction has yet to start on the 35,000squarefoot project, pushing a promised summer 2021 opening back at least six months.
“We all decided to step back and wait and see what happened, and of course here we are, still waiting,” he said.
Meanwhile, most of the bigname chefs attached to the project have decided to move on. A publicrelations representative for Horn confirmed he’s no longer involved with the food hall. He’s still opening KowBird, the hotly anticipated fried chicken concept that was slated to be the anchor tenant for Oakland Assembly, though Horn’s representative didn’t say where or when. The Kamimaes cited the pandemic as the reason behind their decision for pulling out of the food hall.
The same was true for Kresge, who was eagerly developing a concept and working on kitchen design for the food hall, making the trip from Santa Cruz to Oakland several days a week, before the pandemic derailed his plans. He’s since moved on to open a togo friendly sandwich shop in Capitola (Santa Cruz County) instead.
“I was so amped to work in Oakland but things happen,” Kresge said. “Hopefully, someday it will come to fruition and I’ll be able to visit as a colleague and a diner.”
Plaut, meanwhile, said he was surprised to see Mensho listed as a headliner in 2019 since they hadn’t formally committed to the project. Plaut and Shono met the developers at the site once, after which they received a draft of a contract. The duo asked for revisions but talks fizzled once the pandemic hit, Plaut said, and he hadn’t thought about it since, until a Chronicle reporter asked him for comment for this story.
“I can’t recall us ever being serious about that project,” Plaut said.
McEnery said the Mensho coowners had a letter of intent for Oakland Assembly; Plaut said he didn’t recall whether they signed one. The chefs’ announcement, McEnery said, was a “general comment about interest level. Letters of intent are not enforced contracts but they’re basically an informal promise to move forward with negotiation terms and design.”
Assil, for her part, has not yet made a decision on her future Oakland Assembly kiosk.
“We are leaving everything open,” she said. “Reem’s has switched its focus to hone in on the things that we have right now, and in a postpandemic world, we will reassess what makes sense.”
Now, it’s unclear who will open at Oakland Assembly. McEnery declined to share a current list of confirmed vendors but said the food hall still has a “critical mass that’s going to make this an exciting place.” He acknowledged the delays might mean losing more chefs who have already been grappling with months of disruption to the industry.
“If we take another year, I’m sure these people are going to find other opportunities,” he said. “If a restaurant comes back and they get financially healthy, some of them that were on the fence might decide to reenlist.”
McEnery said CIM Group, which in 2016 bought the Oakland waterfront property that the food hall is a part of in a $131 million deal, has been understanding about the delays and remains “very positive and excited” about the project.
One of the chefs slated to open at the food hall, however, is more worried about the success of the food hall model in the wake of COVID19. Mistry, who signed a letter of intent for Oakland Assembly “in good faith” before the pandemic, planned to open Juhu Chinese Menu and Juhu Snacks and Sweets there. But Mistry said they haven’t heard from Kinzie Bridge Holdings since last spring, when the lockdown halted lease negotiations that depended on serving hundreds of customers every day.
It’s hard for Mistry to imagine doing the same volume of customers now, even as the economy recovers and vaccines become more widely available.
“There are so many unknowns. Who knows whether, come this fall, it’s awesome and life is normal again, or it’s the exact opposite and we’re all in lockdown again,” Mistry said.
Mistry said they hope the market operator will adjust leases in light of the impact of the pandemic. McEnery said the company wants to be flexible with tenants and are open to both short and longterm leases.
Mistry also moved to Sonoma County last year and is unsure when or if they’ll return to Oakland, where they previously ran Juhu Beach Club. Operating a food business from more than an hour away isn’t feasible, Mistry said.
Developers have wanted to turn Jack London Square into a Ferry Buildinglike food destination for well over a decade, since a $55 million food hall that was supposed to open in 2009 but never did. Prominent tenants have also come and gone over the years: In 2019, Tartine’s Coffee Manufactory, an anchor tenant, quietly left its roasting facility at the waterfront property. Assil parted ways with Dyafa at Jack London Square the same year. Several highprofile restaurants, however, remain, including Belcampo Meat Co. and Farmhouse Kitchen Thai Cuisine.
McEnery’s firm also runs San Pedro Square Market in San Jose and Abbott Square Market in Santa Cruz, both of which temporarily shut down in 2020. The markets have since reopened, but several San Pedro Square vendors remain temporarily closed, and indoor dining is still shuttered.
Despite the roadblocks, McEnery remains optimistic about the revival of the food hall. “We’ve been hunkered down now for so long I think there’s going to be a huge springback once everyone’s comfortable and we have control of COVID,” he said. “I think they’re going to thrive again.”
When he was appointed to the California Supreme Court in November, Martin Jenkins became the court’s first openly gay justice, and its fifth African American. And maybe also the justice who was the most surprised to be there.
Jenkins, then 65, had spent 30 years on the federal and state benches when he left a California appellate court in January 2019 to become Gov. Gavin Newsom’s first judicial appointments secretary. That was the end of his judicial career, he thought. When a seat opened on the high court last year with the retirement of Justice Ming Chin, he spent weeks reviewing potential candidates for the governor, only to be told, to his astonishment, that he was the choice.
“I asked him for several days to think about it,” Jenkins said, but after some reflection and discussions with friends, he decided to accept. He hasn’t regretted it.
“I’ve probably had more appointments to the bench than anyone has a right to have,” Jenkins said in an interview. “I don’t think I’ve had a job that reflects the kind of intellectual challenge” that this one does. “This state sees perhaps more cuttingedge issues than any other state.”
It is also a time of social and political division and racial turmoil, leading to mistrust in the justice system, particularly among outsiders. That is something Jenkins can relate to.
“Having been a Black man all my life has helped me develop a kind of empathy, perhaps being more skeptical at times, not hardened,” he said. “Learning to filter for some of those slights that have occurred from time to time informs the way I look at law and the people it serves . ... It’s what minorities end up having to do in this country.
“Being a gay man, that has been my own personal struggle,” Jenkins said. “In some ways perhaps I made it more difficult, given my reticence to accept who I was.”
Jenkins did not come out publicly as gay until 10 years ago.
“It has been the most difficult challenge of my life, because of my faith, in part,” said the lifelong Catholic, who attended St. Michael’s Catholic School in his native San Francisco, graduated from the Jesuitaffiliated Santa Clara University and received an award in 1998 from the St. Thomas More Society of San Francisco, an organization of Catholic lawyers.
“I was a kid of the ’60s, and homosexuality just wasn’t a good thing to be,” he said. But today, “I am a Black gay man, all day, every day . ... In the way I walk in the world, the way I judge, I bring those to bear.”
His message to the outsiders, the poor and the powerless who appear before the court? Not that he’s still with them on the outside, but that he’s been there and hears what they’re saying.
“People discern fairness on whether or not their voice was heard in what the court said,” Jenkins said. “If that happens, then people feel respected.”
Jenkins grew up in the lowincome Ingleside neighborhood and went to school while his father worked as a janitor at Coit Tower. He played both football and tennis at Santa Clara and recalled a Chronicle reporter taking him and another Black tennis player to watch the legendary Arthur Ashe play in a local match. Meeting with the youths afterward, Ashe described his recent trip to apartheid South Africa and encounters with protesters of both races.
“He told us that as an athlete, you have a platform to speak about the issues of the day,” but there may be consequences, Jenkins said.
He cited Muhammad Ali, who was stripped of his heavyweight boxing title and hit with a felony conviction, later overturned, for refusing to be drafted for the Vietnam War, and 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose career was effectively shut down after he sat, and later knelt, during the national anthem at preseason games in 2016.
“I think these athletes have a First Amendment right to speak out,” Jenkins said. “Mr. Kaepernick is not the first, and he won’t be the last . ... If you can own what it is you say, while the consequences may be unfair, you can own that too.”
Jenkins himself was briefly a pro football player, appearing in a couple of preseason games as a cornerback with the Seattle Seahawks in 1977 before realizing he was better suited to tackling the law. After graduating from the University of San Francisco Law School, he worked as an Alameda County prosecutor, a U.S. Justice Department civil rights lawyer and a Pacific Bell trial attorney before his appointment to the Oakland Municipal Court by Gov. George Deukmejian in 1989.
A registered Democrat, Jenkins won judicial appointments from Republican governors, including Deukmejian; Pete Wilson, who appointed him to the Alameda County Superior Court in 1992; and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who named him to the state’s First District Court of Appeal in 2008. In between, Democratic
President Bill Clinton appointed Jenkins in 1997 to the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, a position he resigned to return to the state courts.
His judicial record has been largely moderate. One of his rulings, in December 2016, upheld a state law that eliminated public employees’ ability to buy additional pension credits before retiring, a decision the state Supreme Court unanimously upheld in 2019.
As a federal judge, Jenkins authorized a classaction suit by as many as 1.5 million women claiming pay discrimination by Walmart. The U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the suit in 2011, saying the women did not have enough in common for a joint lawsuit.
The court he has joined has a 52 majority of Democratic appointees, but decides a majority of its cases unanimously, apparently reflecting the ability of Chief Justice Tani CantilSakauye and her colleagues to reach compromise or consensus on most issues — Jenkins said he hasn’t been there long enough to know.
One 70 ruling last month, probably the most prominent since his arrival, required California judges to consider a defendant’s ability to pay when setting bail. Jenkins declined to comment on the case, saying there may be followup cases, but observed that on the issue of pretrial bail, “the final chapter hasn’t been written.”
How long will the now 67yearold justice remain on the court, assuming the state’s voters award him a new 12year term in November 2022?
“As long as I feel I can add value to this court and to the law of California,” he said.