I see in the restaurant news everyday that Oakland is picking up new good restaurants. The culinary interest in Oakland is nothing new and is a steady trend now. Oakland may have a few things that work against becoming a destination but has the potential to develop many competitive advantages. Restaurants are not easy businesses to run and by nature require the ownership to deal with a minimum number of giant obstacles.
In the real life, the number of obstacles can be many more but even the best will find a few challenging ones for any restaurant planned and opened. The volume of business one can do daily has a great deal to do with the long term potential of the venue. A good chef with great skills and reputation can arrive in San Francisco to start one’s own and probably will end up with a 50 to 70 seat dining room. That can be a good start but the competition is fierce and the minimum costs are very high. This dining room will never grow and at best will only fill up as often as possible. On the other hand, if that chef can find a good piece of real estate in Oakland, the rent should be lower while the building layout can be much more flexible than small San Francisco spaces. A building that allows for one or multiple dining rooms can cost huge sums in rent if located in San Francisco. The same building lease can cost a fraction in Oakland and the operating costs will be much less everyday. If the space has enough room for a good number of people, the chef only has to fill the place up once or twice a week to full capacity to be ahead of itself compared to being in San Francisco.
Oakland does not have to transform the entire city to be a culinary destination. It only has to create an island of restaurants and similar venues that is accessible by outsiders but is protected also. Oakland may not be the best choice for walk-by and walk-in business but can be a drive-to destination overnight. A chef with a good reputation can make deals, in San Francisco, to direct occasional large business from San Francisco to Oakland and that is all it takes until Oakland is solid culinary spot. Oakland will keep its culinary momentum going and any well-established chef of San Francisco should look into a satellite restaurant in Oakland.
San Francisco has its course on the food map and calendar. This is an old and tired city for passionate new talent to plant and grow. San Francisco is a culinary destination by location and Oakland will not be a competition but rather a partner. The distance is short enough for Oakland to be a section of San Francisco culinary world and automatically earn world class status in getting good restaurant business. And San Francisco can do nothing to stop Oakland from rising.
Too many of the San Francisco restaurants that are weak or dying today can reappear in Oakland at a fraction of startup and operating costs. They need a little media help to keep going today but tourist and convention business can overflow to Oakland everyday if the chef has a large space and a good name worth a visit a few minutes away. Nobody would care the evening is spent in Oakland if they land in a land island.
One of the reasons Bay Area is such a destination for life and visit is the variety of places nearby that are worth a visit. Lake Tahoe, Reno, Sonoma, Napa, Monterey, and many more destination. Oakland may not be on the map for local visitors and only some of the local residents to visit but has what it needs to succeed. San Francisco and Oakland are one city by waterway, bridges and Bart. The whole thing needs a little rethinking and it is done. San Francisco is an old city that goes great for many things but has too many limitations. What keeps things as they are is the lack of alternatives. Oakland is too close and accessible to be ignored. One or more sections of Oakland should be designated for restaurant and similar businesses to be developed and also maintained against local problems. A destination spot will draw its business from the distance by nature and Oakland can handle hundreds of thousands of daily culinary visitors each day if a proper location is developed. The chefs will find it and both convention and tourist business will follow their names to wherever they are that is not too far away.