Alameda County is cracking down on a popular foodie craze that has been thriving just across the bay in San Francisco.
A health inspector shut down a pop-up restaurant in Oakland last week, calling such eateries illegal in the county. In San Francisco, pop-ups with a permit are perfectly fine.
The spirit behind pop-up restaurants is "Chefs with a restaurant helping other chefs without a restaurant." The Kebabery in Oakland is closed on Tuesdays, so last week, the owner decided to lend his space to a friend for a Korean pop-up restaurant. Less than an hour after it opened, a health inspector with Alameda County walked in.
"Her reaction immediately was her eyes widened, went and grabbed a seat and wrote her notice and told us that we needed to shut down," said Steve Joo, co-owner of Nokni.
The pop-up's chef, Julya Shin, said: "We had maybe like 15, 16 people who had ordered, and we had people coming in the door."
The foodies in line were turned away. Shin and Joo were stuck with a loss of $800 and pounds of leftover food.
"I did have to scale and gut 8 pounds of anchovies, so I really wanted to see them served!" Shin said.
The business partners met years ago when the two worked for acclaimed chef Alice Waters at her Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse. With their shared love for Korean cuisine, the two created Nokni. For the past two years, the chefs have hosted pop-up restaurant experiences throughout Oakland.
"They’re not to generate like a huge profit," Shin said. "It’s mostly to put ourselves out there."
The Alameda County Environmental Health Department argues only the Kebabery is permitted and licensed to run a food business out of the address. The chefs say they understand the reasoning behind the notice. They just hope what happened to them sparks a conversation over how to regulate pop-up restaurants in Alameda County.
"You have to acknowledge that they exist and maybe not drive them deeper under the radar," Shin said.
For now, Shin and Joo said they are regrouping and trying to figure out what their next step is. They said they are ultimately trying to save up for a brick-and-mortar location.