Oakland Restaurants Forced to Close Due to COVID, Crime and High Rent

NBC Universal, Inc.

Oakland's food scene is getting hit once again.

Two popular restaurants that drew foodies to the city's Uptown neighborhood announced they're closing down for good.

The owners of Brown Sugar Kitchen and Luka's Taproom told NBC Bay Area a cascade of issues is forcing them to shut down, including COVID-19, crime and the price of rent.

"You can just feel the emotion every day going into work, said Kimberly Davidson, manager at Luka's Taproom. "The customers are emotional, the staff is emotional."

This month is the beginning of the end for the dining hotspot that helped revitalize the Uptown neighborhood 17 years ago.

When the pandemic hit, Luka's Taproom pivoted quickly and survived off takeout.

"It's our regulars," Davidson said. "They're the main ones that continuously came in during the pandemic, being the most supportive people I've ever met."

After struggling with two years of COVID, a popular Oakland restaurant is throwing in the towel. NBC Bay Area’s Raj Mathai spoke to Chef Tanya Holland, owner of Brown Sugar Kitchen, about this hard decision.

However, as the pandemic dragged on and office workers continued to work remotely, foot traffic has not bounced back.

Luka's Taproom owner Rick Mitchell said the final blow came when the building's new owner wanted to hike the rent.

"We've been running losses for 20 months, and if we had to pay another $150,000 a year in rent, that's an extra $150K in losses," he explained. "It wasn't realistic for us."

Davidson added that the area is going to "be a dead street now. I wouldn't be surprised if other businesses start shutting down slowly but surely."

Just a block away, Chef Tanya Holland's soul food restaurant, Brown Sugar Kitchen, served its last meal.

Holland filed for bankruptcy last year in an attempt to get the restaurant's finances in order, but it wasn't enough, and now the culinary star is focusing her attention on her cafe concept at the Oakland Museum of California.

"I'm leaving kicking and screaming, but at the same time there's so much resistance I can't fight it anymore," the chef explained.

Back at Luka's Taproom, Mitchell is trying to find alternate jobs for his 45 staff members. He warns if nothing is done to help these restaurants stay rooted in Oakland, those restaurants' days are numbered, too.

"Other friends have told me they have two weeks left or two months left," he said. "There is a tidal wave coming."

Contact Us