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In Oakland, gentrification comes at a cost



Okay, kids, more Oakland stuff today! You know how much I love my town because I often write about it. The grittiness, the craziness, the electric buzz, the hipster vibe, the artists and musicians, the diversity (we’re #4 in America, baby!) and now, we’re turning into the restaurant capital of the Bay Area!

Well, maybe not quite, but there’s plenty of buzz about Oakland restos, as well there should be. But there is a problem directly associated with all the cool new launches, and it’s this: We’re losing the old standbys.

The latest to close its doors—apparently—is Kwik Way,


Kwik Way


which might have been the model for the Simpsons’ Kwik-E-Mart, except that ours is even better because it has a drive-in. I’m not gonna say Kwik Way is my go-to restaurant—if I have one, it’s Boot & Shoe Service, just around the corner from Kwik Way—but I will say that when I’m in a mood for the fundamentals: turkey meatloaf sandwich with homemade ketchup, onion rings and an agua fresca, Kwik Way is where I go.

The neighborhood is called the Grand Lake District, after the old movie theatre and, also, of course, wonderful Lake Merritt. It hasn’t been gentrifying quite as fast as Uptown, Piedmont Avenue, College Avenue or the Temescal (which may be the fastest-gentrifying ‘hood in town). But Grand Lake also is changing. In addition to Boot & Shoe (which is from the same team that owns the amazing Pizzaiolo), we have older standbys like Camino, and newer joints like Penrose, which my favo restaurant critic, Michael Bauer, gave a good review to, and which also happens to be owned by the Boot & Shoe team (that Charlie Hallowell is taking the town over. Factoid: He’s a Chez Panisse alum).

I like many things about gentrification, a word that gets a bad rap, perhaps deservedly so, as it results in the loss of places like Kwik Way and also, more troublingly, forces good people out of their homes as rents rise. I do understand that. But cities change constantly: my birthplace, the Grand Concourse area of the Bronx, used to be an upscale place where rich white people built “country places” to get out of Manhattan. Over the next hundred years, it turned solidly Jewish, then Puerto Rican. Now, the Bronx itself is getting so gentrified that people are being forced out, as they are in Oakland.

I don’t know what the answer is. There is no good answer. It’s a shame to lose Kwik Way, if indeed we do. Fentons Creamery, over on Piedmont, a 119-year old ice cream and retro food place, almost shut down a while back, but the neighborhood was so upset, they raised $800,000 to keep it open, and Fentons is doing just fine now.

There’s got to be a way for neighborhoods to grow and evolve, in a way that doesn’t negatively impact too many people. That’s the job of enlightened politicians and policies, but that may be asking too much.

  1. I was working at 14th and Broadway Tuesday. As usual, on my way out of town I drove down MLK Blvd to check out the latest street art, sometimes taking a side street to loop around and take a photo.
    Parts of Oakland are coming up but it will be a while before anyone (besides Skinner)is brave enough to invest in West Oakland.

    I’ll be working on Mountain Blvd. today. A place few outside of Oakland know exists with its cafe’s, boutiques, and over-abundance of soccer moms.
    I don’t live in Oakland. I don’t pretend to know it as intimately as you. But despite it’s inferiority complex regarding The City it is a vibrant, stimulating, and yes, gritty place to visit

  2. doug wilder says:

    Growing up in Alameda. I seem to recall the original Kwik Way was out on E. 14th. I used to eat there as a kid. Others that I miss in Oakland are Emil Villa’s Hickory Pit (Telegraph) and Biff’s. (Broadway) I know I am missing a couple – Ah, Edy’s near the lake was the fancy birthday lunch place.

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