Collard Leaf Burrito. Photo: CORE Foods
CORE Foods has launched a Kickstarter campaign to bring CORE Kitchen, a 100% produce-based lunch restaurant, which features dishes like this collard leaf burrito, to Oakland’s City Center. Photo: CORE Foods
CORE Foods has launched a Kickstarter campaign to bring CORE Kitchen, a 100% produce-based lunch restaurant, which features dishes like this collard leaf burrito, to Oakland’s City Center. Photo: CORE Foods

If all goes according to plan – meaning, the Kickstarter gods come through – a new lunch option will be opening its doors in Oakland’s City Center complex above the 12th Street BART station come August. It will be a new way of eating, neither Paleo nor raw nor vegan, but with traits of all three. All entrées will be made with 100% organic fresh produce, with no oils, sweeteners, additives or powders of any kind. In short, its website boasts: “This is the most nourishing food ever created!”

Called the CORE Kitchen, the restaurant will be an extension of the CORE brand of foods, which now consists of bars that are sold in the refrigerated section of Whole Foods and other independent markets. The bars, called “CORE Meals,” are gluten-free and are considered “clean,” as they contain none of the additives or sweeteners found in most health bars.

“We’re a mission driven business, and the CORE meals we make are a great alternative, but we wanted to go even deeper with our customers by providing a more compelling solution,” said Kai Itämeri, CORE’s chief business development officer. “The dream is to create a kitchen as a way to deliver even fresher, healthier food and have a more intimate, deep connection with our customers.”

Before starting the company, founder Corey Rennell traveled the globe, looking to see how tribes around the world nourished themselves. And what he found may surprise those who subscribe to the Paleo diet: many tribes subsisted mostly on fresh fruits and vegetables.

He also noticed that most tribes followed a core principle in how they lived: treat others the way you’d like to be treated.

At the time, Rennell was a team member at a Whole Foods in San Francisco. Once his business idea gelled, he applied for, and received, a low-interest loan as part of Whole Foods Market’s Local Producer Loan Program to help grow his company.

That was in 2010, and the company has grown exponentially since then.

Zucchini Pasta. Photo: CORE Foods
Zucchini Pasta. Photo: CORE Foods

The company’s current headquarters are in West Oakland, and the bars are made in a commercial kitchen space in East Oakland. Once the City Center restaurant opens, offices will move into that space. The bar operation will stay put.

“We’re committed to the city in a big way,” said Itämeri. “Our production is here, and we’re looking forward to hiring Oakland residents who may have had job challenges from the St. Vincent De Paul’s [Kitchen of Champions Culinary Training] program. We’re excited to be part of this up-and-coming community and to give back while building our flagship in the middle of town.”

So what will one find at this new restaurant? While CORE bars are full of things like raw almonds and raisins, the food at the restaurant will be much more colorful.

“The simplest way to define it is only produce, mostly whole fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Itämeri. “Nuts and grains both fall under that category as we’re taking a plant and using all the edible parts of the plant. We’re not processing, refining or extracting any pieces, so that’s the most important thing for us.”

Noting that vegan food often has all kinds of highly processed ingredients in it, Itämeri said, “The temptation is often to dry and “powderize” a lot of ingredients like fruit, but who knows what kind of nutritional value you’re losing. The healthiest option is eating whole fresh food, as fresh as we can get it to you, and produce only.”

This means that coconut milk will come from fresh coconuts rather than from a can, and vinegars will be made in-house.

“Food that sits on the shelf for a year is a new invention,” said Itämeri. “All the things you have to do to it, to not let it perish, always have a detrimental effect on nutrition.”

Stuffed Bell Peppers. Photo: CORE Foods
Stuffed Bell Peppers. Photo: CORE Foods

Itämeri described entrées as having recognizable flavor profiles, like Mexican, Thai and Italian combinations. For example, a Mexican dish may have jicama, black beans, corn and cilantro. Each dish will be available in a “container” of choice; it may be wrapped in a collard green leaf, stuffed into a bell pepper, or served on top of massaged kale. In addition, there will be recommended sauce pairings, like an avocado cilantro lime vinaigrette, or Thai lime coconut dressing. Entrees are expected to be between $6 and $10. Much of the organic ingredients will come from local farms.

Eventually, CORE Kitchen plans to offer breakfast as well as to-go items. It also plans to offer its top sellers at several Whole Foods Markets, and then to expand to other cities.

CORE Foods is a B Corporation, which means it’s a socially conscious business with a strong mission.

“The community of B Corporations are most aligned out there with our values, so it’s not only a great network of like-minded businesses we can grow with and learn from, but it’s a great way to demonstrate what we’re doing,” said Itämeri.

People who try their food – which, unfortunately, was not available for tasting to this reporter – are surprised at how filling it is, said Itämeri, yet it doesn’t weigh you down.

“We definitely don’t want people to feel that, ‘This is the place I go to eat healthy but it’s not so great,’” he said. “We hope people will think, ‘This is where I come when I want to feel great about what I’m eating and without sacrificing anything.’”

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Alix Wall is an Oakland-based freelance writer. She is contributing editor of J., The Jewish News of Northern California, for which she has a food column and writes other features. In addition to Berkeleyside’s...