Mamacitas Café hires, trains and mentors young women of color in food service, management and leadership skills. Photo: Mamacitas Café
Mamacitas Café hires, trains and mentors young women of color in food service, management and leadership skills. Photo: Mamacitas Café

The last time Nosh checked in with Mamacitas Café, in the fall of 2015, it had just moved into a brick-and-mortar space on Franklin Street at the Qulture Collective. An Oakland-based organization that works with young women of color — especially those in transition from the juvenile justice or child welfare system — Mamacitas Café hires, trains and mentors women ages 18-24 in food service, management and leadership skills.

“We prioritize employment and leadership opportunities for young women in Oakland who are having the hardest time finding and maintaining jobs,” said co-founder Shana Lancaster. Many of Mamacitas staffers are referred from local organizations, such as Beyond Emancipation, which works with youth coming out of the child welfare system, and MISSSEY, which helps victims of sexual exploitation.

For about a year, Mamacitas Café ran out of the downtown Oakland retail space, where six part-time employees made and sold their signature “donut kebabs,” breakfast porridge and coffee, but a lot changed for the group within that year.

In 2015, co-founders Lancaster and Renee Geesler brought on another full-time member into its sisterhood. Simone Obidah, a Berkeley-native who has worked in the kitchens of several Bay Area restaurants, met Lancaster while they both worked at Miss Ollie’s in Old Oakland.

I was a waitress, Simone a line cook, and we formed a really tight bond,” said Lancaster. “When we were getting ready to open the café, we hired her as a café manager and since, have promoted her and integrated her into the leadership team as a founding member.”

Mamacitas Café left Qulture Collective in September 2016. The countertop café inside Qulture Collective, a shared space for queer community members and their allies, was a good start, but not the right fit for a permanent location. In the former space, the Mamacitas only could make their doughnuts once a week, on Fridays. And because they didn’t have a commercial kitchen, they couldn’t serve an expanded menu they hoped to offer.

Since leaving Franklin Street, Mamacitas Café has become primarily a catering business during its search for a new retail space. It currently rents a professional kitchen and has worked a variety of catering gigs (they served more than 3,000 doughnuts at last year’s Super Bowl at Levi’s Stadium). But the Mamacitas believe its full potential could only be achieved as a retail business, in a bigger full-service space.

A new retail space will allow them to expand how and what they offer the young women they work with, introducing them to a variety of skills and roles in the food industry — and possibly, beyond. In the café, employees will not only learn general food preparation, but customer service. At catering gigs, they’ll learn to adjust to working in changing environments, interacting with bespoke clients and understand the importance of time management. Eventually, employees will work in management roles, gaining confidence and leadership skills for jobs that they can take beyond food preparation.

Donut kebabs are a Mamacitas Café specialty. Photo: Mamacitas Café

The Mamacitas have found what they’re looking for within a 3,000+ square foot space, replete with a commercial kitchen, and within a building with 400 office workers, who they hope will be built-in customers. The new location (the address cannot be divulged until a lease is signed) will allow them to hire full-time workers and do more catering gigs. It also provides a place for the Mamacitas to hold workshops and house their offices. Obidah told us, they’ll also be able to offer a bigger menu, serving breakfast, lunch and snacks.

Here’s the catch – Mamacitas Café needs $60,000 to move into this new location and start the next phase of the business.

On May 4, Mamacitas Café started a Kickstarter campaign with the hopes of raising the needed funds within a 45-day period.

“To really roll out this next phase of our business we actually need a lot more than $60k so we are concurrently working on loan applications and laying the groundwork for investors to hopefully come on board,” said Lancaster. “However, we went the Kickstarter route because these other financial strategies take time to manifest and we need a cash infusion in the very short-term to sign our lease and move in. “We also decided to crowdfund because we believe in our community’s desire to keep Oakland, Oakland. In this current climate of rapid displacement and skyrocketing rent, Oakland is at grave risk of losing its diversity and soul. Mamacitas Café grew organically from the community from folks who intimately understand not only what is at stake, but are hell-bent on preserving what we can.”

As of Wednesday, May 24, it had raised $12,268. They have until 8:37 a.m. on Sunday, June 18, to reach its all-or-nothing goal.

When we asked the two Mamacitas founders what will happen if they don’t reach their financial goal with the campaign, neither women we spoke with seemed fazed.

“If we don’t get the space, we’ll get a food truck,” Obidah said. “There are a lot of other ways to go.”

Lancaster believes that they can reach their crowdfunding goal. “We are confident that folks will invest what they can to see this vision keep on!”

The Mamacitas Café Kickstarter campaign has 23 days to go. Find more information and donate here.

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Sarah Han was the editor of Nosh from 2017 to 2021. Previously, she worked as an editor at The Bold Italic, the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco Bay Guardian. In 2020, Sarah won SPJ NorCal's...