Amy’s Drive Thru — which offers an organic, vegetarian take on classic American fast food — may open a location in Oakland’s Temescal neighborhood.
Representatives from Amy’s, which also makes a popular line of frozen foods, had a virtual meeting with the Merchant Support and Outreach Committee of the Temescal Business Improvement District (BID) on March 11, in an effort to drum up support for a restaurant in the North Oakland neighborhood.
This is actually the second meeting with members of the Temescal BID; in January, Amy’s representatives met with its Design and Economic Committee.
The North Bay-based mini-chain is continuing to scout other locations in the Oakland-Berkeley area, while seeking support to build a two-story restaurant on the corner of 40th Street and Telegraph Avenue, said David Wolfgram, a strategic advisor to Amy’s, at last Thursday’s Zoom meeting.
“We’re intrigued by this site,” Wolfgram said, speaking of the property that has been vacant for over two years; its most recent tenant was Import Motors, an automotive service center.
The company was intrigued enough that after touring the site, it had an architect and designer draw up plans for what a restaurant on that corner would look like, which Wolfgram presented to those Temescal business owners and residents who attended the meeting.
Amy’s Drive Thru was started by Andy and Rachel Berliner, who first started Amy’s Kitchen in Sonoma County, selling frozen entrees that were organic and free of GMOs. That company, named after their daughter, is still in existence today, and in 2015, it opened its first drive-thru restaurant in Rohnert Park, near Santa Rosa. A second location at SFO opened in 2019, and a third in Corte Madera in 2020.
The company is dedicated to sustainability, not only by sourcing its ingredients from local farms, but in its packaging. All of its wrappers, utensils, cups and straws are fully compostable. Amy’s Drive Thru menu offers veggie burgers, fries, pizza, mac and cheese, salads and more, with many vegan and gluten-free options available.
Wolfgram said the company felt this site was a good fit for Amy’s based on the following criteria:
- A repurposing of the existing building
- Limited impact on its neighbors
- No interference with the new bike path on Telegraph Avenue
- Site must be a pedestrian-friendly part of the neighborhood
- While a drive-thru, it also must have enough seating to make it into a neighborhood gathering place, with outdoor space that can be used year-round
- The site must accommodate the stacking of cars so as not to allow waiting cars to spill out onto the street
- It should look inviting to those passing by
- Sales must be enough to make its return on invested capital
After the January meeting with the BID’s Design and Economic Committee, “people really loved the company and concept, but had real hesitations around the drive-thru,” said Shifra de Benedictis-Kessner, executive director of the Temescal BID. “A lot of residents who attended and committee members had concerns around the emissions from idling cars, and given the urban nature of Temescal, how a drive-thru doesn’t quite fit into our dense urban context.”
During last week’s meeting, Wolfgram explained that the site would have no impact on the residents on 41st Street. Drive-thru customers would enter and exit on 40th Street; customers picking up takeout or eating on-site would park in a small lot on the north side, and exit onto Telegraph Avenue. The noise that drive-thrus can cause would be buffered by a building with 22-foot high ceilings. The restaurant would also be bike-friendly, with a pick-up window on the first floor designated for bike pickups.
De Benedictis-Kessner said that ultimately, Amy’s needs approval for a variance to build anywhere in Oakland, and these preliminary meetings with the Temescal BID are to see whether they have the support of the neighborhood’s residents and merchants before doing so.
Some residents and business owners have attended both meetings thus far. At Thursday’s meeting, there was a mix of support for the kind of business Amy’s is, as well as some reservations about the impact on the neighborhood.
Kesete Yohannes, owner of Asmara Restaurant, wondered if Amy’s was considered fast food, and whether the neighborhood needed another fast-food restaurant. Don Macleay, owner of East Bay Computer Services, as well as a resident of the neighborhood, sounded positive about the project, as long as it would be safe for both pedestrians and cyclists.
“My kids grew up in this neighborhood,” said Macleay. “One of my biggest fears was always that they’d be hit by a car. People don’t drive well here.”
De Benedictis said many residents and business owners are weighing their concerns against the fact that the property has been vacant for several years now. She said there are still more meetings to come and couldn’t gauge how long the process would take. (A plan for an Amy’s Drive Thru in Walnut Creek was rejected by the city’s planning department in March 2020, two years after the company first proposed it, due to concerns that the drive-thru would create a traffic jam and present a safety hazard.)
In discussions with Amy’s representatives, de Benedictis said that while the company would like to open in Oakland, “it’s clear that they don’t want to go where they’re unwanted,” and “they want the support of the community. If they’re hearing lots of opposition, they’ll go elsewhere.”
This story was updated after publication to clarify details about the potential restaurant’s entrance and exit points and to make a correction — Amy’s will need to get approval for a variance to build a restaurant anywhere in Oakland.