The Golden Bull reopens; Guy Fieri delivers hefty grant to Oakland taqueria

Also: June’s Pizza exits the slice game and The Bussdown launches a fine-dining supper series.

On June 15, patrons will enter The Golden Bull for the first time since early 2020. Credit: The Golden Bull/Instagram

After a dark and silent year, The Golden Bull reopens on June 15

When they bought longstanding Oakland dive The Golden Bull in 2019, Jason Beebout, Mark Lynn and Bill Schneider said they knew there would be challenges. The live music venue had fallen into hard times with its previous management, but under the ownership of the three music and nightlife veterans — and with the cachet of its fourth (and silent) owner, Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong — ”things were starting to go really well,” Beebout told Nosh.

Then (say it with me) the pandemic hit. It was a one-two punch for the first-time bar owners, all of whom are also musicians. With live performance on hold and bars closed by state and local health orders, Schneider said that the trio “had some honest conversations” about the viability of the business, which was basically structured to accommodate a shoulder-to-shoulder and standing crowd. As COVID-19 restrictions required distancing measures like widely spaced seating, even if The Golden Bull had been able to welcome people inside, it wasn’t built to keep patrons safe.

But then “Bill’s wife found a deal on seating,” Lynn said. “I don’t believe in signs, but it was a sign.” The bar marched on, opening briefly for outdoor service with nearby Hoza Pizzeria as a food partner. No DJs or live music were allowed at the time, Lynn said, “but we had tables in the street, and pizza and beer.” The revenue generated by a few seated patrons on 14th Street wasn’t enough to break even, “but it kept us relevant,” Schneider said. 

When outdoor service was shut down as the Bay Area faced its second wave of infections, the group pivoted again to livestreamed outdoor concerts under the shadow of the Bay Bridge. Again, the effort didn’t make much money, but was a success in that “it let people know we’re still alive,” Lynn said. This, even as much-publicized relief efforts like the Save Our Stages grant program have failed to send any cash their way. “Out of 14,000 applicants, only 90 grants have been handed out,” Beebout says, crediting local groups like the East Bay Venue Coalition for lobbying for businesses like theirs. 

And before you ask, having Armstrong as a silent partner did not shield The Golden Bull from the struggles of the past year. “He helped us to get this place,” Lynn said, “but it’s not like we have a sugar daddy.” Armstrong “doesn’t have a larger financial stake” in the business than the other partners, Schneider said, so while having him aboard “is nice,” it didn’t put The Golden Bull in a more comfortable position than other East Bay venues.

But now, its owners say, The Golden Bull is ready to come back. It will open on Tuesday, June 15, with indoor and outdoor service available from 4 p.m. to midnight. For now, don’t expect any bands, Beebout says, “just maybe a DJ spinning records.” Instead, it’ll serve as a neighborhood bar, with cocktails, a fine selection of craft beer and newly abundant seating.

“We’re putting some stuff on the books for July,” Lynn said, but they’re approaching live entertainment cautiously. “We believe in science,” Schneider said, and that means waiting to see what The Golden Bull’s patrons find comfortable and safe. “Are people ready to be at a bar?” Lynn asked rhetorically. “Are they ready to be at a show?” We’ll find out starting tonight, when The Golden Bull reopens. The Golden Bull, 412 14th St. (near Franklin Street), Oakland

Owner and co-chef Lulu Safi outside of Maya Halal Taqueria in Oakland, which offers halal-friendly Mexican cuisine. Credit: Maya Halal Taqueria

Celebrity chef Guy Fieri presented the owner of Oakland’s Maya Halal Taqueria with a $25,000 grant

Bay Area resident Guy Fieri, the celebrity chef known for his bright yellow hair and oft-maligned donkey sauce, has a new project: It’s called “Guy’s Restaurant Reboot,” an abundantly sponsored streaming show that “surprises” select restaurant owners with grants to help get them through the pandemic.

There’s no shortage of things to raise an eyebrow at when you look at “Restaurant Reboot,” from the participation of surcharge-heavy company GrubHub to the ostensible virtue-signaling in broadcasting the grant announcement process. Those concerns likely fall to the background, however, when a restaurateur who’s been doing everything they can to keep their business afloat gets that potentially life-changing check.

And that’s what happened to Lulu Safi, the founder of Maya Halal Taqueria, the first Bay Area Mexican restaurant to serve dishes prepared in accordance with the Halal Food Standards Alliance of America (HFSAA). You can watch the video call between Fieri and Safi here, during which Fieri tells Safi that she’s getting a $25,000 check from the program. Via statement, Safi says that “we are honored to accept this grant and invest it into growing our small business,” which will hit its third anniversary next month. Maya Halal Taqueria, 346 14th St. (at Webster Street), Oakland

The Bussdown is a new takeout restaurant specializing in pan African soul food. Photo: Dana Plucinski
Some dishes from pan-African soul food restaurant The Bussdown. Credit: Dana Plucinski

The Bussdown is expanding with a fine-dining supper series

It’s only been a few months since African diaspora soul food restaurant The Bussdown opened for takeout inside the Oakland Food Hall, but the venture is already expanding. Chef-owners Solomon Johnson (of recent “Chopped 420” fame) and Mike Woods told the SF Chronicle that they’re seeking a brick-and-mortar location, but it’s not for the thoughtful but casual menu you’ll find at The Bussdown: Instead, they’re plotting a fine-dining, tasting menu style restaurant called OKO.

Unlike The Bussdown, which specializes in delivering dishes like sofrito seafood and fried plantains to folks who pull up on their ghost kitchen location, OKO will offer a pan-African fine dining experience, Woods and Johnson said. If they can find a suitable location, OKO will open in 2023, but until then it’ll operate as a monthly Sunday supper series, one that kicks off on June 27 with an eight-course meal that starts at $165 (reservations can be made via Tock).

According to Woods and Johnson, they’ll also continue to operate The Bussdown, offering two different ways to experience diaspora cuisine. “We’re pushing to see how far it can stretch, what we can utilize from different regions and tie it into cultural influences we already have,” Woods tells the Chron. “It’s all about bridging the gap.” The Bussdown at Oakland Food Hall, 2353 E. 12th St. (at Miller Avenue), Oakland

June’s Pizza is leaving the slice world behind, and is focusing on sales of whole wood-fired pies. Credit: Pete Rosos

June’s Pizza has ended its lunch service

Opened just days before the pandemic shut the Bay Area down, June’s Pizza has never really operated in the no-restrictions world we woke up to today. Shortly after fine dining veteran Craig Murli opened his spot with a strict schedule of 40 wood-fired pies a day, he launched lunchtime slice sales to feed the hungry midday masses.

That lunchtime service ended this week, the restaurant announced via Instagram. We’re “entering into a new phase of June’s Pizza,” the restaurant wrote in an all-caps message, with “new developments and new specials on the horizon.” June’s hours will now be 3-8 p.m. on Wednesdays through Sundays, with phone-line (415-930-0502) or in-person ordering of whole pies kicking off at 1 p.m. June’s Pizza 2311 Magnolia St. (near 24th Street), Oakland

Eve Batey is Berkeleyside's interim Nosh editor. Email: eve@berkeleyside.org.