Open now: 371 30th St. (between Summit and Webster streets), Oakland
Opening Aug. 1: 555 12th St. (the ground floor of 555 City Center), Oakland
“It’s a full circle moment right now,” Latorra Monk said. Standing in front of the old Specialty’s Cafe and Bakery shop in Downtown Oakland, the owner of Oaklandia Cafe was feeling a little nostalgic: Back in 2006, Monk worked the front counter of that location of since-shuttered sandwich-and-cookie chain, and even met her husband there. Starting this August, Monk will be greeting diners inside the building again, when she opens the second location of her popular restaurant in the space.
The original Oaklandia Cafe opened at 371 30th St in June 2020, right around the time the region was starting to realize the pandemic was here for the long haul. While many businesses, large or small, couldn’t remain afloat during the lockdown, Oaklandia managed to find its footing thanks to a loyal fan base that came back again and again for its breakfast and lunch fare. “My gosh, my customers have been amazing,” she said. “That’s actually how I’m able to get to this level right now, because of one customer that truly believed in my vision — and decided to invest.”
That customer, who Monk declined to name, helped Monk expand her business to a second location on the ground level of the 21-story 555 City Center, adjacent to the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building and a new luxury apartment complex. It’s an expansion that promises to introduce Oaklandia’s menu of lunch staples like BBQ chicken down south or chicken torta, sweets like an almond tart created by Monk’s husband (now Oaklandia’s pastry chef), and coffeehouse drinks like the black and brown latte (a bourbon caramel and dark chocolate caffeinated concoction) or the tiger eye (a chai latte with a shot of espresso) to a whole new audience of hungry lunch seekers.
The expansion also provides Monk with the chance to live out even more of her dreams for her business. Right now, Monk said, she’s only been able to accept catering gigs on a case-by-case basis due to the smaller size of her Pill Hill location.“We wanted a bigger baking area to fully stretch out and offer more because I am constantly being asked to do more catering,” she said. “In this space we can fully stretch out and cater on the level I want.”
The second location also allows Monk a chance to flex her interior design muscles. “I’m bringing in color; I’m bringing in a punch of more,” she said, bucking the current cafe trends of white subway tiles and minimalist decor. Instead, Monk plans on using her affection for flora and foliage as design inspiration. While touring the space (which Monk asked that Nosh refrain from photographing before its completion), she showed me a new tree-themed wallpaper adorning the walls, as well as the spots where living trees and plants will grace the interiors.
“We’re in the middle of a bunch of buildings, so I want to bring nature in,” she said. The cafe’s ample floor-to-ceiling windows will make for an open and airy atmosphere, and to better blur the lines between inside and outside, the second Oaklandia will outdoor seating.
As for the food, it will all be prepared in-house, with a new chef in the kitchen, while her husband — you know, the guy she met while the two worked together at Specialty’s more than a decade ago — will still prepare all of Oaklandia’s patisseries and bread bakes. While Monk is tightlipped on who that new chef’s will be, she’s ready to drop some hints, saying “The chef we are bringing onboard is a family member that graduated from the California Culinary Academy.” The mystery person also “worked as an executive chef in San Francisco for many years [and] has come out of retirement to assist in the launch of this new business venture.”
“The other thing I’m adding is an art space,” Monk said. “I’m partnering with the community to showcase artists’ work on a rotating basis.” Monk said that she misses the days when cafes also acted as makeshift galleries for budding artists. “I feel like a lot of coffee shops nowadays have steered away from having artwork in their spaces,” she said, “either because they want to keep aesthetics a certain way or, as is the case with my smaller cafe, they just don’t have the wall space.”
At the second Oaklandia’s grand opening, the corner art gallery honor Black women educators by focusing on works created by Oakland teachers. That’s because, Monk said, a teacher made an indelible impression on her. “When I was in the fifth grade I had my first ever African American teacher,” Monk said. “That was big for my life; when you first see yourself in a teacher, it’s really an amazing moment.”