Unnamed Arnon Oren restaurant project
1900 Stenmark Dr. (in Point San Pablo Harbor), Richmond
Anticipated opening: February 2023
During the pandemic, the Richmond-based catering company Anaviv Events opened a new restaurant out of necessity as the events business dried up: on weekends, Anaviv Open Market offered wood-fired pizzas, rice bowls, and other dishes in its parking lot, with local musicians adding to the atmosphere. But as the catering business rebounded, the Open Market couldn’t be sustained. Instead of getting out of the restaurant business, chef/owner Arnon Oren is diving further in, by opening up a new spot in a high-profile location: Point San Pablo Harbor, the former site of beloved and recently shuttered restaurant Black Star Pirate BBQ.
“The outdoor restaurant became a beautiful community,” Oren said. “We couldn’t expand it, and now the kid started to be in our way. We needed to send him to college.”
Oren wasn’t necessarily “chasing a new restaurant,” when he decided to shut the Open Market down, he said. But Yaella Frankel and Rob Fyfe, co-owners of Point San Pablo Harbor, had had their eyes on Oren for years — in fact, he was the harbor’s owners’ first choice to operate the restaurant space after they bought it in 2016.
According to Frankel, they got to know Oren’s cooking at Anaviv’s Table, a 10-seat communal dining experience his catering company opened in 2018.
“We were blown over by the whole experience of going into the kitchen, and hearing from the chefs, it was really inspiring to us,” said Frankel. Their partner, Daryl Henline, said that he approached Oren back then, asking if he’d be interested in opening a restaurant in the Point San Pablo space. As they recalled, he turned them down, saying that that he preferred the freedom of catering, and wasn’t interested in the restaurant side of the dining business.
Instead, Frankel and Fyfe opened a restaurant there called Nobilis, which they referred to as a “finer diner.” It closed in March of 2020, when the pandemic changed everything.
The imposed break of the pandemic gave them time to think, and Frankel decided that her talents would be better suited managing the concerts and private events, with someone else running the restaurant. They remained in touch with Oren as their venue business moved forward, as Anaviv has been among those to cater some of those events.
“We really enjoyed working with him and the vibe felt very professional and the food was delicious,” Frankel recalled. “And the clients were always very happy.”
Meanwhile, Black Star Pirate BBQ approached Frankel and Fyfe about opening in the Harbor’s restaurant space. But while it was successful by many counts, “things were challenging with Pirate Tony,” Frankel said.
“We love him, he’s charming, and we have very different values. It wasn’t a good fit.” When Black Star’s two year lease expired in November, it wasn’t renewed. Instead, Frankel and Fyfe approached Oren about taking over. “He literally was the first person we thought of,” Frankel said. This time, he said yes.
“The synergy and values of sustainability we share just felt very good,” Oren said. “In addition, there’s not only the restaurant, but the events venue. And the spot is beautiful. And it’s in Richmond.”
For those who haven’t visited the property yet, “it feels like time stops,” when you arrive, Oren said. To get there, one drives through a few miles of undeveloped land, with the final mile going up a steep, windy road.
“Finally, it drops you down into the harbor, and you’re looking at San Pablo Bay, which is wider than San Francisco Bay in most places,” Frankel said. “It’s all a huge wildlife refuge and undeveloped.”
Oren was born in Israel and trained in France. In the Bay Area, he worked in the kitchens of Chez Panisse and Oliveto before serving as executive chef at Café Cacao, a Berkeley restaurant affiliated with the Scharffen Berger chocolate maker. When that closed in 2009, he turned to catering.
Since moving his catering business to Richmond, he’s become a booster of the city. Pre-pandemic, he teamed up with a gardening teacher to start a gardening and culinary program for high school students.
A garden exists at Point San Pablo Harbor, too, and Frankel said the plan is to grow produce for the restaurant there. Given that the property is half land and half sea, the menu will reflect that, too.
Oren has yet to announce a name for the new restaurant, a fast casual spot he hopes to open in February. (Yes, next month.) His proposed opening menu features the same wood-fired pizzas he served at Anaviv Open Market, as well as a Brazilian seafood stew cooked over an open fire; bagna cauda with seasonal vegetables, fish and chips, salt cod and potatoes, Peruvian chicken and a Shrimp Po Boy, a brisket sandwich, several salads and desserts.
The restaurant, which is fully outside and on the water (though is often fog-free when other parts of the bay are not), is licensed to serve beer and wine. Live music will also be part of the experience.
While Oren expects to be very hands on with the restaurant, Ross Kaplan, who helped open Bocanova in Jack London Square and worked with Oren at Café Cacao and his corporate catering business, will be running the new restaurant’s kitchen. In recent years, Kaplan had left the Bay Area, but moved back right as this deal was taking place.
“He showed up out of nowhere,” Oren said. “I saw it as a sign.”
As for this collaboration, all partners are eager to see where it can go. Frankel and Fyfe say that there might be some large-scale events in the venue space this year that could be served by food trucks, but the couple could also see Anaviv managing all of the food on site.
“We’re a growing business ourselves, and the demand grows each year for people wanting to do events at the harbor,” said Fyfe. “He’s just an amazing chef and the type of events we can do together just seems really quite exciting for us.”
Frankel said they are batting around ideas for the future of what they could do together.
“We’re excited about the possibility and potential for collaboration between food and art and education as well,” she said. “We can’t say exactly what they’re going to be yet, but the opportunity is there.”