Jeff Chin is always exploring creative, unique flavor combinations at his pizzeria Spinning Dough, including a recent experiment with ube dough. Credit: Anita Wong Credit: Anita Wong

It was a Friday in January. Jeff Chin had closed up his West Oakland restaurant Spinning Dough where he’s been spinning pizzas for six years, and was headed home. When he got there, he had a heart attack. 

Spinning Dough
2935 Market St.
Oakland, CA 94608

Waking up in the hospital after heart surgery, he realized he had a choice to make: either shut down Spinning Dough after all the work he had put into it, or come back from the setback and keep it going. He said he believes the stress of running his small business was partly what led to the heart attack.

Chin had kept his restaurant open during the entirety of the COVID-19 lockdown. Even when he was the only staff member left at the pizza place, he single-handedly churned out pizzas six days a week for eight months. He would work 14-hour days to prep the ingredients, take phone calls, sterilize every surface, and make the pies. 

“I want to continue to serve food,” Chin said. “It makes me happy to see people come in, you know, enjoy the food that I make for them and say it’s good.” — Jeff Chin

Despite the toll the work had taken on him, Chin decided he had to keep going. The heart attack forced him to close the restaurant on January 30, but he reopened just over a month later, on March 2.

“I want to continue to serve food,” Chin said. “It makes me happy to see people come in, you know, enjoy the food that I make for them and say it’s good.”

But Chin knew he had to make some changes to the way he approached the restaurant and the way he lived his life. 

Before the heart attack, Chin said that he was always running around, driving to the farmers market to get produce, trying to make sure everything ran right in the restaurant. Now, he wants to try to approach his business with less stress as part of building a healthier lifestyle.

The back patio at Spinning Dough whose walls were painted by Oakland-based graffiti artist group TDK. Credit: Madeline Taub

“I think I’m working towards a better future for myself, but at the same time ensuring that the restaurant stays open,” he said on a recent Thursday. We are sitting at one of the picnic tables he hand-built and painted himself on Spinning Dough’s vibrant back patio. The walls are covered with murals painted by an Oakland-based graffiti artist group TDK, which was started by friends of Chin’s from George Washington High School in San Francisco’s Richmond District — where Chin was born and raised.

While we are talking, Chin is running back and forth checking on the pizzas he is making from his extensive menu. He said he added vegan and vegetarian options after noticing the growing number of vegetarians locally.

After deciding between the two most popular pizzas, the sausage and the soppressata, I sampled the soppressata. The pizzas are large, easily feeding around 3-4 people, depending on how hungry the group is. The crust is thin and chewy, but where the pizza really shines is in the toppings. The soppressata came with beautifully broiled cheese, thin-sliced pepperoni, and then the “Chin special” extras: honey and scallions. The result was a well-balanced pizza: savory but with an added sweetness from the honey, and a good ratio of sauce to cheese.

Chin said he’s always exploring creative, unique flavor combinations that people can’t find elsewhere, and he likes to be responsive to his customers. When he first opened, he didn’t even have pepperoni, but when the community called in asking for it, he added it to the menu.

Now, he comes up with a new special every month. In May, he introduced an ube pizza after seeing how many ube-flavored items were popping up around the Bay. Spinning Dough’s Instagram includes videos of Chin spinning the purple ube dough.

“I did a little research and looked around and said, ‘Hey, I’ve never heard of anybody making an ube pizza before. Let’s try that,” Chin said. “People are still calling about that pizza right now.”

Due to the popular demand, Chin is bringing the ube pizza back in July. The evening I was there seemed busy, but Chin said that this was nothing compared to how it was before the pandemic when he’d make up to 50 pizzas a night. These days, if he makes 20 pizzas a night he’s jumping for joy.

Chin first made pizzas to make some extra money while attending Skyline College in San Bruno. I asked Chin, now in his early 50s, what his college-self would have thought if someone had told him he would own a pizza restaurant. He immediately laughed.

“That definitely would have never crossed my mind when I was like what, 24, 25?,” Chin said. “I thought I’d be in a career, you know, working behind the desk type of deal, 9 to 5 job.”

And for around 20 years, he was doing just that. He worked in health care reimbursement until his employer decided to close its California office. Chin looked around for other jobs, but nothing interested him until he decided to make pizzas. 

Chin opened his restaurant on Market Street (at San Pablo Avenue) on Feb. 3, 2017 — but not before spending four months renovating the place. He built almost everything himself: the tables inside, the picnic tables on the patio, the lighting, and the wood paneling on the walls.

Chin’s dedication to his business, and his excitement at serving his community, is evident in every part of Spinning Dough, from the menu to the way he lights up when talking about his pizzas. The community — and its support both through the pandemic and since his return from his heart attack — is what keeps him going.