Temporary parklet and block party outside Actual Cafe
When Actual Café opened two-and-a-half years ago on a barren strip of San Pablo Avenue near Alcatraz Avenue, owner Sal Bednarz tapped into a neighborhood need more profound than lattes and quality bites - a sense of community.
Bednarz is now hoping to tap into the community spirit he helped foster when he launches a new burger venture around the corner from Actual Café.
Victory Burger - slated to open late this year - will offer a small, burger-centered menu focusing on quality ingredients. There will be plenty of house-made vegan and gluten-free options, too. Inside, Bednarz is planning on a shipyard-industrial aesthetic with WWII imagery.
“This neighborhood grew up in the '30s and '40s," he said. "A lot of houses in the neighborhood date to that period."
The sense of shared responsibility and sacrifice that accompanied WWII also draws him to the motif. These days we would do well to learn from that period, he said.
“Not everything is easy and it requires all of us to get things done. I think we as a culture have forgotten that.”
Most of the restaurant’s seating will be on the front patio and Bednarz plans to incorporate a parklet as an extension of the patio.A Kickstarter campaign to raise $25,000 for his new venture is underway with more than $3,000 pledged so far. The money raised is exclusively for façade renovations because, he says, he wants community members to feel a connection with what they’ve helped create.
“I want people to be excited about something that reflects back into the neighborhood,” Bednarz said. “I think that’s more engaging for people.”
Although $25,000 being a lofty goal, Bednarz says, he’s uniquely positioned to reach it.
“We’re well known in the community,” he said. “I’m visible and vocal.”
That he is. After talking to him one sees that Bednarz didn’t become a community leader by virtue of owning a café; he became a café owner to build community. He moved to Oakland in the early '90s. Back then, he frequented the small coffee shops that abounded, but by the end of the decade these independent cafes were disappearing as corporate franchises proliferated.
“I had become disappointed with what was available to me as a consumer,” he said. “I wanted to remind people of what it was like to have a unique neighborhood café, the kind of places you find in a lot of other cities our size - they’re community hubs. I thought we had lost that experience and I wanted to bring it back.”
In the summer of 2009, Bednarz secured a lease on the space that would become Actual Café. Months before it opened, he was fomenting a spirit of community. Just one week after posting signs on the future-café’s windows, he received daily emails from community members offering support, seeking work and encouraging him. He laid out his concept for the café in blog entries, shared pictures of the space and solicited community input on key decisions.
With nearly 1,800 Facebook fans, the café is embedded in the virtual social scene, but for Bednarz, real-life socializing is a tenet of his business philosophy. The name Actual Café derives from this notion.
“... we, as human beings, need actual contact in order to stay healthy - real face-to-face interaction. This is a key value of the Café,” he blogged.
Shortly after opening, he instituted laptop-free weekends at the café to encourage social contact. Actual also hosts fundraisers for neighborhood nonprofits, including Bicycle Bingo, which launched in February and raises money for a different nonprofit every week.
Bednarz is actively involved with Golden Gate Community Alliance - a coalition of Golden Gate District business owners, nonprofits, artists and residents. The group undertakes beautification projects in the neighborhood. With volunteer, community labor, they built planters and benches along San Pablo Ave. Bednarz said he wants to use the same approach to build the parklet outside Victory Burger.
Running a truly community-engaged business works for the community, he said, but it also works for his business.
“We’re here, active members of our community, doing things that benefit the neighborhood on a number of levels. Everything I do here benefits me somehow … everything pays me back. It’s uniquely satisfying."
If You Go
6334 San Pablo Ave. in Oakland
Monday through Thursday - 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Friday - 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Saturday - 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Sunday - 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Future home of Victory Burger
1099 Alcatraz Ave. in Oakland