The sign outside Crossroads Cafe on Stanford Ave, in North Oakland
Walking into the new Crossroads Cafe in North Oakland feels like walking into your friend's mom's kitchen, or maybe your great-aunt's. The decor is homey: there are photos on the wall, the furniture looks like it was handcrafted by someone's dad, and the soothing sound of Otis Redding’s voice fills the small space.
Crossroads Cafe is a welcome addition to the neighborhood, and to Oakland as a whole. The founders and workers are primarily people of color, and the prices are not bad at all: a necessary antidote to the seemingly endless flux of high-priced restaurants that seemed to be geared towards a mostly white clientele.
After I spent some time chatting with Milon, who works at Crossroads, I find out that some of the furniture pieces actually were built by his dad, Leon Dockery, who co-founded the cafe with his wife Michelle. I found out from Milon that his dad, who is an experienced builder (it shows) crafted the benches, shelving, and even the cafe counter. The family, along with the rest of the team, spent the last half of 2012 renovating the shoebox of a store, which was originally used as a train stop.
The decor was chosen by the Johanne Richards, who is married to collective member Keawe Aquarian: both helped with planning and founding, and during the time of my visit, Keawe was managing the kitchen, Johanne was checking on the cafe, and their 20-month old daughter was toddling around, endearing herself to customers.
Milon explains that the things used to decorate the store were not purchased new, "We sort of went and pulled together what we already had," said Milon, comparing it to how the restaurant came together because of community members.
If the homeyness of the cafe sounds contrived, it isn't. Crossroads Cafe was created by a local collective as a place for the community to come together. To chat, to build relationships and enjoy some delicious, locally grown foods, and eventually local artists as well.
Like everything in the shop, the sandwiches are a nod to the surrounding neighborhood -- they’re named after the streets-- for example, the Market, the Adeline, and the San Pablo. The Market sandwich is a breakfast bagel topped with vegan coconut “bacon”, which I can testify is delicious. The produce used in the cafe is sourced through Phat Beets, which means it was grown locally, by farmers of color. “We want to have an impact on the community,” said Milon, who also mentioned that they plan to keep their prices affordable, averaging about $6 for a sandwich, instead of what is beginning to seem like the standard $10.
As of right now the cafe is still figuring out the rest of the food sourcing, based on demand and the customers’ wants and needs. Other logistics, such as the co-op status are also still being worked out.
On my second visit I found Dockery answering a customer’s questions about when printed menus would be available so he could bring them to his office, and Dockery in turn asked him what he thinks his co-workers would most like to see at the restaurant, “I don’t know... Mexican food?” said the patron, “Okay. We have someone here who can do that,” said Dockery.
That sort of attention to the interests of the community is what the staff hopes will define their fledgling shop. “We are local, local, local. I can’t stress that enough.” said Milon, “We are here for the community.”
Karl Shadley, who is on the Phat Beets board, and was enjoying a cup of coffee at the cafe when I visited, agrees. “This is really a neighborhood place. It grew out of what the neighborhood needed, ” he said.
The cafe’s kitchen is available for rental by any community members, and according to Milon is the most affordable option in the area. Farmers at the Phat Beets farmers market, which shares the lot with the cafe on Saturdays, are using the kitchen already.
In addition to building their menu, the cafe is also going to start hosting community events. The first is a film showing, Milon said it was a “trial”, next Thursday, using the DIY projector and screen setup: “It works just the same.” There will be films shown every Thursday during February, in honor of Black History month. According to Semba there will be a focus on documentaries, “We want to put out information that will uplift people.”
IF YOU GO
Crossroads Cafe is open for brunch, 11-3, Lowell at Stanford, North Oakland