The dining business situation in the Bay Area is currently hard to describe. During this time of the coronavirus outbreak, the Bay Area’s most fascinating food spaces right now include specialty food shops, collectives, and food halls. The previously mentioned eateries collectively fall under the term “food hubs.”

Food hubs operate on varying scales depending on food concepts and the nature of business management. Chefs and business owners form a union to share a single space to lower rent costs and attract more customers. Dining shops found in one area can offer a variety of different dishes to their diners. For instance, it may be Berkeley Cafe’s sweet potato brownies alongside Peruvian chicken or South of Market Restaurant’s jollof rice, summer squash tacos, and cheeseburger lumpia. More food halls, the greater variety of choosing platters.

Traditional eateries also open more pop-up stores even amidst the pandemic, such as Mister Jiu’s restaurant. However, outside corporations govern food halls’ business operations, which contrasts with how food hubs work. Restaurant and food industry individuals lead this new wave of food hubs, with the intent to shape their commerce and aid others in their circle. Berkeley’s Hidden Cafe owner Andy Kellogg affirmed this recent news.

“This is just the times we’re in,” said Kellogg. “We all have to support each other. We’re on the same team,” she added.

Consumers do not notice the difference between dining in a restaurant or stopping by a food hub. For cooks, however, it is the opposite. According to them, food hubs get more marketing exposure for their trademarks, including forming negotiations regarding space expenses.

Food business entrepreneur Bissap Baobab used the food hub strategy when Marco Senghor reopened his Oakland restaurant last September. Due to the newfound partnership, Senghor reestablished his eatery as Bissap Baobab Oakland Collective Kitchen. The rebranded restaurant promotes dishes from a few distinctive food shops, including Marina’s Sweet Catering’s vegan mango coconut dessert, Mama Juju Tea’s jujube tea, and Senghor’s West African dishes. The food union exists to provide extra income to those who lost their jobs to the COVID-19 crisis.

Despite the camaraderie among the dining owner collaborators, Baobab clarified that Marina’s Sweet Catering sells her desserts, promoting her business in the process. She also has the freedom to set her prices and think of serving customers, only giving a commission payment to Senghor. 

“Plus, the collective provides advice and emotional support – two relevant things during the pandemic,” Baobab stated.

Alex Tejada, another business entrepreneur, also uses a similar approach as Baobab, opening a simple retail set-up called Magnolia Mini Mart. According to Tejada, she used the food hub scheme as an alternative option when the coronavirus outbreak halted her catering gigs. It began with her selling vegetables to assist the farmers she used to buy as a caterer but later expanded to selling bread, tarts, sauces, and more. Tejada also takes a commission from the business, like how Baobab does. However, Tejada’s team assists other sellers with their marketing expansions by turning Magnolia Mart into an incubator with free consulting. The business transformation stemmed from Tejada’s desire to help her fellow entrepreneurs grow their businesses.

“We didn’t start with a business plan. It just happened,” Tejada admitted, adding, “It’s more like a community project than a regular corner store.”

Epic Ventures of Kitchen owner Rashad Armstead thought of the same master plan. He reopened his restaurant last August to accommodate Black chefs who lost their income sources from the pandemic. He expressed his sentiments of helping other people to survive in this time of economic crisis.

“If the health department and the city stops people from making money and trying to survive, what’s going to happen to our economy,” asserted Armstead. “We need to start being creative. That’s why you see so many people selling food out of their houses,” he added.