Co-Op Cafe

Phat Beets Produce, a food justice collective that has been working to connect small farmers of color to urban communities through produce stands and farmers markets in North Oakland since 2007, would like to address some of the confusion and misinformation surrounding our relationship with Grease Box. Specifically, we would like to address Grease Box’s entirely false allegations against Phat Beets, as well as this biased East Bay Express article that provided a superficial, under-researched, and clearly skewed understanding of the conflict. Most importantly, we would also like to provide a platform for some of the voices of vendors who were displaced because of the sale of CrossRoads to Grease Box. This is the succinct version of the issues outline above. For the full story, please click here!

First, Lizzy’s claims that Phat Beets’s members “violently threatened” her are completely made up. Lizzy, owner of Grease Box, has told Phat Beets members that they are “not allowed to be in the space,” despite having a sublease; called the police on two different members; filed at least one police report; and threatened to file a restraining order and slander law suit against Phat Beets members, all for trying to work in our own space without allowing Lizzy to walk all over us. We were never once violent or threatening to her, and calls to the police were completely unwarranted. Painting Phat Beets members as violent justifies Lizzy calling the police, which serves to intimidate and displace us, securing the entire cafe kitchen space for Grease Box. After all, having to share the kitchen with Phat Beets cuts into Grease Box’s profits.

Now, for some context and history for understanding the gentrification of 942 Stanford Ave.:

  • Contrary to the narrative of the East Bay Express article, CrossRoads Co-op, which Phat Beets was a member of, was very successful in terms of community support. But for one of the lease holders Michele Lee — who deserves a lot of credit for getting the place started and operating —  the inability for CrossRoads to turn a profit immediately caused her to sell the community kitchen opportunity out from underneath vendors who had invested thousands of dollars to build community patronage over the long haul but weren’t producing revenue fast enough. Phat Beets did what it could, given our own financial constraints, to support Lee in some of the overhead costs of the space that she was responsible for as lease holder, including donating half of our proceeds from our People’s Kitchen event to her and CrossRoads, in addition to providing a majority of the customer base to the space because of our farmers market, programs, outreach and free flyering.
  • Lee did not receive Phat Beets’s, nor other CrossRoads members’, approval of the “sale” to Grease Box, nor notification that it was even being sold; the actual details of the deal Lee made with Grease Box have not been disclosed to CrossRoads Co-op members, so we still don’t know what rights Grease Box even has in the space; and finally, Lee and one other Co-op member are the only members to receive any money from the sale, despite several vendors investing thousands in the space.
  • Lee, unfortunately, set the stage for a doomed relationship between Phat Beets and Grease Box from the beginning, with zero regard for throwing Lizzy, owner of Grease Box, into a messy situation with Phat Beets. However, Lizzy never bothered contacting Phat Beets before moving into the space to check in, plan or coordinate with us once her operations began, despite knowing we were tenants in the space (who does that?!). Had Lizzy bothered to work with us before moving into the space, we might have had less conflict.
  • Once in the space, Lizzy began immediately dictating the terms of space usage for Phat Beets, demanding that the kitchen become gluten-free, despite the fact that Phat Beets’s vendors had been using gluten in the kitchen long before Grease Box arrived. Gluten is a part of many of Phat Beets’s vendors’ cultural food practices that date back centuries. Forcing people to give up an integral component of their cultural diet that financially supports their livelihood is a violation of food sovereignty and food justice. Any negotiations that took place around gluten and kitchen usage were unproductive because they were always based on unfair terms that benefited Grease Box and marginalized Phat Beets, despite Phat Beets helping to make the space economically viable enough for Grease Box to operate in it in the first place.
  • Grease Box then got health permits from the Health Dept. that effectively made it so that only Grease Box employees could use the kitchen, halting our Kitchen Incubator Program, which supported historic residents and immigrants in helping to launch healthy, small food businesses. However, we have been given permission by the Health Dept. to cook out of the kitchen — we can provide permits upon request — but Lizzy still suggests that we are not allowed to legally use the kitchen.
  • One of the vendors in our Kitchen Incubator Program, Misako, has not been able to cook or serve her delicious food out of the cafe, which Lizzy denies any responsibility for, also claiming she was never a member of the Kitchen Incubator Program in the first place (which of course is false as well). Let’s break it down: before Grease Box, there were was a fully functioning program that supported Oakland residents in starting their own food business by providing an affordable commercial kitchen to use. After Grease Box? Vendors can no longer use the kitchen. Both Lee and Grease Box are complicit in the displacement of Phat Beets and the vendors we work with.  I suppose if you pay enough money, you can get whatever you want, regardless of who loses out in this process, and unfortunately Phat Beets and our vendors now have to deal with the aftermath of a business whose presence only serves to gentrify the neighborhood even further, even if unintentionally.
  • Regarding what happened with Lizzy, Misako Kashima explained: “We are waiting for working together with Phat Beets and other vendors again hopefully soon.  The Phat Beets Market was the only affordable Farmer’s market to join for start-up food entrepreneurs with not enough funds (ironically we spent all our hard earned money to invest to build the co-op kitchen). 
  • When told that she had displaced vendors of color, Lizzy explained “the vendors that were ‘displaced’ are doing just fine elsewhere.” So as long as you just so happen to recover from the trauma of displacement and do ‘fine elsewhere’, then that justifies the displacement? This is a disturbing attitude to take into the North Oakland community.
  • Vendor Naimah Matthews was cooking and selling food out of the cafe with her family prior to the sale to Grease Box, and then was immediately forced to pack up her stuff and leave once Grease Box moved in. She explained what this process was like for her in this video testimony, and spoke specifically about Lizzy’s comment that she was doing fine elsewhere after being displaced: “For her [Lizzy] to tell anyone that everybody is fine is a blatant lie because you didn’t bother to check! …She didn’t care. We were told to immediately get our stuff [after the sale]…and the whole restaurant looked totally different. We had worked Saturday, we didn’t work Sunday, I went in Monday, and it was already…A lot of the stuff she sent me back to get wasn’t there!…It was like we weren’t important…How do you just sell something out from underneath us? Handling it the way they did, it hurt a lot of people…This was our dream!”
  • Regarding gentrification, when historic residents are forced out of their neighborhood due to rising housing costs because of new, more affluent residents and businesses moving in, that is gentrification. This is the current situation playing out at Phat Beets Farmers Market, where historic residents’ jobs and economic opportunities are being compromised by Grease Box because now we have to spend our limited time, money and resources fighting displacement instead of focusing on our food justice programs. Unfortunately, Grease Box’s mission doesn’t include providing affordable food for the community but rather it caters to the food tastes of newer, more affluent Oakland residents, which will eventually price out historic North Oakland residents who cannot afford the higher housing costs and costs of living in the area.
  •  Not many folks want to talk about gentrification, which is why these injustices still fester and persist, hushed and squashed by irresponsible phrases like the ‘G word’ used in the EBE article that try to conceal the violence of displacement. This is precisely why Phat Beets highlights the injustices of gentrification taking place not only at the Phat Beets Farmers Market but in addition all over North Oakland by Better Homes and Gardens and their NOBE campaign.
  • Finally, we must remember that Phat Beets has no interest in fighting with the Grease Box. They are merely a distraction for the food justice work we do and an obstacle for the North Oakland community building self-determination and access to healthy food. We operate 6 programs — including a farmers market at Children’s Hospital, a free produce stand at Arlington Medical Clinic, a community garden that supports healthy activities for neighborhood youth, and a 15-acre Pinole Creek Farm Project in support of PUEBLO and the International Rescue Committee – all with very little resources, which is why we rely on the community’s grassroots support to help us with this work.
  • Finally, because of these issues, Lee and Lizzy have already told us that our lease will not be renewed, meaning that Phat Beets will be losing our space at 942 Stanford starting in January, 2014. Please, Make a donation to help us a find a new space and continue our food justice work in Oakland for as long as it takes. Healthy food for everyone!

    Peace!

    ~The Phat Beets Crew

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