This episode of On the Fly by tablehopper is with Reem Assil, the chef and owner of Reem’s California, both in Oakland’s Fruitvale and now in San Francisco, which opened just days before the stay-at-home order in March. It’s already hard enough to open a new restaurant—in this case, San Francisco’s first Arab bakery—but Reem and her team have managed to adjust and persevere during the many challenges of these past six months.
I’ve wanted to speak with her on the podcast about a multitude of things, from what it’s like to launch a restaurant in the first month of a pandemic, to the many adjustments they’ve had to make along the way, to hearing about her experience working with initiatives like SF New Deal. It took a little time for an even bigger reason for me to interview her to be revealed, and that is to talk about the future of restaurants, especially after these six months of upheaval, reckoning, and the growing desire to seek racially just, sustainable, and equitable business models—which is crucial since some of the most marginalized people in our society make up a large part of the restaurant industry workforce.
Reem is well-known as an activist, and worked for a decade as a community and labor organizer prior to starting her career in food. She has always cared deeply about her workers, and workplace culture, and how her business relates to the community at large, and now she is exploring how to build a worker-owned model that will fit her many criteria, and the specific needs of her workers, and what does leadership look like in a collective structure.
At the heart of it all, Reem’s was launched to be an expression of Arab hospitality, and she talks about how they try to do it through take-out and Friday night meal kits. We also take a walk through the pastry case, and just wait until you hear about the workers’ wreath (take a look at @tablehopper on Instagram for the goods, but trust me, you really need to enjoy it in person, not just with your eyes and ears).
Reem’s California: www.reemscalifornia.com (Instagram: @reemscalifornia); 2901 Mission St., SF; 3301 E. 12th St. #133, Oakland.
New Yorker video: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/video-dept/a-san-francisco-baker-on-what-hospitality-looks-like-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic
SF New Deal: https://sfnewdeal.org
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