Oakland’s The Bussdown Brings Creative Pan-African Soul Food

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If you haven’t tried Pan-African Soul Food yet, gourmet chef-owners Solomon Johnson and Michael Woods of The Bussdown in Oakland, Calif. Are here to change that.

“Bussdown is a Pan African Soul Food concept inspired by the food Mike and I grew up on,” says Chef Johnson, who also calls himself Chef Swoop. “It is inspired by the food we love both at home and abroad when we travel. It is inspired by our ancestors and the sacrifices they made to make our lives better. “

Chef Johnson, who is also a private chef, caterer and kitchen consultant, and Chef Woods, who has over 10 years in the culinary industry under his belt, met by chance in 2017 while working in the upscale catering company Paula Le Duc.

Both were presented by Daniel Capra, the Chef Du Cuisine of Paula Le Duc. He insisted they get to know each other outside of the kitchen because he believed they had similar interests in the Bay Area food scene, according to Chef Johnson.

Prior to joining forces, Chef Johnson was a full-time director of Omni World Kitchen LLC, a private dining concept focused on the “ubiquity” of food around the world. Meanwhile, Chef Woods worked as a chef at Tribune Tavern, where Chef Johnson also worked for breakfasts.

“I had just accepted a huge job offer as a chef de sou at Sobre Mesa, a new Afro-Latino cocktail bar, working under Chef Nelson German and maybe a week later the pandemic has struck. Mike and I had talked about property before the pandemic, ”says Chief Johnson. “But not necessarily together. We didn’t know what was next because of the lack of jobs and the uncertainty the pandemic presented. It almost forced us to make the decision to go into business together.

If the two chefs understood that opening a restaurant, especially during a pandemic, would be risky, they decided to take the plunge. After Chef Woods’ successful stint at a month-long take-out restaurant in Sobre Mesa, they were convinced that with their talent and refined dining experience, they could “recreate on their own if we had the right space,” recalls Chief Johnson. “Chef German insisted that we both go to the plate and have cloud cooking to try and run before the restaurant inside reopens.”

While their current ways of serving high quality food are a bit unconventional, they crush it with what they have. Cooking in a tiny kitchen in a huge cloud kitchen shared by over 30 different restaurants, the team at Bussdown is “tiny but mighty,” Chef Johnson says of the two-man operation.

The cloud kitchen is called Oakland Food Hall (formerly Jingletown Eats) and is a place for take out orders. With little space to work with, and with it, the chef duo make it a priority to cook with only the freshest ingredients, using ingredients from scratch – be it chicken broth sauces. They even destroy their own birds.

“Occupying the cloud-based kitchen facility has its challenges,” continues Chef Johnson. “While our food has a gourmet flair, our execution is not affected by the use of takeout boxes. As we adapt to the fast pace of cloud cooking, I can honestly say that working here makes Mike and I better chefs because we have to keep up with time management, multitasking and attention to detail. . Our space is small, so we have to improve ourselves every day to make work smoother.

There are no shortcuts for these enterprising and motivated chefs who recognize that while other restaurants can take shortcuts when it comes to the quality and freshness of their food, that’s not what they’ve decided. to do.

“Mike and I are committed to making our basic groceries from scratch. The physical demand is intense. We only take off on Sunday. But we’re opening late Monday to make up for the work and preparation it takes to make production a success, says Chef Johnson. “Mike and I would rather sleep in the car in the parking lot than open a can of beans and serve it to our community labeled as ‘fresh food’.”

They do all the cooking and part of the promotion. But let’s quickly note that the majority of their social media presence has been shaped by their “stellar social media and public relations strategist, Ileana Ponce, who has worked with us since day one.”

“Mike and I have been dedicated to a very high standard of food quality and presentation,” says Chef Johnson. “It was the key factor in our final decision to open a restaurant together. I trust Mike’s judgment. We take into account each other’s reactions, good and bad; positively. It’s so rare in a kitchen and that’s why I really believe our business model is so successful. “

The Bussdown was received with open arms by the community and the press. They were quickly recognized as a “must-see new restaurant” by the San Francisco Chronicle and have only grown in popularity since.

“A big part of our growth depends on interacting with our customers and teaching them where we are,” he continues. “The facility is new and some people still don’t quite understand that we don’t have bricks and mortar yet. Overall, our transition to Oakland’s food scene has gone smoothly. Mike and I both have a reputation and a strong following. We have become a destination restaurant drawing people from as far away as Napa Valley and Santa Cruz. “

Their top sellers right now? The Jerk Yard Bird and Adobo Pork Bussdown plates. “Our Jerk Yard starts out as whole, organic, cage-free birds that we break down internally. We season and marinate them for 24 hours in a custom spice blend I created with Trent Blodgett, the owner of SPICE TRIBE SF, ”says Chef Johnson. “It’s then grilled to perfection and braised in homemade chicken broth and more of the custom spice blend until the bone falls off.”

“Our Adobo pork is a whole pork shoulder bone that we braised with charred pineapple skins and local citrus fruits for eight hours. It’s hard to say which one is better, so we made it easier for everyone to order both by getting a two or three protein dish.

Smoked Sofrito seafood is also popular with shrimp covered in a charred vegetable sofrito that comes with a blend of red peas and Carolina Gold rice and works: fried plantains, charred citrus, grilled fruit, homemade pickles and two. condiments, a Jerk barbecue sauce and kijani kibichi, a bright green sauce with a bold taste.

“Our food is rich in history, traditions and flavors”, explain the chefs. “We want our restaurant to not only experience one-of-a-kind seasonal food products, but we also want to educate our customers on what they eat and why it is so important to source locally and seasonally. . It is not enough for us to feed the community. We also want to teach them. “

The Bussdown is open from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through Saturday for pickup at Oakland Food Hall or delivery via UberEats, ChowNow, Grubhub and Doordash.

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