From Nightclub to Grocery Store: Complex Oakland Wants to Make Healthy Food Inclusive

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A man poses outside of a grocery store that's in the process of being built out.
Complex Oakland owner Oscar Edwards is opening a grocery market next door to his longtime downtown nightclub. He says he wants to highlight Black vendors and make healthy food accessible. (Nastia Voynovskaya)

An episode of Hip-Hop Uncovered about Nipsey Hussle plays in Complex’s Trap Kitchen restaurant on a recent Tuesday afternoon while owner Oscar Edwards meets downstairs with a worker-owner of the Mandela Grocery Cooperative. Edwards is getting ready to open a small market in the space next door to his downtown Oakland nightclub, partly inspired by Mandela and its introduction of healthy, affordable options to its West Oakland neighborhood. Instead of treating each other as competitors, the small business owners recognize that now is the time for Black entrepreneurs to lift each other up—much like the community-focused strategy that Hussle describes on the TV screen.

“Most grocery stores are not owned by people of color. We frequent them a lot and spend our dollars there, but it’s not owned by us,” Edwards says. “So my whole thing is to bring that ownership back around so that the dollar circulates and we keep investing into our community.”

Edwards’ new 14th Street Market promises to bring some life back to a city center that has been devastated by the pandemic, with numerous bars, restaurants and music venues either permanently closed or sitting empty until it’s safe to reopen. The idea came to Edwards last June, when he realized that hip-hop concerts in his large, antique ballroom would be on hold indefinitely after taking up most of his attention for the last 10 years.

“Since we haven’t been doing events, the pandemic has given me time to shift my focus on different things and different avenues, to see what’s going on and be more present in the world,” Edwards says.

After eight months of filing permits and scouting vendors, 14th Street Market is almost ready to open its doors, with a soft launch planned for March 6. The shop, located in a former gym, aims to be inclusive and reach a variety of audiences: fresh produce, baked goods, natural skincare products and health food essentials will sit beside corner store staples like chips and lottery tickets. Edwards also plans a mixture of grab-and-go meals and pantry items to please workers on lunch breaks and grocery shoppers alike.


In addition to catering to the people living in the new apartment tower down the street, “I also wanted to make sure we help the low-income community down here—to have the stuff they need, plus give them healthy options they may have not thought of,” Edwards explains, adding that the store will accept EBT and SNAP cards.

“With all this homelessness, and the pandemic and a lot of people losing their jobs, you have a lot of people on government assistance,” he adds. “So you have to be able to reach out and help those people too, but also give them all those options. Take some of this healthy stuff and get your body right.”

Important to Edwards, too, is a focus on local Black vendors, whose products 14th Street Market will showcase in special displays. The city has designated 14th Street as the Black Arts Movement Business District, and Edwards says he wants to do his part in fostering that support system.

“If you’re a Black purveyor and you’re just trying to get your stuff out there, I’m all about networking with people,” Edwards says. “So if you have that, come see me, let me know, and I’d love to see your product and get it on my shelf—and if it’s not my shelf, somebody else’s shelf.”

Fard Bey co-owns Peach and Pastry Your Family Bakery in Pinole and helps his mom run the Way to Life granola company. He says Edwards has been a longtime supporter of his booth at the Old Oakland farmers market. They share a vision of making healthy eating accessible; soon, Bey will stock the 14th Street Market shelves with his vegan and gluten-free sweets. “When I started doing farmers markets, my idea was making cupcakes and all the pretty treats,” Bey says. “But I saw how rare it was to ... create products that were good and healthy, especially to give children those options.”

Starting a new venture during the pandemic isn’t easy, and Edwards says he’s grateful to his supportive landlord, who has worked with him to make his plans financially feasible. He hopes 14th Street Market, along with his restaurant Trap Kitchen, will help keep Complex afloat until shows can resume again. Prior to the pandemic, the club was a hub for local rap pillars like Keak da Sneak and Kamaiyah, and also booked other genres and big-name touring acts.

Though the Save Our Stages Act passed in the December federal stimulus package, Edwards still hasn’t seen any of the promised grant funding for independent music venues, and he isn’t holding out for it either. “The problem with that is they said it passed ... but other than one Zoom call, we have no other details, and it’s March,” Edwards says.

Edwards is part of the advocacy group East Bay Venue Coalition, which includes a variety of nightlife destinations, from prestigious concert halls like the Fox Theater to eclectic dive bar Eli’s Mile High Club. Now that the Biden administration has announced sufficient vaccine supply to inoculate most American adults against COVID-19 by May, the East Bay Venue Coalition’s focus has been making sure small businesses are ready to meet demand once it’s safe to go out again.

Hopefully soon, 14th Street will come alive with the return of concert-goers and office workers, as well as people looking for jobs after a long period of unemployment. Complex and 14th Street Market want to be ready for them. As Edwards puts it, “The more people we can help, the better.”