Flint’s, an Icon of Oakland Barbecue, Plots Return to Original Location

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The exterior of Flint's Barbecue, with the "Flint's Bar-B-Q" sign visible
Crystal Martin is raising money to open the old Flint's Barbecue location at 3114 San Pablo Avenue. (Our Oakland)

The dark red barbecue sauce at Flint’s Barbecue was deep in flavor, never too sweet. The house-made links were coarse-ground to maximize sauce absorption—the best around, according to the restaurant’s loyal fans. And by the time the restaurant closed the last of its three locations in Oakland in 2010, its legend was secure: To this day, there is no shortage of old-timers who insist that Flint’s was, without question, the greatest of all time, especially during the restaurant’s heyday in the 1970s and ’80s.

Then it was gone for good—until two years ago, that is, when Crystal Martin, the granddaughter of founder Willie Flintroy, resurrected the Flint’s name with a series of pop-ups featuring all of the original recipes. Now, Martin says she’s one step closer to realizing her ultimate dream: to reopen Flint’s as a full-fledged restaurant at one of its original locations. Specifically, she’s in negotiations to lease the old Flint’s location at 3114 San Pablo Ave. in West Oakland—the same restaurant where she helped out as a kid, peeling potatoes for the potato salad in the prep kitchen area in back. (“That’s all I could do,” Martin recalls.) 

Crystal Martin stands inside her Alameda commercial kitchen space during one of her Flint's pop-ups.
Crystal Martin at her Alameda commercial kitchen space during one of her Flint's pop-ups. (HMTWNHERO)

The building has sat empty since that particular Flint’s closed in the late ’90s. At first, the whole point of the pop-ups was to build up enough capital to try to buy the place outright, Martin says. Instead, someone else recently bought the building, and the new owner reached out to Martin to see if she’d be interested in leasing the space—the first time that’s been a viable option since the restaurant closed.

There’s still a long way to go, however, before a reborn Flint’s restaurant becomes a reality. Martin says that in order to purchase all of the necessary kitchen equipment and to cover the first few months of rent while she gets the business off the ground, she needs to raise at least $75,000 to $100,000. She’s launched a GoFundMe campaign. Her hope is that the legion of folks who are nostalgic for Flint’s glory years will rally together to support the effort.

Still, the very prospect of bringing Flint’s back to one of its original homes has Martin feeling excited and hopeful. When she did a walkthrough a couple of weeks ago, it was the first time she’d been back in the space since the San Pablo Avenue location closed. As soon as she walked in the door, Martin says, she was flooded with memories of the time she spent there as a kid. 

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Martin’s older sister, Lynette Martin, worked at the restaurant as a high school student in the late ’70s. “The first thing I remembered was looking at the brick oven,” she says. “That brought back a lot of memories.” The San Pablo Avenue location was a very plainly decorated takeout-only restaurant, Lynette recalls. The only furniture, really, was a big cooler where they kept the soda and a jukebox that was always on, playing whatever R&B songs were popular at the time.

David Peters, a long-time resident of West Oakland’s Hoover-Foster neighborhood, grew up just around the corner from the San Pablo Avenue location and was a regular customer from the time it first opened in the early ’70s, often drawing long lines that wrapped around the block. (The very first Flint’s opened on East 14th Street in 1968.) “My enduring memory is the ‘thwack-thwack-thwack-thwack’ — is them hitting the cleavers, chopping up the ribs with the cleavers on the cutting boards. That’s the enduring auditory memory of Flint’s,” Peters says.

Two trays full of Flint's house-made links.
The coarse-ground links were one of Flint's signature items. (Flint's Barbecue)

According to Peters, what set Flint’s apart were those coarse-ground links, which he never found anywhere else, and of course that barbecue sauce, which he says was “just so delicious”: 

“You’d get it on your potato salad. You’d end up with a pool of it in their styrofoam to-go thing. You’d sop it up with bread. If I could have drank the stuff, it would have been fine.”

These days, Peters is the project director for a forthcoming “Black Liberation Walking Tour” of the Hoover-Foster neighborhood—a guided walk that aims to celebrate the history, culture, and art of that particular stretch of West Oakland. One of the first stops on the tour that’s already been planned? A visit to the old Flint’s, of course.

Peters believes the restaurant’s return would mark an important turning point for the neighborhood, which in his lifetime has gone from having just four Black families living on the block to being a predominantly Black neighborhood to now, once again, only having four Black families on the block. Since Flint’s departure in the ’90s, the once-vital commercial strip on that stretch of San Pablo Avenue has never been the same.

“[The restaurant] was a source of pride for the neighborhood,” Peters says of Flint’s. “People knew where we lived. It was affirming to see this thriving Black business do so well.”

In the meantime, nostalgic barbecue lovers looking to get a taste of that classic Flint’s flavor will have to content themselves with Martin’s pop-ups for now, starting with a sauce sale in late April to mark the two-year anniversary of her Flint’s comeback tour. The next full-on barbecue pop-up will probably take place sometime over the summer. And in June, Martin will host the first pop-up for her new Creole soul food business, Lady Flint’s Creole Soul. All of the events will be held out of Martin’s commercial kitchen at 2400 Monarch St. in Alameda.

But if all goes well, it’s possible that by early next year, Flint’s—in all its saucy glory—will rise again.