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Malibu’s Thinks Vegans Deserve a Classic Diner Breakfast Too

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Sausage, omelette and breakfast potatoes on a plate next to a stack of pancakes.
Malibu's Burgers has veganized the kind of classic breakfast plate you'd find at an East Coast diner. (Malibu's Burgers)

There’s no shortage of veggie burgers in the Bay Area, but few, if any, come as tricked out as the overstacked, gloriously grease-laden specimens at Malibu’s Burgers in Oakland, where one-time food truck entrepreneur Darren Preston plies his plant-based trade. Along with partners Natasha Fernández-Pérez and Wahid Brown, Preston has made a name for himself by flipping the old vegan-food-as-health-food paradigm on its head.

Now, the Piedmont Avenue spot is ready to turn its attention toward another vegan food genre that’s in need of a revamp: breakfast. Specifically, Preston wants to serve the kind of classic diner breakfast that you might find at your prototypical East Coast greasy spoon—a relative rarity in the Bay Area in any form, much less at a restaurant that’s 100-percent vegan. 

“We deserve hash browns, omelettes, pancakes and all that good stuff,” Preston wrote in an Instagram post announcing the new breakfast menu. In the coming weeks, the restaurant will roll out its “Malibu’s Diner” breakfast menu a few new dishes at a time, with the first omelettes coming off the flat top as early as Sunday, Dec. 5. 

Preston’s affinity for East Coast diner fare comes honestly: He was born in Brooklyn and moved to Jamaica, Queens as a kid. “There’s diners everywhere there,” he says. “There was a diner on the corner of my block. I still remember the excitement of, ‘Oh, we’re gonna go to the diner.’ To me, that’s nostalgia.” 

The Bay Area, on the other hand, doesn’t really have that kind of diner culture, Preston explains. You can’t find an unfussy, New York–style short-order breakfast spot on every other street corner. And after Preston went vegan in 2011, he says the options became even more limited. It’s not that the Bay Area doesn’t have an abundance of vegan restaurants that’ll serve you pancakes and an egg substitute for breakfast. But many of them still lean toward that health food model. The dishes tend to be more wholesome; they might have more of a California twist.  


“I’ve eaten so much scrambled tofu,” Preston says. “So much tofu bacon.”

“We deserve hash browns, omelettes, pancakes and all that good stuff,” Malibu’s co-founder Darren Preston says. (Malibu's Burgers)

What Preston craved, instead, were the decadently oozy, cheesy omelettes of his pre-vegan New York life. And thanks to the emergence of the new, eerily accurate faux-meat technology of companies like Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat and Just Egg—the same products Malibu’s uses for its burgers—making that vision a reality now seemed well within his reach. 

“I have fond memories of going to the diner and getting a blueberry pancake and dipping my sausage in the maple syrup,” Preston says. “It’s that greasy breakfast that makes you feel good after. You might want to take a nap!”

When Malibu kicks off its new breakfast menu, it’ll start with a handful of classic diner plates: omelettes, pancakes, sausage, bacon, hash browns and toast, all of it vegan. Eventually, though, Preston will add even more nostalgic favorites, like the iconic New York bodega bacon, egg and cheese. He’ll do a breakfast burrito. He’s working on croissant and chocolate chip, blueberry and even ube versions of the pancakes. “Back in the day,” Preston says, “I would tear up a pastrami, egg and cheese on a bagel”—so, of course, he’s working on a vegan version of that as well. And because the emphasis will be on providing diners with a fun experience, there will be mimosas too.

The overall approach is similar to the one Preston and his partners have taken with the burgers at Malibu’s, whose over-the-top, fast-food aesthetic SF Chronicle restaurant critic Soleil Ho called “Fieriesque”—in the most complimentary sense, of course. The restaurant is also one of the prominent members of a new wave of hip, social media–savvy vegan food businesses helmed by people of color, along with other Oakland spots like Vegan Mob and Lion Dance Cafe.

We’re bringing our seasoning and culture with it,” Preston says. 

In the end, the goal is for vegan customers to feel like they’ve been treated to something special—to not, for instance, put a $15 salad on the menu as the lone vegan option and call it a day.

“Because we live this lifestyle of being plant-based, a lot of times places give us the minimum,” Preston says. “They don’t go above and beyond for us.” 

Malibu’s Burgers (3905 Piedmont Ave., Oakland) will serve breakfast on weekend mornings, 9:30am–noon, starting as early as Dec. 5. For updates, follow the restaurant on Instagram.

Update: Malibu’s Diner will launch on Saturday, December 11.


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