n the corner of 14th and Peralta Street in West Oakland sits Gay4U, a small, unassuming restaurant that sells kimchi chilaquiles, vegan quesabirria and other meatless wonders. But the space has grown to be more than just another vegan restaurant. The trans flag colors (light blue, white and pink) that decorate the restaurant’s facade are just one sign of how Gay4U has made its mark on the Bay Area’s queer and trans communities of color—and in the hearts, and stomachs, of many.
Now, after two and a half years in West Oakland, the restaurant is closing. Or, to be more accurate, it’s hitting the road: Gay4U will have its last day of service as a brick-and-mortar restaurant—at least for now—on Sunday, March 27. Starting in April, the business will morph into a roving pop-up that will move across the country, from city to city, at least through the end of September.
Beyond its menu of vegan dishes that draw on Latinx, Asian and American comfort food flavors, Gay4U became a fixture in West Oakland by building a supportive and safe space for trans people of color. The restaurant instituted a program wherein trans people of color could always eat for free. It set up a bright pink community fridge right outside to provide for those experiencing food and housing insecurity. Every month, it hosts a local market called “GayMart” that holds space for LGBTQ+ artists, live music and more.
All this has made the restaurant a go-to for queer and trans folks in the area.
The nurturer behind all of this is Ginger Espice, a trans femme woman who moved to the Bay Area from San Diego in their early 20s, launching a series of pop-ups to show off their vegan tamales and other vegetable-based goodies. In 2009, Espice (who was known as Sofi Peligras at the time) and their then-partner started Hella Vegan Eats, a food truck in Oakland’s Uptown Arts District.