Hella Vegan Eats is Reborn in Oakland as Gay 4 U

Gay 4 U fries with vegan nacho cheese and toppings.  (Sofi Espice)

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Fans of Hella Vegan Eats, a favorite for eaters seeking comfort food in the East Bay, will be happy to know that a new iteration of that restaurant has opened up in Oakland as Gay 4 U. Sofi Espice, formerly known as Silvi Peligras, is running Gay 4 U at Garden House which also hosts Japanese fried chicken and izakaya restaurant Aburaya-Go for weekday lunches. In fact, it was Adachi Hiroyuki of Aburaya who tipped a defeated Espice onto Garden House’s search for a new pop-up after running into them at a restaurant supply store towards the end of Hella Vegan Eats. 

Hella Vegan Eats’s three-year run at Classic Cars West came to an end earlier at the end of February when the gallery and bar’s owner, Michael Sarcona, parted ways with Espice and their former business and life partner Tiff Esquivel. "It was such a sweet experience but it was like riding a crazy high and all of a sudden it was a downward spiral of so much grief and tragedy and sadness,” Espice tells me. Beyond closing the restaurant, Espice and Esquivel also lost a close friend to the Ghostship fire, got in a bad car wreck and later on, ended their relationship. 

After a successful fundraising campaign that paid out the Hella Vegan Eats staff and continued their lease at a commercial kitchen, Espice began plotting on the next iteration of their food project while popping up at Eli’s, Analog and other spots in the East Bay. Finally in late October, Gay 4 U was born. 

“I'm really lucky to have the audience that followed me [from Hella Vegan Eats],” they said. “I definitely want to show my appreciation to them and keep some of the spirit from the food from before but I want to continue to push myself and evolve and keep on going with it.”

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The menu at Gay 4 U, which is open for dinner Thursday through Monday and brunch on the weekends, will reflect some of the “fun, salty” foods that Espice associates with the Hella Vegan era but also some new healthier options. “There's an amazing salad, a whole quinoa rice bowl that's got braised kale. I'm incorporating a lot of lacto-fermented foods into everything so it's good for [digestion] and takes care of you while you're getting joy from it.”

Also new at Gay 4 U is Espice’s offer of a free meal for any trans folks of color. "I identify as a trans person. I'm a person of color. I want to be there for people who are like me,” they share. “I've had plenty of help along the way but it's not an easy endeavor to be me and to be who I want to be and do art and make food and be there for my community.” Espice is also passing out any leftover food from their business to the folks living in encampments in downtown and West Oakland. 

Since Gay 4 U is still a new venture for Espice who’s still sorting out the financials of running this new operation as a one-person show, they’re asking folks to support on GoFundMe until they get settled in. The campaign has raised more than half of its $5,000 goal. Through this transition, Espice is committed to their offer of giving what they can to the community around them. “If I'm going to be making dollars, let some of those dollars be keeping people in encampments and also people in the trans poc community [fed].”

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