When protests sparked by the death of George Floyd began last month, chef Nelson German was in the kitchen at alaMar. Outside the large windows lining the restaurant on Grand Avenue in Oakland, crowds gathered. Emotions ran high.
"As a person of color, I was sad I couldn't be out there. What happened to George, [it's] heartbreaking. That could have been me or someone I've known," German says. He feared for his staff, many of whom are young and African-American and, as some among the protestors turned to smashing up and looting local businesses, he feared for his restaurant.
"The amount just to pay for new windows and doors, it's going to be tremendous," he explains. That alone could have put alaMar out of business, especially at a time when pandemic restrictions are already having a major impact on its viability.
Instead, Oakland stepped up. The community defended the restaurant, protecting it from harm.
Even before it helped to shield alaMar, Nelson German had great love and respect for his adopted city. German was born and raised in Manhattan's Washington Heights neighborhood, at the epicenter of the United States' Dominican diaspora. As a teenager, he began to fall in love with cooking, but for years his adventures in the kitchen were a closely protected secret.