Creators of Popular S+M Vegan Pop-Up Find a Permanent Home

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Lion Dance Cafe will be an opportunity for the pop-up to expand its menu offerings while keeping favorites like the shaobing sandwich and laksa on its menu.  (Emma K. Morris / courtesy of Lion Dance Cafe)

After some years of looking for a permanent space, Lion Dance Cafe, the brick-and-mortar concept from C-Y Marie Chia and Shane Stanbridge has finally found a home in downtown Oakland. Taking over the former Liba Falafel space on 17th Street, Chia and Stanbridge have kicked off a fundraiser for a final push toward opening their vegan Singaporean restaurant, set to open for service in September.

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For the past few years, the duo has been popping up at different locations across the Bay Area as S+M Vegan,  including most recently at Eli’s Mile High Club in Oakland. When the bar and eatery shut its doors after shelter-in-place orders in March, Chia and Stanbridge’s business came to a halt as well. “We realized that we were going to have to find a different solution for our income [because] at the same time, catering was getting cancelled left and right,” Chia explained adding that catering orders made up a majority of their revenue. “The pop-ups were definitely significant but they were more test menu items, [ways to] get the word out, connect with people but catering was the bread and butter.”

S+M Vegan's take on Singapore beehoon with vegetables and fresh chili sambal.
S+M Vegan's take on Singapore beehoon with vegetables and fresh chili sambal. (Courtesy of Lion Dance Cafe)

The duo found a temporary kitchen and outpost at Tacos Oscar, Oscar Michel and Jake Weiss’ efficient storage container operation in Oakland. While Michel and Weiss sorted out their own restaurant’s future in the wake of the pandemic, S+M took it over from late March through late May for a take-out menu that customers pre-ordered for pick-up and delivery. “[The pre-order model] was out of concern for our customer's safety. We don't want lines to form in front and this way,” said Chia. Despite the pandemic, S+M found great success. “The last day, we sold out of 400 items in under 8 minutes. That's when we realized we can really keep doing this if only we had our own space with more room to safely hire people,” she added.

At their new location, Chia and Stanbridge are joined by a third partner, Rachel Metcalf. The team was able to secure the lease on the restaurant space by using their savings and are turning to Kickstarter to fill the rest of the gaps. The new space, which Chia describes as turnkey and not in need of major work, is on track for a September opening though permits and statewide orders on the pandemic will play a role. Chia hopes the new space means more crowd favorites like their beloved shaobing sandwiches, laksas and new items on the menu for customers who’ve stuck with the pop-up as it hopped around town. “There's so many things we want to show people,” she said. “We're hoping to eventually apply for a beer and wine license and do sambal micheladas.” By this time next year, Chia hopes to add an ice machine to make desserts from her childhood, like ice kachang and burbur cha cha.