Chef Preeti Mistry is gearing up to open her Indian street food-inspired, previously a pop-up, Juhu Beach Club in Temescal, Oakland on March 1. Having her restaurant business set up in the old SR24 space in the East Bay instead of the originally planned Mission District is a marked change from when I interviewed her last summer, for the Bay Area Bites’ annual LGBT Pride stories. Breaking off (amicably) with a business partner and wanting to live closer to her work were the main factors behind this decision. She shared that she is now working with family to run the business but has also been buoyed by offers of general help from fellow Oakland business owners. Getting a Top Chef to set up shop in Oakland is a bonus for Temescal, a district that has arrived as a food and dining destination--complete with its own new culinary tour from Edible Excursions and a thriving Sunday farmers’ market.
I was able to experience Juhu Beach Club via a stop on the Oakland Taste Temescal media tour from Edible Excursions. It’s obvious Chef Preeti and her crew have worked hard to transform the once grey and dark hues of SR24 into something that is definitely more Mumbai-beachy and fun: pink and orange swirl together with golden notes in a wonderful monkey wall pattern, which match the adorable tiffins that will be used to serve kids meals (a smart menu move, considering the local population). Her partner Ann Nadeau was on hand to help serve sassy lassis but mainly stayed in the background while the Chef talked to our group. Guests will be able to see the kitchen action, where Preeti will cook with her sous chef and line cooks.
There are 50 seats and 6 stools and the open space definitely grants guests an up-close-and-personal view of the making of every slider-like pav (with custom rolls from Starter Bakery), Gujarti-style samosa, mung bean “Guju chili” soup, curry, salad and sassy lassi. The menu is approachable: vegetarians, carnivores and kids should all find something here. The color blocked kiddie-friendly tiffins are designed by a nearby artist and will be for sale; I am making space in my pantry after seeing how cute and functional they are. Juhu Beach Club just received their beer and wine license and will be opening for dinner March 1. Cheers!
I interviewed Chef Mistry to find out more about how the process is going from operating her pop-up restaurant to getting an actual restaurant finalized. Her comments have been edited for clarity and length.
Bay Area Bites: Congrats on the new restaurant. When we last talked to you, you were planning to open a spot in the Mission. That situation changed for you in October 2012. Why do Indian Street Food in Temesal?
Mistry: It was a matter of circumstances. Even when I was in San Francisco, I was saying ‘I want to open in Oakland.’ The Mission space and the partner connected to that didn’t work out, which was actually a blessing. If we were having a hard time then, running a business wouldn’t have been easy. We were able to realize that and walk away from each other and there were no hard feelings ultimately. I moved to Oakland a year and a half ago. Once we walked away from a financial partner, I started looking at things financially but also looked at how it would affect my lifestyle. We’ve gotten to know the scene and it’s so happening here. Temescal is really fun, and there has been a great community in terms of chefs and restaurateurs.
Bay Area Bites: Do you have a new business partner? How did you come up with the funding after the relationship with your former business partner ended?
Mistry: No. (Laughs). It’s a family business now. So. You know. That was one of the reasons why we picked the space. It was really set up. I talked to a few contractors and architects and they were urging me to find a spot that was already set up. I looked at cheaper places but it was a Pandora’s box -- they had been dumped for a reason. Once you start with the building department.... With our new Temescal location, it’s been all elbow grease and a little cosmetic work. There have been a few expenses that have come up but that’s par for the course.
We did a lot of cleaning and changed the space pretty dramatically. It was really dark in here, very Gothic with big chandeliers. The baseboard and entire ceiling were dark grey and then there was deep magenta red. We just brightened it so there is a lot of bright pink and orange on the walls. It gets an advantage of the sun that comes through in the day. We got funky wallpaper with monkeys to give the space a fun and casual feel, because we want to see people wanting to hang out here.
Bay Area Bites: Have you met any of your restaurant neighbors?
Mistry: The person that owned this restaurant owns the taqueria next door. We share bathrooms and storage space and one of the more qualitative parts of purchasing was that he wanted to make sure it would be someone who’s cooperative. Not ‘I bought your restaurant. See ya later.’ I interact with his manager Kevin and family all day and they’ve been super. I’ve also talked with Jen Louise Dunning at Pizzaiolo. Tanya Holland was super helpful with advice as was Sarah Kirnon with Miss Ollie’s. I just ran into Paul Arenstam at the restaurant supply store and he said, ‘Give me a call if you need anything.’
Bay Area Bites: What are your favorite menu items?
Mistry: The Bombay sandwich, which we just tried out. The way it’s made in India is with a sandwich maker in a campfire. We’ll use a steak press and do it on the flat top. Everyone was like ‘I don’t know what this is but it’s awesome’ when we did the taste tests. I’ll press it with Jack cheese, cilantro chutney, sliced beets, potatoes, pickled onions and our house-made chaat masala. There’s also a healthy amount of butter and it’s like a veggie grilled cheese. I’ll change it seasonally. It’s kind of funny how the chutney and masala make it distinctly Indian. It’ll probably be priced at $7.
Bay Area Bites: How about drinks and desserts? ... anything unusual?
Mistry: All of our wine will be on tap. I want to focus on beer more because it just pairs better in my opinion with the Indian food and spices. We’ll have 1-3 white wines. People want to pair Indian food with really sweet Rieslings and I can’t stand that. The wines will definitely be on the crisper side. For every tasting we’ve had, the big question is, ‘What will the red be?’ We’re looking for something nice and lean, and nothing really fruity and jammy or high alcohol.
I make the sassy lassi in-house, and it’s sweet and salty. We'll have cilantro lemonade and also the Darjeeling Limited, which is half cilantro lemonade and half tea. Gotta have a hot chai and we will be serving imported Thums Up plus Limca sodas, which are owned by Coke now. They have a distinctive Indian flavor.
We’re going to have Straus soft-serve for dessert, but will do it differently than other places. I may use infused oils as toppings: things like pistachio and pumpkin seed oils. There will be tropical fruit drizzles of passion fruit, guava or rosewater. I’m sure we’ll make some seasonal local macerated fruit. Then there will be add-ons like salty curried peanuts, Chai spiced pecans and those little fennel candies.
Bay Area Bites: Any advice for folks looking to open a restaurant?
Mistry: Laughs. That’s so funny. Cholita Linda was talking on the Edible Excursions tour about how they’re opening on Telegraph and that it had been in 3 months of waiting. I couldn’t wait like that!
I guess for me as a first time restaurateur I would say finding an existing business is a way to factor your time and money. Juhu Beach Club will not have that high a price point. The average check will not be $70 per person. The ability to make that money back and profit is crazy. For me, it was always start small and see if people liked it. Even with that funny liquor store in the Mission, we spent $1,500. My advice? Start small.
Bay Area Bites: Do you think there is a Top Chef celeb halo that helps or hinders your work? What is that like?
Mistry: I think for a long time I was really angry about Top Chef. But you know it’s the thing that has helped me get the word out. I suppose if I hadn’t been on the show it would take longer for people and media to show up. The fact that people already know who I am is helpful.
As for hindering, I can’t say that there is anything negative at this point four years later. People are excited. I’ve talked to people in Oakland and they’re excited to have someone from Top Chef. I was at the farmers’ market and a lady told me ‘I'm really excited you’re opening here.’
I was talking to the cashier at the planning department and she said she is a huge Top Chef fan and she recognized my name. It’s nice that people recognize me. If my food didn't stand up or the service wasn't helpful then people wouldn’t continue to show up. Especially in the Bay Area, where there are so many good chefs who haven’t been on TV.