Oakland empanada business owner frustrated with crime, homelessness

An Oakland business owner who makes Argentinian empanadas is frustrated with a lack of support from the city after he says he has faced two break-ins over the past year. 

Now he's struggling with a new challenge brought on by homelessness in the area. 

Javier Sandes, the owner of Javis Empanadas, told KTVU that an unhoused woman has built an encampment outside his business, Javi's Cooking, on Market Street. 

He said that pleas to the city and the mayor's office have previously gone unheard. He posted a video to Instagram on Wednesday asking for help. 

His video shows a person with a pile of things, including a tent and a large tarp on the sidewalk in front of his business.  He also filmed the parklet outside his restaurant, which has been vandalized with graffiti and broken windows. 

Sandes said he called both 911 and 311, reporting this to the city, but he's heard nothing. In fact, the city even charged him an "excess litter fee." 

Sandes appealed that fee, which the city has since waived. He says the two break-ins happened at his second location on Broadway. 

He said Mayor Sheng Thao introduced herself to business owners in the area when she took office, and encouraged them to reach out to her.

"I chatted with her for like half an hour," Sandes said on Thursday. "It was great. But after that, I haven't seen her around. I've been emailing her, texting her, [sending her] videos about the issues that we've been having here in West Oakland, and I have no answer. Unfortunately, it's disappointing."

KTVU reached out to the mayor's office for comment, and her team said a member of her staff will be meeting with Sandes soon. 

The scene outside Javi's Cooking on Market Street in Oakland. Photo: Estefany Mendez

He and his employees have been dealing with this situation for over a week. Sandes said the unhoused woman often relieves herself on the sidewalk, just feet from where his customers enter his business. He says things escalated last week.

"She actually pulled the knife to me and my staff last Friday," he said. "That's the first time I called the police. They came. Didn't do much. The police was here five times so far." 

His customers have also reported being yelled at by the woman, or berated if they don't give her any cash. He hopes local leaders will do more for businesses like his.

"Yes, my message is that it's not only me," Sandes said. "It's happening all over the East Bay, San Francisco, even. But Oakland is very affected by it. We've noticed a decrease in businesses. Businesses are closing down every day in Oakland."

The City of Oakland says that the Oakland Police Department is looking into Sandes reports, and shared the following information for anyone in a similar predicament. 

"The City of Oakland's Economic & Workforce Development Department offers small business support via our website, email, phone, and one-on-one in-person consultations with staff at locations throughout Oakland under our Neighborhood Business Assistance program. Businesses can request help by completing the Business Assistance Request form, and receive support via email, phone and/or an in-person consultation appointment with our staff. You can also email busdev@oaklandca.gov or call 510-238-7398 for assistance. We respond to inquiries made via the form, email or calls within three business days."