Oakland soul food gem Brown Sugar Kitchen closes after 15 years

Oakland's famed soul food restaurant Brown Sugar Kitchen has closed its doors for good after nearly 15 years in business.

Chef Tanya Holland said the restaurant served its last meal the day before Christmas Eve. She and her partners had planned to reopen after the holidays on Jan. 10, but they ultimately decided to keep the restaurant closed. Staying open was no longer feasible.

"There's just so many factors that contribute to why we're closing. COVID, high price of rent, empty storefronts, empty offices, some crime, lack of police force," Holland said. "Nobody got to plan their last meal which makes me sad, but it is what it is."

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Brown Sugar Kitchen spent 10 years in West Oakland before it moved to Uptown Oakland on Broadway in 2019. Holland said they were very much still a startup company. The restaurant was not meeting expectations, then the pandemic hit. Holland filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year in an effort to keep the restaurant open. Looking back now, she said she was under-resourced from the start and things compounded.

"You can't just keep throwing good money after bad, but it was hard. This is my baby. I birthed this. I created this. I didn’t do it alone, but I had this vision."

Holland always envisioned opening up a soul food bistro. She first worked her way up through kitchens in New York, Boston, and France. But it was her crispy-fried chicken and cornmeal waffles that Brown Sugar Kitchen on the map. Since then, Holland has made appearance on television shows including Top Chef and Master Chef.

With one chapter now closed, the next one opens. Holland has projects in the works. She plans on releasing a third cookbook in the Fall, some television appearances have yet to air, and she may launch a consumer packaged goods biscuit product by the end of the year.

Holland will still operate her latest project, Town Fare Café, inside the Oakland Museum of California.

"I just want to say thank to our patrons for their continued support," she said. "It's sad that I have to leave this, but at least I got to do this which a lot of people don't have a chance to. I just think taking this breather, who knows what can happen, which is the beauty of it all."