Upscale Mexican restaurant Calavera closes under weight of Oakland crime

A once-popular Oakland eatery became the latest restaurant in the city to shut its doors on Saturday. The owners of decade-old Calavera said increased crime in the city is largely to blame.

"It’s sadness, it’s anger, it’s very bittersweet," said Sarah Ryan, a restaurant co-owner. "Calavera has been a staple for close to 10 years."

Once a go-to for upscale Mexican cuisine in the city's downtown, Ryan became emotional while talking about saying goodbye to her committed staff.

"They work hard, and they love what they do. Blood sweat and tears," said Ryan.

Ryan said her anger stemmed from the city's handling of crime in Oakland.

"We feel like the city is not helping us in any way to reduce crime. I understand that they’re trying their best, but it’s not enough," said Ryan.

Originally opened by the owners of Chop Bar, which also shuttered in July, Ryan a long-time employee, became a co-owner of Calavera a year ago.

"The outpouring of love has been amazing the last four days," said Ryan.

Just four months earlier, in solidarity with other Oakland restaurants and businesses, Calavera temporarily shut up shop for the day to protest the city’s handling of crime. Ahead of the strike, organizers met at the restaurant to hash out their plans. Oakland Chinatown leader Carl Chan, who helped spearhead the effort, called on the city at the time to do more, and for the governor and Alameda County to also step in with added law enforcement.

"If not, there will be more businesses that will close," Chan said in September.  

On Saturday night at Calavera, the same space they used to organize and spread that warning, served its last meal.

"We’ve seen a reduction of close to 35 percent in foot traffic from 2022 to 2023," said Ryan. "There’s daily bippings right here on Broadway in midday, and customers are just really afraid to walk on the streets of Oakland."

Ryan said dwindling reservations, finally forced their hand.

"We’re not calling it our last supper, we’re calling it ‘we’ll see you soon’," said Ryan.