In the Wake of Controversy, Hi-Life Reopens Under New Management

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Hi-Life has reopened under new management. - EVA STOYANOV
  • Eva Stoyanov
  • Hi-Life has reopened under new management.
Hi-Life (400 15th St.) has reopened under new management after Damon Gallagher, who had been the public face of the downtown Oakland bar and late-night pizza spot since it opened in 2013, sold his share of the business. The change comes in the wake of controversy sparked by Gallagher’s actions after a stray bullet killed local musician Emilio Nevarez in front of The Golden Bull in downtown Oakland earlier this month.

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As the Express reported, even though the initial facts surrounding the tragedy were unclear, Gallagher quickly pointed the finger at Vinyl/Venue, the hip-hop club located next door to The Golden Bull. In Vinyl’s security footage viewed by the Express, Gallagher could be seen putting up handwritten signs on the club’s window the night after the shooting. “THE COMMUNITY HAS DECIDED THERE IS BLOOD ON YOUR HANDS,” one of them read. “FUCK THIS FAKE ASS VENUE,” read another.

In the end, Gallagher’s campaign backfired: Given the lack of any evidence implicating Vinyl, word began to spread — fairly or not — that Hi-Life was racist, explained Marco Senghor, the restaurant’s new majority owner. According to Senghor, Hi-Life’s sales dropped by 60 or 70 percent in the days following the incident.

In a post to Hi-Life’s Facebook page announcing his departure, Gallagher wrote that he had acted irresponsibly, “from a place of deep grief,” but insisted that his actions weren’t racially motivated. Senghor said that Gallagher was the one who made the decision to step down, selling his stake to Senghor after recognizing the damage that he’d done to Hi-Life’s public image.

Senghor, a native of Senegal, also owns the two Bissap Baobab restaurants (one in San Francisco and the other in downtown Oakland, not far from Hi-Life) and had been a silent partner in the venture up until this point. Aside from the management shuffle, not much else will change. The restaurant will still be a hub for the local pinball community. It will still serve mostly pizza and beer, though Senghor said he might add a few dessert options and late-night happy hour specials.

Mostly, Senghor said he just wants customers to know that what people are saying isn’t true — that Hi-Life isn’t a racist business, and that people from all cultural backgrounds are welcome there: “I don’t feel like the whole place has to go down because someone made a mistake.”

Senghor said Hi-Life would likely close for a day or two this week for minor renovations — to apply a new coat of paint to the restaurant’s interior and, hopefully, turn over a new leaf.

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