Tuesday, May 12, 2020

CSAA Insurance Group Donates Thousands of Free Meals

The Walnut Creek-based company has closed its cafeteria during the Covid-19 crisis, but employs its cafeteria service partners to help feed the hungry.

by S. Rufus
Tue, May 12, 2020 at 4:00 AM

PHOTO COURTESY OF CSAA INSURANCE GROUP
  • Photo courtesy of CSAA Insurance Group

Employees at the Walnut Creek-based CSAA Insurance Group are currently working from home, so they're not eating in the company's on-site cafeteria.

But the company is nonetheless keeping its cafeteria service partners — those many companies from which CSAA sources its cafeteria food, drinks, and supplies — busy and employed, preparing meals for local food banks and vulnerable communities throughout the East Bay and beyond.

CSAA Insurance Group donates about $25,000 worth of cafe food services per week — and about 500 meals daily — to the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano; Trinity Center in Walnut Creek; Putnam Clubhouse in Concord; the Homeless Alliance in Oklahoma City, OK; and the Area Agency on Aging in Glendale, AZ.

“We are grateful beyond words,” said Kinsey Crocker, director of communications at the Homeless Alliance.

“CSAA Insurance Group [has] helped us bring comfort to people who are unsheltered by making and delivering 150 sack lunches every day – 750 every week – to us since the end of March to help meet the demand.”

Offering automobile, homeowners, and other types of insurance, CSAA Insurance Group has over 3,800 employees. Its LEED Gold-certified headquarters was opened in 2009.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

St. George Spirits Master Distiller Lance Winters Scores Another James Beard Award Nomination

It's his fifth consecutive nomination.

by S. Rufus
Sun, May 10, 2020 at 4:00 AM

PHOTO COURTESY OF THE JAMES BEARD FOUNDATION
  • Photo courtesy of the James Beard Foundation

Lance Winters, master distiller at Alameda's St. George Spirits, has just been nominated for a James Beard Foundation Award in the Outstanding Wine, Beer or Spirits Producer category.

It's his fifth nomination.

Having previously worked as a US Navy nuclear engineer, Winters joined St. George in 1996 after offering its founder Jörg Rupf a sample bottle of his homemade whiskey.

Since then, Winters has sparked attention worldwide for such distinctive spirits as St. George Single Malt Whiskey, St. George Absinthe Verte, St. George California Agricole Rum, the St. George gins (Botanivore Gin, Terroir Gin, and Dry Rye Gin), the St. George vodkas (All Purpose Vodka, California Citrus Vodka, and Green Chile Vodka), Baller Single Malt Whiskey, and Bruto Americano.

On May 4 — during what will be remembered as one of the restaurant industry's weirdest and most challenging phases ever — the James Beard Foundation livestreamed via its Twitter account this year's nominations in sixty categories spanning restaurateurship, restaurant design, and culinary media.

James Beard awards are among the world's most prestigious food-and-drink-related honors.

Founded in 1986 to honor the pioneering celebrity chef, cookbook author, TV personality, and cooking teacher for which it is named, the nonprofit outfit has halted its usual springtime activities to focus instead on the James Beard Foundation Food and Beverage Industry Relief Fund, which to date has disbursed more than $4 million to independent, locally owned restaurants nationwide.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Concord Dunkin' Worker Inspires Nationwide DIY Donut Kits

They bring sprinkles, frosting, creativity, and doughy fried roundness to sheltering-in-place.

by S. Rufus
Fri, May 8, 2020 at 4:00 AM

PHOTO COURTESY OF DUNKIN'
  • Photo courtesy of Dunkin'

An employee at a Dunkin' (formerly Dunkin' Donuts) restaurant in Concord has inspired the company's brand-new DIY Dunkin' Donut Kits.

Norma Valkenaar asked the restaurant's franchisee, Matt Cobo, whether she could bring home some donuts, frosting, and sprinkles so that her young nephews could experiment with customizing their own treats.

When Valkenaar reported that this experiment had proven fun and successful, Cobo realized that it might also enliven sheltering-in-place for many families.

“The reality of this experience has set in, and we know it’s not going anywhere anytime soon,” Cobo said in a press release.

“Like most parents, we were looking for ways to entertain our kids and bring a little levity to this situation.”

Last month, Cobo's Dunkin' shops in Walnut Creek and Concord started making DIY kits — which workers were encouraged to take home and use with their own families and to deliver on the doorsteps of friends and relatives, and which customers can now buy.

Priced at $6 for four plain donuts and $10 for nine, the kits include three different kinds of sprinkles and several different frostings.

“This is our small way of trying to brighten someone’s day,” Cobo said.

“The simple joy of getting to create your own donut can make kids light up, and if we can be a part of creating that moment, that makes us happy.”

Now Dunkin' restaurants all over the USA have started selling donut kits.

Since March 17, service at Dunkin' restaurants has been limited to drive-thru ordering, carry-out, and delivery, with a few locations also offering curbside service. The company is currently donating a percentage of its proceeds from every gift card sold to the Dunkin' Joy in Childhood Foundation — an emergency fund designed especially for nonprofits helping families affected by Covid-19.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

REBBL Wins NEXTY For Cocoa Elixir

The Emeryville beverage company scored laurels for its Mayan cocoa elixir

by S. Rufus
Wed, May 6, 2020 at 11:07 AM

Gold Label Mayan Cocoa Elixir, made by Emeryville-based REBBL, has just won the 2020 NEXTY Award for "Best New Ready-to-Drink Beverage."

Its ingredients include maca, reishi, maitake, turkey tail mushrooms, lion's mane mushrooms, cayenne, and ashwagandha, among others.

"We're thrilled our Gold Label Mayan Cocoa won this year's 'Best New Drink,'" REBBL's chief marketing officer Bonnie Neulight said in a press release.

food_news.jpg

"We developed this as the ultimate elixir featuring four premium mushrooms. It's our priority to create organic, plant-based beverages that do not compromise on taste," Neulight said.

Given every year to companies that distinguish themselves as leaders in the natural-products industry, NEXTY Awards are divided into four categories:

Flagship NEXTY Awards are given to one standout product in each of 23 different categories. NEXTY Consumer Choice Awards are given to the top products in each of three categories: Food/Beverage; Personal Care; Natural Living. NEXTY Editors' Choice Awards are chosen by a team of New Hope Network editors. NEXTY Gold Awards are given to a select few brands that for several years running "truly move the mission of the national products industry forward, disrupt the status quo, and make the world a healthier, better place," the NEXTY Awards website reads.

Making ethically sourced, plant-based drinks since 2011, REBBL was co-founded by Dave Batstone, who also founded the Not For Sale anti-human-trafficking nonprofit. A portion of REBBL's net sales support Not For Sale in providing shelter, education, healthcare, legal services, and job training for survivors of exploitation.

Among REBBL's other products is a new Keto Elixir line as well as two new sparkling prebiotic tonics.

Impossible Burger Hugely Expands Its Retail Presence

The Oakland-made, plant-based burgers are being stocked in nearly 2,000 more stores this week.

by S. Rufus
Wed, May 6, 2020 at 4:00 AM

Impossible Foods, whose huge production facility is ion 85th Street in Oakland, has just announced a huge retail expansion, with its mega-popular plant-based Impossible Burger being rolled out this week at over 1,700 grocery stores nationwide.

All of those stores are owned by The Kroger Co., which operates in 28 states under many different brands including Pay Less, Ralphs, Albertsons, Vons, Fred Meyer, and many more.

Impossible Foods' award-winning Impossible Burger — which won a Food and Beverage (FABI) Award from the National Restaurant Association and which the New York Times has declared America's top plant-based burger — is now available not just on the shelves of these 1,700-plus stores, but can also be ordered online.

“The launch of Impossible Burger at Kroger grocery stores nationwide signals our intention to make Impossible Burger available everywhere America shops — at brick-and-mortar retailers and their increasingly popular online ordering and delivery services,” said Impossible Foods’ president Dennis Woodside, as reported at Supermarketnews and other venues.

“Our existing retail partners have achieved record sales of Impossible Burger in recent weeks. We expect our retail footprint to expand more than fifty-fold in 2020, and we are moving as quickly as possible to expand with additional outlets and in more retail channels," Woodside said.

The kosher, halal, and gluten-free-certified Impossible Burger is also served at Burger King, the Hard Rock Café, and thousands of other restaurants.

Demand for plant-based proteins is rising as worried consumers seek innovations and alternatives. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control reported that thousands of workers at American meat- and poultry-processing facilities have tested positive for Covid-19.

“Kroger’s new partnership with Impossible Foods is one more way we are providing our customers with convenient access to popular fresh plant-based meats,” said Joe Grieshaber, Kroger’s senior vice president of merchandising.

“Plant-based food remains one of the fastest-growing categories at Kroger. We’re excited to continue growing our selection, especially as more customers than ever are purchasing meat products made from plants," Grieshaber said.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Ike's Love & Sandwiches Feeds Entire Hospital, Nursing Home Staffs for Free

Healthcare workers also get half-off their purchase orders tomorrow to mark National Nurses' Week.

by S. Rufus
Tue, May 5, 2020 at 4:00 AM

sw.jpg

To celebrate National Nurses' Week, Ike's Love & Sandwiches is offering all healthcare workers with ID 50 percent off the price of their in-store takeout orders tomorrow, May 6.

Boasting over seventy locations in five states — including locations in Berkeley and Oakland — the cult-favorite San Francisco-based sandwich outfit is also donating hundreds of sandwiches throughout the next seven days to healthcare facilities throughout California and Arizona.

Ike's has already provided over a hundred meals for staff at UC San Diego Medical Center and the Pavilion Nursing Home in Fullerton, CA, with many additional donations set for this week.

The donated meals included popular menu items served on Ike's signature Dutch-crunch bread with the company's proprietary secret baked-into-the-bread "Dirty Sauce."

“We want to do our part to help overcome this pandemic by making sure frontline workers are taken care of,” said Ike's Love & Sandwiches CMO Renae Scott.

Founded in 2007 by Ike Shehadeh under the name Ike's Place, the company quickly acquired a loyal following for its hefty, diverse, often pop-culture-inspired sandwiches — such as the recent Team Joe and Team Carole sandwiches based on Netflix's Tiger King series, as well as others named after characters in the Ozark, Love Hurts, and Schitt's Creek shows.

Ike's fans include local sports stars such as boxer Andre Ward, former San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner, and Seattle Seahawks (and former UC Berkeley Golden Bears) running back Marshawn Lunch — each of whom worked with Shehadeh to develop their own special sandwiches.

“Supporting nurses on the front line is just part of our commitment to the 'love' part of our 'Ike’s Love and Sandwiches' name," Scott said.

Friday, May 1, 2020

REBBL Wins NEXTY Award

The Emeryville company's cocoa elixir was named "Best New Ready-to-Drink Beverage."

by S. Rufus
Fri, May 1, 2020 at 4:00 AM

PHOTO COURTESY OF REBBL
  • Photo courtesy of REBBL

REBBL's Gold Label Mayan Cocoa Elixir has just won the 2020 NEXTY Award for "Best New Ready-to-Drink Beverage."

Its ingredients include maca, reishi, maitake, turkey tail mushrooms, lion's mane mushrooms, cayenne, and ashwagandha, among others.

"We're thrilled our Gold Label Mayan Cocoa won this year's 'Best New Drink,'" REBBL's chief marketing officer Bonnie Neulight said in a press release.

"We developed this as the ultimate elixir featuring four premium mushrooms. It's our priority to create organic, plant-based beverages that do not compromise on taste," Neulight said.

Given every year to companies that distinguish themselves as leaders in the natural-products industry, NEXTY Awards are divided into four categories:

Flagship NEXTY Awards are given to one standout product in each of 23 different categories. NEXTY Consumer Choice Awards are given to the top products in each of three categories: Food/Beverage; Personal Care; Natural Living. NEXTY Editors' Choice Awards are selected by a team of New Hope Network editors. NEXTY Gold Awards are given to a few brands that for several years running "truly move the mission of the national products industry forward, disrupt the status quo, and make the world a healthier, better place," the NEXTY Awards website reads.

Making ethically sourced, plant-based drinks since 2011, Emeryville-based REBBL was co-founded by Dave Batstone, who also founded the Not For Sale anti-human-trafficking nonprofit. A portion of REBBL's net sales support Not For Sale in providing shelter, education, healthcare, legal services, and job training for survivors of exploitation.

Among REBBL's other products is a new Keto Elixir line as well as two new sparkling prebiotic tonics.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Takeout-Only Sushi Arrives in Uptown

Nikkei Sushi scales back its plans and starts operating out of Itani Ramen.

by S. Rufus
Tue, Apr 28, 2020 at 7:23 PM

Celebrated chef-restaurateur Kyle Itani, who helms Itani Ramen and Hopscotch Restaurant & Bar in Uptown Oakland, has just launched a brand-new project: a takeout sushi spot.

Operating out of Itani Ramen and serving its fare via pickup and delivery, Nikkei Sushi will be open Wednesday through Sunday, 2 p.m.-8 p.m. during its soft opening with hours extending in the future.

Itani, whom the San Francisco Chronicle named a Rising Star Chef in 2013, began planning last year to open Nikkei Sushi in an Uptown location, but given the COVID-19 situation decided to operate the concept instead through Itani Ramen, which is located across from the Fox Theater.

"Seeing the private dining room at Itani Ramen empty for over a month now had me thinking about how we could adapt to better serve our community and our staff," said Itani, whose résumé includes winning an episode of the cooking show Knife Fight in 2014.

"Now more than ever, we are forced to be innovative and nimble because there is no road map for how to survive these circumstances," he said. "By creating Nikkei under the same roof as Itani Ramen, we are quickly able to create jobs and additional revenue to cover our rent and utilities."

He has loved working with sushi ever since his early days as a young chef at Yoshi's Oakland under chef Sho Kamio — who sent Itani to apprentice in Japan, then tapped him to oversee the extensive sushi kitchen at Yoshi's flagship San Francisco location.

Comprising classic and specialty rolls along with sashimi and nigiri and more, Nikkei Sushi's menu was designed specifically with affordability and delivery in mind.

"Everyone is struggling right now, so we are doing our best to keep the price point down so more people can enjoy sushi delivered safely to their doorstep, but also maintain the high standards of foods we have built our reputation upon," Itani said.

Diners also can add to their orders Itani Ramen starters such as gyoza or edamame — and even carry-out cocktails, sake, and Japanese whiskey.

Nikkei is Japanese for someone of Japanese ancestry not living in Japan. As a fourth-generation Japanese American, Itani is proud to launch another new project celebrating his roots.

Takeout orders can be placed by calling 510-788-7489. Delivery orders can be made through the Itani Ramen Caviar page. (Other platforms coming).

"Many of my colleagues and friends who own sushi restaurants have been forced to close," Itani said. "So I am planning to offer some of their team members' temporary work as well."

Benchmark Pizzeria Has Closed

Benchmark Pizzeria in Old Oakland has closed permanently. A notice now posted at the restaurant's website, addressed "to our Friends, Regulars, and Supporters," reads:

"We have made the very tough decision to close Benchmark Oakland permanently," the statement said. "Without a strong to-go business, we are unable to break even and adequately care for our employees. The end is nowhere is sight, and it is likely that our industry will be forever changed when this is over.  We lack the capital to navigate that future. Please come visit us in Kensington for some take-out, or email if you need to get in touch. All gift cards purchased here will be honored in Kensington."

Drawing the restaurant's name from the survey markers that his geologist dad enjoyed pointing out to him, chef/co-owner Peter Swanson opened the original Benchmark in Kensington in 2012 with his wife, Melissa Swanson.

The pair had met Rockridge's Oliveto Cafe & Restaurant, where Melissa worked as a host and server and Peter worked as a lead line cook. Later, Peter helped open, then worked as sous chef at, Dopo in Oakland. Melissa worked as a server at Chez Panisse.

The Oakland location opened in 2018 — serving pizza, pasta, and such cutting-edge cocktails as the Colorado Bulldog — containing vodka, cream, seltzer, New Orleans-style coffee, spiced cherry liqueur, and acid phosphate.

La Guerrera's Kitchen, Too

The brick-and-mortar Fruitvale location of La Guerrera's Kitchen is now closed permanently. Mother-and-daughter Ofelia Barajas and Reyna Maldonado decided against a new lease when their previous one ended in March, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle. Instead, the pair will sell tamales online with pickups several days a week at the Ale Industries brewery.

Honoring their roots in Mexico's Guerrero region, Barajas and Maldonado sold handcrafted tamales on the streets of San Francisco's Mission district, attracting a loyal fanbase. Entering La Cocina's incubator-kitchen program in 2017, the pair operated pop-ups — then, last spring, they opened the brick-and-mortar restaurant whose most popular item was chicken tamales with green sauce, Maldonado said in an interview. Another brick-and-mortar restaurant elsewhere in Oakland sometime in the future is still a possibility, the Chronicle reports.

Free McMeals to Workers

Now through May 5, healthcare workers and first responders can collect free "Thank You Meals" at any McDonald's location nationwide.

Nearly all of McDonald's 14,000 restaurants nationwide are remaining open throughout the COVID-19 crisis, having implemented nearly fifty new safety measures to improve employees' well-being. The company also has donated more than $3 million worth of food — including more than 60,000 pounds of fresh produce and 1.2 million pounds of beef — to food banks and other charities.

Matt Horn and Fellow Volunteers Feed a Whole Hospital Staff

Over 600 barbecued pork and chicken sandwiches were made and donated.

by S. Rufus
Tue, Apr 28, 2020 at 4:00 AM

PHOTO COURTESY OF MATT HORN
  • Photo courtesy of Matt Horn

Together with a team of volunteers — including the Street Royalty Motorcycle Club — popular pitmaster Matt Horn prepared and served 600 pork and chicken sandwiches to feed the entire staff at Valley Children's Hospital in Fresno.

Rather than lament the delayed opening of his eagerly awaited Horn Barbecue brick-and-mortar restaurant in the heart of Oakland, last month the pitmaster created a philanthropic project, the Horn Initiative, which has since mid-March facilitated the making and serving of over 4,000 meals to frontline workers and others in need.

“Our dream is to feed the world with our love-driven food. In times of crisis, our hope is that the meals we make with care will bring welcome relief, especially for those most in need," Horn said.

"We are a company that has been blessed with a sense of abundance. And our vision is to share that abundance as an expression of our love for people. From gratitude comes service, and from service comes love," said Horn, who credits this sense of commitment to his parents.

During his youth, they opened their home to the homeless, cooked for the hungry, and even gave away their own shoes to those who had none.

Video of the recent Fresno event can be viewed here.

Having grown up in Southern California, Horn worked in retail until a change of heart led to a change in career, fueled by fond memories of family members' backyard barbecue pits.

Since then, he has become one of the nation's most-watched Central Texas-style barbecue masters. At pop-ups around the East Bay and beyond, avid fans have been known to gladly wait more than four hours for his famous brisket and other pit-smoked meats.

The brick-and-mortar Horn Barbecue was set to open this year in the West Oakland space that formerly housed Brown Sugar Kitchen, but a delay was announced in February. Now the restaurant is expected to open next winter.

alaMar Will Celebrate Its Anniversary With a Contactless "Parade"

Marking its sixth year in business, the Uptown restaurant asks fans to drive past this Friday at 6:30 and honk.

by S. Rufus
Tue, Apr 28, 2020 at 4:00 AM

PHOTO COURTESY OF ALAMAR
  • Photo courtesy of alaMar

Uptown Oakland's alaMar Kitchen & Bar will celebrate its sixth anniversary this Friday, May 1, with a contactless, social-distancing, Covid-19-crisis parade.

"In celebration of this milestone, we are asking all of our fans and supporters to parade in the safety of their cars," management announced in a press release today.

Friday evening at 6:30 p.m., "everyone can 'parade' in their cars" by driving "around alaMar while honking as a way to wish us 'Happy Anniversary,'" the announcement reads.

To those who drive past the restaurant and honk, "we will be giving away a free treat as a small token of thanks."

Presumably, cyclists can also ride past and ring their bells.

Also marking the anniversary, served from May 1 through May 3, alaMar will bring back one of its best-selling pre-Covid-19 menu items: two cheese empanadas for $6. During those same dates, the restaurant is also offering a $60 Seafood Boil Family Meal which includes a whole Alaskan snow crab along with shrimp and red potatoes submerged in sauce, accompanied by garlic noodles and bread. These specials will be available on alaMar's website through online ordering, or through DoorDash and Grubhub, or phone orders — while supplies last.

Executive chef and owner Nelson German grew up in New York City but settled in Oakland ten years ago with his Oakland-bred wife. Having earned multiple Michelin recommendations, alaMar was Oakland's first fast-casual restaurant to serve seafood boils in a quick-service format.

These days, alaMar has transitioned to a takeout/delivery model. In addition, its staff has served 300 free meals a day, five days a week, to displaced restaurant workers as part of the Lee Initiative.

German opened the Afro-Latino cocktail lounge Sobre Mesa in Oakland last month — nine days before the shelter-in-place was issued.

"This was not the way we envisioned the celebration of a big milestone," today's press release reads.

"But we support the social-distancing protocols and we put the health of our guests and team members first. We wish to thank everyone from the bottom of our hearts for their support in the last six years. We truly have the most passionate fans."

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