Cult favorite Oakland restaurant closes, expands across Bay Area

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Customers line up outside Vegan Mob, a vegan BBQ and soul food restaurant in Oakland, in 2020.

Customers line up outside Vegan Mob, a vegan BBQ and soul food restaurant in Oakland, in 2020.

Douglas Zimmerman/SFGate

Cult favorite meat-free restaurant Vegan Mob is expanding across the Bay Area after closing its original Oakland restaurant earlier this month, with plans to open new locations in San Francisco this Saturday and Santa Rosa in early October.  

When Vegan Mob set up shop in the former Kwik Way Drive-In on Lake Park Avenue near Lake Merritt in October 2019, it was an instant sensation. Lines stretched down the block, and it sold out of its trademark smackaroni and plant-based fried chicken in a matter of hours on its first day in business.

Toriano Gordon is the owner of Vegan Mob, a Vegan BBQ and soul food take out restaurant in Oakland.

Toriano Gordon is the owner of Vegan Mob, a Vegan BBQ and soul food take out restaurant in Oakland.

Douglas Zimmerman/SFGate

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The brainchild of former rapper Toriano Gordon, Vegan Mob sought to bring a modern edge to vegan fare, melding it with hip-hop culture and the dishes his grandmother prepared for him when he was growing up in San Francisco. That resonated with Bay Area diners, and over the last four years, Vegan Mob became so popular Gordon went on to open a food truck on Valencia Street in the Mission District and a ghost kitchen in San Jose. The restaurant has amassed over 150,000 Instagram followers, and garnered the approval of celebrities from actor Danny Glover to hyphy legend Mistah F.A.B.  

Toriano Gordon and Danny Glover at Vegan Mob's food truck in the Mission District in 2021. 

Toriano Gordon and Danny Glover at Vegan Mob’s food truck in the Mission District in 2021. 

Nicola Parisi/Special to SFGATE

Gordon said the decision to close the original restaurant was “a tough one” that he mulled over for at least a year. Vegan Mob’s lease ended in 2022 and was extended on a month-to-month basis while he searched for a permanent home. He considered a larger spot at 1500 Broadway but changed his mind on pursuing a dine-in restaurant and bar model, ultimately deciding on a fast-casual concept at 90 Charter Oak Avenue in San Francisco’s Bayview.

“I wanted to move back to San Francisco because it’s my hometown,” Gordon said.

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He noted the original Oakland restaurant was always going to be a temporary home. Before he signed the lease at the Lake Park Avenue space, he was aware that a mixed-use housing development was planned for the area and that the building he was operating out of would eventually be razed. 

Vegan Mob's soon to be new San Francisco location located in the Bayview near Bernel Heights.

Vegan Mob’s soon to be new San Francisco location located in the Bayview near Bernel Heights.

Courtesy of Toriano Gordon

“So it was about time I got out of there,” Gordon said. “It was a hard choice to make because I was so in love with the restaurant, but I felt like I was so tied up with it that I wasn’t allowing new opportunities to come. I had to let it go so I could have a new beginning, and I felt it was the right time to just move and start building.” 

The San Francisco restaurant will be a smaller, 24-seat operation – think pickup and delivery orders with a self-serve kiosk and some outdoor dining in a sunny area – a deliberate decision that will give Gordon the capacity to focus on building a franchise concept starting in Santa Rosa. That outpost, located at 13 West Third Street, will become a much larger destination space complete with 162 seats, a bar, indoor lounge, art gallery and movie screen. 

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Gordon isn’t leaving the East Bay for long. Within the next year or so, he’s eyeing the possibility of bringing a food truck back to Oakland, but said it’s too soon to say where exactly it will be parked or whether he might try another grab-and-go model. 

Customers can order Vegan Mob outside at its new Santa Rosa location, which is slated to open on October 7, 2023.

Customers can order Vegan Mob outside at its new Santa Rosa location, which is slated to open on October 7, 2023.

Courtesy of Toriano Gordon

In the meantime, Vegan Mob fans can expect to find frozen versions of their favorites at Whole Foods and Safeway stores by early 2024. Each plate will cost somewhere between $6.99 and $7.99, with options ranging from vegan fried chicken, candied yams, smackaroni and collard greens to vegan brisket, barbecue baked beans, collard greens and smackaroni. Individual packages of smackaroni, hot links, barbecue ribs and fried chicken will also be available for purchase, Gordon said.

And for those who want to try making their Vegan Mob favorites at home from scratch, Gordon is releasing a cookbook through Penguin Random House in the spring, which will include 80 plant-based barbecue recipes, as well as the story of how Gordon got his start in the restaurant industry. 

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“There’s been a lot of ups and downs this past year,” Gordon said. “I’ve had so much nostalgia for the Oakland spot already, but this is about doing what’s best for my business and for my family. I had to make a tough decision in order to grow.” 

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