East-West Synergy

Restaurants expand on both sides of the Bay.


Sarah Trubnick (left) and partner Carolyn Johnson of The Barrel Room.

Lori Eanes

Managing a restaurant empire is hard enough work without adding in a regular commute, as Oakland-centric chef-entrepreneurs like James Syhabout, Chris Pastena, and Alexeis Filipello can attest. This may be why, even though San Francisco is just a Bay Bridge trip away, many East Bay restaurateurs haven’t made the leap to expand there—and why the same goes for SF-based empire-builders opening East Bay spots (Daniel Patterson excepted). But as Oakland’s food scene continues to gain traction (and San Francisco real estate prices continue to skyrocket), the East Bay is seeing more glimpses of manifest destiny from the San Francisco restaurant community.

“We fell in love with [Rockridge] right away,” says Sarah Trubnick, owner of Union Square wine bar The Barrel Room. Since opening in 2010, she and partner Carolyn Johnson have cultivated a host of regulars, many of whom begged the duo to add a retail component.

Pressed for space, they sought a shop elsewhere, but were overwhelmed by the soaring San Francisco real estate market. “People can get away with charging ridiculous amounts for very small, inadequate places,” says Trubnick. A friend suggested Rockridge, and the duo scored with an affordable space far larger than what they initially sought. Now they’ll not only offer a bottle shop to complement a by-the-glass program, but a full menu of small plates as well, developed by Emeryville-based chef Bryant Paulding.

A few doors down, Shelley Lindgren is also seeing the benefits of crossing the Bay. The James Beard Award nominee owns A16 and SPQR in San Francisco, and opened her third restaurant, A16 Rockridge, in June with impressive results.

“I’m seeing people I haven’t seen in years,” Lindgren says. “A lot of our customers moved to the East Bay after they had kids. They come into the restaurant, and I’m like, ‘I know you!’ ”

The migration seems to be going both ways, as evidenced by Gather, the award-winning Berkeley restaurant that will open a new offshoot, Verbena, on Polk Street next month. Even Champa Garden, the popular East Oakland Laotian restaurant, opened a second location in Ingleside in September.

Meanwhile, Trubnick has received numerous requests for advice on expanding eastward, adding, “It seems like there’s a lot of interest from small businesses [in San Francisco] in going over to Oakland. I’ve heard a lot of second-location dreams.”

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