’Top Chef’ Brings Juhu Beach Club to Oakland
Bloggers and foodies followed Bravo TV’s "Top Chef" contestant Preeti Mistry like she was an unattainable catch for years. They followed the out lesbian’s pop-up restaurant that showed up in San Francisco neighborhoods like South of Market and the Mission and checked in regularly about her restaurant’s official opening.
To their delight, they got their wish this spring, when Juhu Beach Club opened in Oakland’s hip and trendy Temescal neighborhood. Since opening it’s been a hit as the neighborhood’s only Indian restaurant and is part of new food tours featuring the culinary neighborhood’s delights.
Juhu Beach Club, named after a famed beach in Mumbai, India, was a long time coming for Mistry. The 36-year-old’s first restaurant venture with her family and partner of nearly 18 years, Ann Nadeau, experienced some fits and starts after a successful run as a pop-up restaurant around San Francisco. But finding a permanent home for Mistry’s culinary vision of her take on Indian street food was a challenge.
This is not your traditional chicken tikka masala or kati roll Indian restaurant.
Nadeau, 39, who co-owns Juhu Beach Club and is the global managing director at the Great Place to Work Institute, created the interior design while Mistry fashioned the menu.
"There is nothing that we are trying to do in any traditional way," said Mistry. "The menu items are my creations, my inspiration."
The pink wallpaper with monkeys harkens back to Mumbai, where her family originated and the photographs of her parents’ journey artfully placed on the walls creates a living room effect that is cheerful, warm, and friendly.
"I’m kind of excited of the fact that it’s seen as feminine," said Mistry, about the dark wood and leather that dominates many restaurant interiors. "Yes, it’s fucking pink. Deal with that."
Just as much as the walls tell the story of Mistry’s family’s migration from Mumbai to Trinidad to London to Pittsburg to Ohio and finally to California so does the menu.
The menu includes Desi Jacks, a sweet, salty, spicy popcorn with peanuts and pistachios, as one of the appetizers; Curryleaf Coriander Shrimp as a main course, and Masala Fries as one of the popular side dishes. The food is affordable starting at $4 for an appetizer up to $15 for an entree.
"It is an evolution and it is Indian. There is nothing that is undeniably Indian about the food and the flavors," said Mistry. "It’s an evolution of something and it speaks to the people who are influenced by other things. People are influenced by things in India and they create new dishes and that’s authentic and so is this."
"It’s my authentic expression and it’s also the experience of a lot of young people who are second-generation immigrants," she added.
Mistry’s focus is on creating a value driven "amazing and awesome" restaurant where "people have a good time and the food is great and creative," she said.
Juhu Beach Club is catching on with Oakland residents after the first wave of excitement around its opening in March.
Simmering to perfection
Born in London and raised on the East Coast, Mistry landed in San Francisco in 1996 when she was 19. It was in San Francisco where she honed her culinary skills that she learned at Le Cordon Bleu in London, working in the kitchens of the De Young Museum and Google. A stint at Bon Appetite Management Company landed her on Top Chef in 2006.
She was one of the first chefs of that season to be given the chopping knife, but she charged on after her elimination from the show with testing Juhu Beach Club, her take on Indian street food, as a pop-up restaurant around San Francisco.
A former die-hard San Franciscan, she originally planned on bringing the eatery full-time to the city, but things weren’t working out and Oakland continued to beckon. She finally threw in the kitchen towel after a frustrating two-year process and amicably parted ways with her then-business partner and answered the call from Oaktown, the affectionate nickname locals call the East Bay city.
By that time, Mistry and Nadeau had decamped from their trendy loft in the city to a four-bedroom Craftsman house in Oakland’s Temescal neighborhood. It was an opportunity the couple couldn’t pass up, she said. Many of their friends had made the move a long time ago, she added.
"I didn’t lose the city. I’m in the city all of the time. I gained Oakland and Berkeley," she said, along with the good weather and ethnic and economic diversity.
"Our entire community is here," she said, asking, "Why in the hell did we wait so long?"
"Especially, being a queer woman of color I feel like even more so my community is here," continued Mistry.
Aside from the good weather, Oakland is brimming with women chefs and restaurateurs and people are starting to take notice.
Recently, during an interview about women in the culinary industry in Oakland, Mistry pointed out that half of the women on the reporter’s list were women of color.
While she experienced some challenges with opening up Juhu Beach Club, it was nowhere near the obstacles she faced in San Francisco. This time she had her heart set on the Uptown area of Oakland that has emerged as a gay hot spot, but she let that go when everything fell into place at the Temescal location of the former SR24 restaurant. It was move-in ready with just a few decor changes and a swap out of one or two new machines.
Now Mistry feels fortunate that she and Nadeau moved when they did as Oakland is experiencing a new renaissance.
Talking with her servers she said that some of them are trying to escape the city to move to Oakland. She also has observed that many young people are bypassing San Francisco and moving directly to Oakland.
Young people are saying, "I’m trying to move to Oakland. That’s where everything is happening that’s where all of the cool people are," she said, recalling a conversation with one of her servers.
Mistry only hopes more good restaurants open in Oakland.
Locals and visitors can get a sampling of Juhu Beach Club’s offerings during the Bites off Broadway street food event in Temescal on Fridays or Sundays during Edible Excursions’ Temescal Tastes tours.
For more information, visit www.juhubeachclub.com.