West Oakland’s new LocoL Bakery is situated on a Market Street block with no other commerce, just across the street from the Perry Temple Church of God in Christ and not far from where you might see colorful low-riders cruising. It’s a work in progress—and that’s entirely the point.
Founding chefs Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson, who launched their LocoL fast-food chain in L.A.’s Watts last year, had an Oakland commissary space, so they decided to open their first LocoL Bakery in an underserved community.
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“We’re still evolving,” Choi says. “We’re right in the heart of West Oakland, and as you can see, it’s a very similar neighborhood to Watts—tons of residents, not many places to eat at all. The core of LocoL is to take care of neighborhoods. Our number one goal is to make sure West Oakland wants us and believes in us.”
So LocoL is here, offering $2 “buttery bunzz” with honey butter and $1 coffee. The $3 “cinnabunzz” are a crowd-pleaser, too. For breakfast one day last week, I ate a $4 egg-and-cheese sandwich with salsa verde and drank a $2 strawberry-mandarin agua fresca. A red pickup truck parked outside advertised a property-management-and-investment business involved in Section 8 affordable housing. The owner of the truck came inside to get some coffee.
“That’s just our first crack at it,” Choi says of the current menu at the month-old bakery, which is also serving pizza for lunch and dinner. “It’s going to change. A lot of it is listening to the neighborhood to hear what’s going on, what we’re missing.”
Choi is planning to add many more baked goods and says that customers might soon see an attractive array of pastries like those served at bakeries in higher-rent neighborhoods.
“We’re thinking about going more toward cookies, brownies, muffins, danishes and grab-and-go sandwiches,” Choi says.
LocoL makes all its items from scratch, and the bakery’s glassy exterior lets passersby see employees baking. This was done on purpose; LocoL hires from within the neighborhoods it occupies in the hopes of inspiring and empowering those who live there.
“We deliberately didn’t block the windows, so kids could see us baking bread,” Choi says. “Maybe some kid is going to walk by and find that interesting. Maybe they’ll see a career there.”
Choi gives props to rappers Bambu DePistola and Rocky Rivera for helping the bakery find its way in Oakland.
“Through them, we’re connected to the whole hip-hop community: Mistah F.A.B., the Hieroglyphics Crew,” Choi says. “That’s a big part of who we are in Oakland—a big part of who we feed and who we want to feed.”
But LocoL Bakery isn’t just about baking for West Oakland, of course. Choi and Patterson will continue to evolve and expand, maybe into little coffee-and-pastry kiosks that serve items from the bakery. Patterson, who runs a top-tier San Francisco restaurant group, has been serving LocoL coffee in his Bay Area restaurants and plans to offer LocoL pastries at spots like his forthcoming Alta restaurant. That new outpost of Alta will be at Dogpatch’s Minnesota Street Project, which is also offering affordable gallery and studio space for artists.
One key to LocoL’s success, Choi says, is not limiting what it can be. I ask if LocoL might end up like Gjusta in L.A., custom-baking items for various restaurant clients.
“Daniel and myself, we know how to cook—we can make almost anything,” Choi says. “We have the equipment; we have the team. Theoretically, yes. We’re constantly pushing because things need to be pushed. It’s like hiking or exploring. You start to make decisions as you’re going. I kind of like it that way.”