Poco a Poco

DSC_0513

It hasn’t come all at once, but The Half Orange is, in fact, coming along. We got our beer & wine license about two weeks ago and have a nice list of local draft beers I’m really stoked to serve. We’re open on Saturdays as well now too. And best of all, we’re starting to really get to know our regulars, including folks who work in downtown Fruitvale and many people who live nearby as well.

I’m very grateful to be back in the business of running a neighborhood restaurant that serves great local beer and food made with good ingredients. I confess, I just love doing it for a living. I’m particularly glad to be serving these products in Fruitvale, the community I call home, and a place which is widely, inspiringly, diverse in just about every dimension. I know it’s often thought that our kind of food and drink is suited only for a very narrow demographic of the bourgeoisie, but I don’t see it that way. In fact, I see The Half Orange as an opportunity to show that well-sourced food and drink appeals to all sorts of people. I think that’s the case, anyway.

In any event, we’re having a great time, and hope you can join us.

Full Days at The Half Orange

Top-Link

I’m happy to announce that, starting today, The Half Orange is open until 8pm every weekday. Our full hours are 11:30am to 8pm, Monday through Friday.

We’re still waiting on our beer and wine license, and we’ll probably hold off on weekend hours until that comes through. But in the meantime we’re really happy with how the food is coming out, and we’d love for you to come enjoy it.

We’re Open!

IMG_1323

It’s a been almost a year since we’ve gotten to do what we love most — making and serving food to our neighbors. But we’re back at it again today at The Half Orange, in the heart of Fruitvale.

For now, we’re open M-F lunch only (11:30am-2:00pm), with dinner and weekend service coming soon. You can see our menu here.

Thanks for all your support in years past, and in the times to come.

Fruitvale 1878

FruitvaleMap

We were at Alameda Flea yesterday searching for the perfect host stand (which we found, thank you very much vendor at stall Q21) and we stumbled up this map of downtown Fruitvale from 1878. Right in the center (block 111 of the Levy Tract, in the green polygon) is the current location of The Half Orange, our restaurant which opens tomorrow, 136 years after this map was drawn up.

Fruitvale’s a bit different now: The Oakland, Fruit Vale & Mills Seminary Railroad is long gone, but we do have BART and we’re getting a Bus Rapid Transit line, too. We also have one of the strongest concentrations of delicious restaurants of any community in the Bay Area, which sets a high standard for The Half Orange as we do our thing. We hope to contribute something personal and authentic.

We’ll have the map framed and on the wall somewhere, too, if you’d like to check it out.

Back at the Grind!

DSC_0068

Oh hey, guess what? We’re opening a restaurant in Fruitvale. This is different than the restaurant we’re opening in North Oakland. We’re doing both. Because restaurants are fun and delicious.

Since we moved to the Bay Area, Katie and I had talked about how, after we get Salsipuedes going, we’d like to then work on a casual place featuring handmade sausages, grass-fed burgers, and craft beer, like a streamlined version of the Linkery. For whatever reason, we felt that this, alongside the local-seafood-and-wine-driven Salsipuedes, completed our offerings.

It turns out that we got the order of operations backward — the sausage and beer place will almost certainly open first — but we’re excited to get the chance to do both.

We live in Fruitvale and we love it. Fruitvale is an East Oakland neighborhood, originally an independent city, with a lively, walkable downtown district. Fruitvale has historically been connected by rail to downtown Oakland (about 4 miles away) and other Bay Area cities.

Here in Fruitvale we have a lot of really good restaurants, and Katie and I patronize them a lot. Restaurants here tend to specialize in Mexican food, often specifically from Jalisco, Durango, Michoacan and/or Sinaloa. Those are all areas with amazing cuisine, but it seemed to us there was probably room in the neighborhood for a burgers & brats place, too. And when we would dine at Taco Grill in the Fruitvale Village BART plaza, we’d often think about how that was the sort of venue that would be perfect for said sausage and beer restaurant.

Well, we weren’t the only folks dining at Taco Grill — that restaurant has been so successful they moved last month to a bigger location in the same plaza (they also changed their name to Obelisco). So when that space became available, Katie and I only had to talk for about thirty seconds before we agreed we wanted to do this.

The name of the new joint is The Half Orange, which is kind of a play on the old Linkery logo. It also plays on the history of the neighborhood as being a place filled with fruit trees (thus the name, Fruitvale). And the phrase “half orange”, in Spanish media naranja, translates as a person’s “better half” or “other half” — the person who completes them. Our idea is that what we’ll do here, along with what we’ll do at Salsipuedes, completes what we have to offer you.

We hope you like it.

The Small Business Owner’s Case for a Higher Minimum Wage

UPDATE: I re-wrote the below post for Slate, it’s posted here. As working professionally with an editor tends to make writing better, I recommend that piece over this one.

I don’t know what it’s like where you are, but around these parts there’s a strong movement forming to raise the minimum wage. Most of the municipal proposals are in the $10-13/hour range, but the zeitgeist seems to be heralding a $15/hour minimum wage.

People getting paid more for their work is a heartwarming notion, so it can be pretty easy to get behind these proposals on an emotional level. Economically, one sees macroeconomic cases made both for and against a higher minimum wage. I haven’t found the arguments in either direction particularly compelling. At the small business owners’ level, I hear from people both in favor and against raising the minimum wage.

But who are we kidding – most people are going to give or withhold their support for this initiative based largely on their perceived self-interest. So here’s my self-interest — as a small business owner, I selfishly think a higher minimum wage is great for me. Make it $15 an hour. Make it $20. The higher, the better. Make it high enough that dishwashers get paid as well as office workers.

The reason is this: the biggest downward force on the profits of our independent businesses is price “competition” from large, well, capitalized corporations. Prices at the local superstore, supermarket and chain restaurant anchor our customers’ understanding of what things cost. In other words, the reason it’s hard to sell a $15 artisanal burger in most markets is not because the product isn’t worth $15 (it can be), and it’s not because making the burger doesn’t cost the business that much (it can cost that or more) — it’s because a burger costs half that or less in many corporate retail environments.

The way these big companies are able to generate profits while selling things so cheaply is by externalizing certain costs that we small businesses can’t externalize. These companies, alone or in aggregate, have the resources to produce goods in areas with lax environmental regulations, externalizing some of their production costs onto the environment. They can transport the goods from these remote places over subsidized roads using subsidized fuel, externalizing those costs as well to the taxpayer while undercutting the local production of goods within communities.

Subtly, a nonlivable minimum wage — and minimum wages under $15 are basically unlivable wages — is also a kind of externalization of costs. These employees work a full-time job, but are unable to afford health care, education, quality food or a healthy routine. The difference between what they make and what they need is paid, one way or another, by the community in which they live and by taxpayers.

Simply put, when Global Megastore Inc pays its employees less than they can live a decent life on, the difference is very clearly paid by the rest of us.

Now, if the minimum wage rises and the cost of human resources has to be borne in full by the employer, then the price that large companies charge for their products will have to move closer to their true cost. That means that we small businesses — who generally have to charge nearer the true cost of things, because we lack the ability to externalize many costs — will be competing on a more level playing field with the big guys.

And, in this environment where fewer costs are borne by the community and where things are therefore priced higher to the purchaser, the purchaser is likely to be more thoughtful about her choices. Which is where we independent businesses have our advantage. With our small size, we can be nimble in our offerings; with our personal involvement in our communities, we can develop a kind of trust with our clients that can’t be matched by mere brands. And when everybody in the market has cash to spend, and every burger costs at least $15, you can sell a burger based primarily on its quality.

I saw a little of this in action some years back when I spent some time in Australia, where the minimum wage has typically been higher than in the US (it’s currently hovering around US$16/hour). While there were plenty of big companies and the costs of opening even a small business were higher than in the US, the biggest differences that stood out to me was the higher quality of most everything for sale, and the care with which people made purchasing decisions. I’m sure there are other factors at work, too, but I think the higher minimum wage helped create a context for quality to thrive.

TL;DR: a higher minimum wage helps create an environment in which thoughtful, high-quality independent businesses can thrive by outfoxing our well-capitalized competitors.

NB: Relatedly, but not exactly part of this argument, I enjoyed this factoid from Inequality.org:

At the top 1 percent of the American income distribution, average incomes rose 194 percent between 1974 and 2011. Had U.S. minimum wages risen at the same pace as U.S. maximum wages, the minimum wage would now be $26.96 an hour.

Today, $15 — tomorrow, $27!

San Diego Exit Interview, Part 2

In December I sat down with Jed Sundwall to do the 3rd in our series of interviews that goes back to 2008. It’s funny, for whatever reason I’ve felt like my move from San Diego wasn’t complete until the last part of the interview was published. Well, now it has been, on Jed’s blog.

This interview digs pretty far into the subject that Jed and I initially bonded over all those years ago — the question of what it means for a brick-and-mortar business to use the social media and internet marketing techniques popularized by the “Web 2.0″ movement in the mid-aughts.

In one part of the interview, I talk about how our adoption of those techniques propelled us into spaces that San Diego restaurants hadn’t been — and how the same techniques may also have ultimately undermined us:

I think that, as with a lot of these kinds of projects, we also discovered the limits of this approach. Which was, it became too easy to consume the Linkery without actually experiencing the Linkery…Our online presence became its own, free, content that we were delivering to people who then added their own content around it, and then they sold it one way or another, without anybody ever just fucking eating a hot dog.

I hope you find our discussion interesting and/or useful. As always, I’m grateful to Jed for taking the time and effort to tease out whatever I may have learned from my work. With this interview, I particularly enjoy that we talk a lot about the things that Jed is passionate about, and I appreciate examining the ways in which our experiences and beliefs don’t exactly match up. That’s where the real good stuff is.

San Diego Exit Interview, Part 1

In December I sat down with Jed Sundwall on the patio at Fathom Bistro, Bait and Tackle, for what we jokingly called my San Diego exit interview. You can read the first part here.

Jed and I now have a little history of these long-form interviews; this is the third one I’ve done with him in the last six years. A nice thing about this format is that Jed, being a blogger and not a professional journalist, can go as deep as he wants with the questioning, and can let the answers stand at their own length. So you can really get a feel for multiple layers of thought and emotion, that can’t be communicated within the typical format constraints of commercial food writing. Plus it helps that Jed is a talented interviewer. Anyway, I hope you enjoy this, and the forthcoming second part.