Legendary Oakland restaurant Brown Sugar Kitchen has closed

The last remaining location of Brown Sugar Kitchen, celebrity chef Tanya Holland’s famed Oakland soul food restaurant, has closed after almost 15 years, as first reported by Oaklandside. The restaurant’s closure just before Christmas was originally supposed to be temporary, but Holland has now decided to make it permanent.

“When you’re not fully resourced for decades, it adds up,” Holland told SFGATE. “I hung in there as long as I could. I fought the resistance probably a lot longer than I should have.”

Holland first opened Brown Sugar Kitchen in West Oakland in 2008 (a location that is now home to Horn Barbecue), gaining popularity for her chicken and waffles and other soul food favorites. The restaurant then moved to the Uptown Oakland space at 2295 Broadway in 2019. All the while, Holland’s star was rising, from competing on “Top Chef” to receiving multiple Michelin Bib Gourmand awards.

Holland’s success led her to open a second location of Brown Sugar Kitchen at the San Francisco Ferry Building in 2019, but it didn’t last long — it closed in early 2020. During the pandemic, the Oakland location struggled, too. In the spring of 2021, Brown Sugar Kitchen filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. But Holland doesn’t attribute the decision to finally close entirely to COVID.

Oakland's Brown Sugar Kitchen, at 2295 Broadway, has closed after nearly 15 years. 

Oakland’s Brown Sugar Kitchen, at 2295 Broadway, has closed after nearly 15 years. 

Dianna H. via Yelp

“Considering we’ve been in business for almost 15 years, if there were the the right resources all the way along, I think we would have survived because we just would have things in place,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of restaurants similar to us that have survived, and some people are opening new restaurants. I mean, it’s COVID, but it’s also what’s happening in Oakland right now … with all the empty offices and storefronts. I’m between some boarded-up retail spaces, and none of the office spaces are occupied, so there’s not traffic.” 

In the Oaklandside story, locals reacted to the news with sadness and an outpouring of support, from fellow restaurant owners to Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.

“Everybody’s like, ‘it’s a loss for Oakland,'” said Holland. “Everybody’s been really great.”

Holland’s new “plant-forward” cafe, Town Fare, which opened last summer at the Oakland Museum of California, remains open. Going forward, she will focus her efforts there, as well as on her work on the board of trustees for the James Beard Foundation.

“I’m going to continue to try to make impact in this industry through my work with the Beard Foundation,” said Holland. “… I’m involved in so many different boards because there just there isn’t another established African American voice in hospitality at the level I’m in. So I just keep getting invited to panels and boards to discuss some of the challenges in our industry, especially for people of color. So I’ll just continue doing that kind of work as well.”