Popoca founder Anthony Salguero says he is motivated by a desire to “try Salvadoran food”. Photo credit: Momo Chang
A permanent version of Anthony Salguero’s California-Salvadoran pop-up Popoca was hailed as one of the most anticipated openings of the year. However, these plans were thwarted when his planned location failed and Salguero started looking for a stationary location for his public restaurant again. This week, Salguero told Nosh, he has finally signed a lease for a long-term space in the Dimond District and is planning an all-day program that will range from coffee and pastries to seating to cocktails and bar snacks.
Salguero grew up in the Bay Area but has ties to El Salvador, where his family still owns a coffee farm. “Everything I do in Popoca” (the word means “puff out smoke” in Nawat, an indigenous language in El Salvador) “is about having fun with Salvadoran food. … I just want to go into that, ”he said.
And he’s been doing that since he left the world of fine dining behind. Salguero has worked in kitchens in places like San Francisco’s celebrated season, Plumed Horse in Saratoga, and Bardo Lounge & Supper Club in Oakland. He went freelance in 2019, launching pop-ups in locations across Oakland with a menu of critically acclaimed dishes like wood-fired pupusas and tostada-style enchiladas with anchovies and hardened egg yolks.
Finally, he settled in an ongoing operation at Classic Cars West (CCW), which at the time functioned as a mixed-use gallery, event room and beer garden. In early 2021, he announced plans to take over CCW and open a restaurant and retail hub with Brandi Brown, the former co-owner of the Filipino bar and restaurant FOB Kitchen. But that never happened.
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This time the problem wasn’t the pandemic, Salguero told Nosh. As it turns out, the operator of Classic Cars West – who closed the deal with Salguero – is only the lessee, not the owner of the space. The landlord canceled the agreement, and some people who spoke to Nosh say the building is expected to go on sale later this year. So Popoca found a new home in the Laurel District Degrees Plato, where Salguero serves a changing menu of dishes like a soothing sopa de pollo and rice or braised pollo en chicha.
Popoca’s pollo en chicha, chicken legs braised in fermented pineapple juice. Photo credit: Momo Chang
Meanwhile, Brown and Salguero went on talking, and they both looked for a place to make Popoca their own. And after months of searching, they found it: 3525 Fruitvale Avenue, a newly renovated building in “a really old building,” as Brown called it Nosh. It’s a space that has its own Fits and Starts story: in autumn 2019, another former pop-up, Lion Dance Cafe, announced that it would open a permanent location there. This plan didn’t work out either and Lion Dance eventually opened on 17th Street. But that left what Brown calls a “dream situation”.
While the building is old (a bowling alley turned into a printing shop), a major renovation by the owner of the building left a retail space that was built for a restaurant with “all the key pieces,” Brown said. “But it’s an empty box,” she said, “so that we can get a blank board and design it according to our needs.”
One of those needs, Salguero said, is a large stove in the center of the dining room where diners can gather all day. And a day in Popoca starts early: Salguero says that during the day, Popoca is run as a simple café that serves Central American pastries (mostly from local vendors, with maybe one or two homemade ones) and coffee from Central America. (Brown and Salguero are still talking to roasters to pin down that aspect of the business, they said.)
As dinner approaches, you can expect the restaurant to transform into a seating restaurant, with the menus that draw crowds to Popoca, as well as new things Salguero come up with in the kitchen. It was that drive for creativity that brought Brown to Popoca, she says – she is officially Salguero’s partner in business with this new company and will serve as general manager of the restaurant and take over operations “to give Anthony the opportunity to focus on creativity focus”. She said.
Then, after the rush of food, Popoca turns back into a sexy bar (the restaurant has a full liquor license) with cocktails and snacks. “It will be a place to have a drink after dinner,” Salguero said.
In addition, there are many plans to support aspiring restaurateurs, one way to fund this, Salguero said. So expect pop-ups from other members of the Oakland food community that Salguero and Brown think are unique. “We are so blessed to have so many colleagues and mentors to help us through this process,” said Brown. “That aspect was so crucial.”
This community support is evident in the way it is being stepped up to fund Popoca. One successful Kickstarter raised over $ 50,000, enough to “get us a lease and the start of the liquor license,” said Salguero. Now they are partnering with SMBX, a microinvestment funding portal, to cover the rest. “We still have a way to go” to cover the bills, Salguero said, which is why he was in no hurry to open. He said a spring 2022 launch was a general goal.
“It’s important not to overwhelm yourself or get sloppy,” said Salguero. “We need the time to get everything right and put together a great team.” Until then, Popoca will continue to appear at Degrees Plato, said Salguero, where he can use his twice-weekly appearances to refine his menu. That said, it is clear that he is already itching to serve his community. “We already have so much support in the neighborhood,” said Salguero. “Oakland is special in this regard. It makes me feel at home here. “
Popoca is currently available as a pop-up at Degrees Plato, 4251 MacArthur Blvd. (near the High Street), Oakland on Sundays from 11 am to 8:30 pm and Mondays from 3 to 8:30 pm Follow Popoca on Instagram for the latest menu items and changes in hours. Popoca’s permanent location at 3525 Fruitvale Ave. (on MacArthur Boulevard) is expected to open in 2022.
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