At an Oakland Roots game in August, the East 10th Street pregame featured food trucks from Oakland vendors. Photo credit: Torrey Hart
At a time when the city’s professional sports landscape is looking increasingly grim, the Oakland Roots, a professional low-tier football club, have created a refreshing “Oakland First” attitude that they seek to embody in every aspect of the game day. Perhaps most obviously – aside from the brightly colored oak crowns – the Roots are determined to use local grocery vendors in lieu of a large corporate concessionaire.
The Roots’ pre-game features, which block party-like events on East 10th Street in front of the team’s home on the Laney College soccer field, find food trucks and local pop-ups in place of hot dog Stalls and vending machines. It is all very intentional.
“We’re trying to build the Roots as a dedicated sports organization and that means we’re a professional football team, but we have one goal, which is the magic of Oakland and the power of sport as a force for social good,” said Mike Geddes. the team’s chief purpose officer and co-founder, opposite Nosh. “And this purpose is what drives our entire operation, both on and off the field.”
The team began playing in the lowest division of American professional football in 2019 and rose to the USL championship in 2021, the second-rate league behind the MLS. But that may not mean much to many local fans as football has not yet reached almost its popularity here as it is anywhere else in the world.
For the roots, addressing a hyper-local fan base could be a back door method to attract new soccer fans.
“Our goal from day one is not only to attract soccer fans to our games, because we know that soccer is unfortunately not for everyone in this country. There are some communities that have had historical barriers to entry to football, be it culturally, financially, or geographically. And we really want to target Oakland, not just the ‘Oakland football fans,’ ”said Geddes, who started out as a reporter for the BBC in football in the early 2000s. “So we wanted our game day to be a reflection of Oakland; look and feel and sound like a place where everyone can come and gather. “
And what better way to do this than by eating?
The Roots are committed to creating an experience similar to that of the popular (but currently paused) “Off the Grid” food trucks on Friday night at the nearby Oakland Museum, Geddes said. With the help of an event management company, the team seeks out local food vendors and doesn’t charge them for setting up games, which offers the ability to sell to crowds of around 4,000 to 5,000 people.
“We want to find local suppliers, we want to create as many opportunities as possible for local companies to sell at our events and then for the whole team to do that,” said Geddes.
The plan is backed by a partnership with American Express that adds extra momentum to promoting one provider per week. For the players and group of kids the team hosts to celebrate a local nonprofit at every game, the Roots partner with The Town Kitchen, a convenience food company that employs low-income youth.
However, there can be challenges when opting for independent vendors, such as the occasional last-minute outage. As a result, the team sometimes had to roll up with a backup plan, such as simply buying “pizza rounds”, to keep the fans happy.
“That doesn’t stop us from doing things this way because we feel it’s right to give people as many opportunities as possible to generate income, especially now to get out of the pandemic,” Geddes said .
Even when the team’s first home game was postponed just minutes earlier, there were free drinks, mostly local brands, to calm the situation down.
Ale Industries, brewing a few miles further from Laney, is the team’s first official beer sponsor. The brewery has a special “Town Roots” edition of its “Town Beer”, which is emblazoned with the Roots coat of arms, and 5.1% of the turnover of the 5.1% vol. Drinks go to Oakland organizations like the East Bay Community Fund.
“I think [using local vendors] follows along with what they say in their mission, ”said Andrew Nguyen, Bay Area native, Roots fan, at a home game in August. “It definitely feels communal when I’m here. When they work with the library or the zoo or with the vendors, it feels more connected. “
The Roots aren’t the first local sports team looking for food to connect with fans.
When the Golden State Warriors’ Chase Center opened in 2019, Oakland’s mainstay, Bakesale Betty headlined the stadium’s dining options. It paid homage to The Town at a time when Oakland fans saw one of their beloved teams drive across the bay.
“When we knew we wanted to move the Warriors back to San Francisco, one of the big things was making sure we got the local community with us,” said Yoyo Chan, vice president of government and public affairs for the Warriors and Chase Center, said Nosh. “And of course in the Bay Area we know food is a big part of it, and when we started our contact process in San Francisco, one of the first things we did to make sure we spoke to small business owners along the way was third Street Corridor and, more importantly, that Oakland is reflected in our culinary offerings because they make up such a large part of us as Warriors. “
Oakland A’s fans line up for tacos and more at Rosie’s Mexican food truck. Photo credit: Torrey Hart
The Oakland Athletics also began bringing local food trucks to each game in 2017 to spice up the much-maligned Coliseum for as long as the team lasts.
“[Food] is a great example of what makes Oakland so special: this diversity and the richness of different cultures that come together and create mashups that are more than the sum of their parts, “said Geddes shortly after playing food trucks with New Orleans Cajun, Mexican and Afro-Brazilian food. “They want to offer something that really draws on the opportunities that are available here in the City of Oakland.”
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