Some of the delicious dishes from Hi Felicia. Photo credit: Flora Tsapovsky
You can prepare delicious food and mix mean drinks. You can be incredibly enterprising and win the cruel game of Bay Area hospitality. But very few can spark an instant, wildcat hype that will lead Apple executives and celebrity chefs to move to a hilly, residential area in Oakland for a $ 225 meal. Imana (yes, just “Imana”), the cook and owner of the Hi Felicia Supper Club, did just that.
When I got down to trying Hi Felicia, it had been showing up on my Instagram Stories for months and most of my foodie friends had already eaten there. The unusual dinner series has been held on a balcony in Oakland on Fridays and Saturdays since February and offers a dazzling amount of canapés and courses, served with pairs of drinks, in an intimate and incredibly “cool” setting.
If you’re struggling to define what “cool” feels like, imagine being greeted by a very stylish Generation Z who leads you onto a huge balcony with city views. Imagine vintage chairs and rickety tables and a ceramic hand holding thin slices of fresh scallops. Imana writing the menu for you on a piece of recycled paper at the beginning of the meal. Imagine if you were the only one who knew about this place even though reservations are full until October.
Imana, who only has her first name for data protection reasons, is 25 years old. Born in SoCal, she became interested in food at a young age and took a chick-fil-a job in her hometown of Los Angeles when she was 17. as a captain (staff supervisor) at well-known Bay Area establishments such as Coi, Single Thread and Californios. When the pandemic broke out, she became her own boss. “I worked in the industry for others for seven years; I don’t enjoy it, ”she says. “I’m a certain intimate person, and I thought it would be good to change ownership, a brown and black representative.”
First came elaborate take-away boxes in the early pandemic fashion that she made in her Oakland apartment. As soon as the ban on eating outdoors was lifted, Hi Felicia began his dinners and served foods that Imana loves to eat – mostly inspired by Mexican cuisine. Friends worked as servers and prep cooks, reservations at Instagram DMs, word of mouth advertising. In April, Alice Waters came over for dinner – and the hype almost boiled over.
It is clear to all participants that Hi Felicia is an honorable, but still subterranean hustle and bustle operating in a non-commercial area and outside the boundaries of California law. Perhaps its illegal nature is part of its charm. While Alameda County home cooks may get a permit to sell food cooked in their homes, things get a lot more complicated when you talk about opening a real restaurant in your home. A variety of permits and permits from many county and city authorities would be required, and a state-issued liquor license is required to serve alcohol. Imana doesn’t have any of these official imprimatures, but she has a special kind of tenacity.
On a typical evening, dishes might include fried green tomato slices in panko breadcrumbs with raw San Diego bluefin tuna and scallop ceviche with strawberry, bubble pepper, lime, and sea salt. The summer pumpkin tacos are decorated with sea urchins. The lamb enchiladas are sprinkled with sour cherries. Imana purchases locally and sources meat from San Francisco’s Fatted Calf and fish from Berkeley’s Monterey Fish Market. For the sake of the wine, she tries to highlight labels that you wouldn’t normally find in a wine store. There are also chops from the local small series Bolita Masa, as well as salsas.
It’s hard to beat Hi Felicia’s point of view. Photo credit: Flora Tsapovsky
Mainly a one woman show, she takes care of everything from reservations to cooking. “I do all of this – I’m really private and reserved, that’s how I always wanted to be,” she says. “People ask for bricks and mortar, next steps, but I want it to be small.” Despite the limited weekend editions, Hi Felicia is almost a week-long affair: “It’s basically constant – buy food and drink on Tuesday, everything is sent on Wednesday, then the preparations and we do the stuff during the day, ”says Imana. “At first I had no idea how to portion, it was a bloodbath, but now everything is dialed in.”
This summer, collaborations with Scribe Winery and Vinca Minor took Hi Felicia’s fame even further, but the vibe is still an understatement. Meanwhile, Imana is planning her next move in similar small but impactful ways, this time in San Francisco – a two-day-a-month mezcal and natural wine bar serving tacos and raw seafood called “sluts.” It will of course be “in a friend’s front yard in Potrero Hill.” Meanwhile, Hi Felicia’s diners can expect new dishes as Imana recently traveled to Oaxaca and Mexico City to explore the scene. “I’m not Mexican, it’s very important to me to keep things inspired without affecting other people’s space,” said Imana.
While Sluts is pretty much guaranteed to be a hot ticket, the Oakland dinners will continue as usual, Imana says. It is impossible to fully explain Hi Felicia or what exactly makes Hi Felicia so fun and memorable. One key ingredient is trust – and it works. “I never think, ‘What if it fails?’” She said to me during dinner as she poured us unlabeled sake with our tacos. “Instead, I say, ‘Well, what if I don’t? What if it gets great? ‘”
The Hi Felicia Supperclub is open weekly on Fridays and Saturdays in Oakland unless Imana is out of town. To find out more and to reserve a spot, follow Hi Felicia on Instagram.
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