Berkeleyside: Will Jack London Square live up to its potential as Oakland’s food center?

The district can’t thrive until it attracts more residents, according to Hauser. This is the principle reason she cites for why some larger projects, like the Water Street Market, have stalled despite years in the works.

This, right here. The problem with JLS is that nobody lives there. The hope seems to be that it will function as Oakland’s version of Fisherman’s Wharf or the central SF waterfront - a place tourists will check out because it’s right on the bay and has ferry access. But if you don’t have a nationally-famous tourist attraction right there, it doesn’t work as a food destination.

Also, if you don’t have a car, it’s an unattractive destination requiring a 10-15 minute walk from the nearest BART stop (and that includes a stretch under a freeway). A place like Washington DC’s Union Market is in a similarly redeveloping, warehouse-y neighborhood, but at least it is only about an 8-10 minute walk from a Metro station.

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And Union Station in DC is a highly curated group of high quality and variety of food vendors and restaurants, much like the Ferry Building in SF, which makes it destination worthy. Jack London Square had/has a mix of some good some mediocre some just bad.

I visited Union Market in October. While it was generally a positive experience and I liked the vibe of the place, I’m not sure all the food was really all that outstanding (by the same token, not everything in the Ferry Building is amazing either). To be honest I felt like a whole lot of the Union Market stalls were focused on fusiony tacos or bowls- which I suspect was much more for business than culinary reasons. (It requires minimal effort and manpower to prep a bunch of things and just throw them together on a taco or in a bowl on demand.)

Sure, it was better and much less of an investment than trying the sit-down restaurants in JLS. Would I as a local make a habit of trekking to JLS if it had Union Market’s food options, or something similar like a bunch of higher-end food trucks? Honestly not sure.

I think it’s all about transit. You get much better food around 19th and Telegraph/Broadway (aka uptown), because, transit. Once a place starts getting hot others want to be there, and when Flora and Van Kleef and Luka’s and Plum… mmmm… Plum… and others landed in Uptown, JLS seemed like a bunch of slick corporate facades, with some pleasant-enough places like E&J and Merchant’s.

Uptown now has the momentum in that area, it’s hard to add a second “nearby” place, especially without transit.

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold