Popular Oakland pop-up restaurant shut down by Alameda Health Department

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ByDion Lim via KGO logo
Friday, August 24, 2018
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OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- The pop-up restaurant scene is strong in San Francisco, with organizations like Feastly facilitating and hosting pop-ups all over the city on a near daily basis. Many popular eateries such as Mission Chinese began years ago as a popup as a way to enter the competitive and challenging Bay Area restaurant scene. San Francisco's Saison, which is now on the "50 World's Best Restaurants" list spent years operating from a coffee shop.

But when a popular Oakland pop-up was shut down by the health department on Tuesday, it raises the question of what'll happen next to the city's growing restaurant renaissance?

At his home in Oakland, chef Steve Joo and his business partner, Julya shin are making kimchee. As they expertly slice what seems like hundreds of tiny green cucumbers, they mull over what happened at their popup restaurant Nokni on Tuesday.

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"Our front of the house staff came up to me and told me that the health inspector is here." Says Joo.

The inspector from the Alameda County Environmental Health Department just happened to be passing by, wondering why the Kebabery was open on a Tuesday and soon learned of Nokni.

Joo recalls the interaction.

"Her eyes immediately widened and she grabbed a seat and started writing a notice."

The notice, written in all capital letters and posted at Nokni's Instagram page, instructs the duo to "cease and desist" immediately. The partners were told popups are illegal.

"If we did not, comply, the owners permit could be in Jeopardy." Says Joo.

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Jackie Greenwood of the Alameda County Health Department was unable to comment due to an all-day meeting. But according to code, a permit for a restaurant is non-transferrable and is only for the restaurant it's issued to. But San Francisco's health department tells us, popups are allowed with the proper license, 191-dollars and plans about the operation.

For many chefs-like Shin, pop-ups are a vital way to test the market.

"The whole purpose of a pop-up is it's a testing ground for us. To find later, a brick and mortar. To test certain concepts and whether it comes to counter service or full-service, because there's a lot changing in the restaurant industry so far. Let the people decide whether you are worthy of having a restaurant. It's about finding and getting feedback."

For now, Nokni will forge ahead hoping to have a conversation with the health department-- about ways to continue operating...legally.

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