New Oakland restaurant Hi, Felicia aims to disrupt, diversify fine dining

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Friday, May 27, 2022
New Oakland restaurant aims to disrupt, diversify fine dining
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The establishment called Hi, Felicia is Oakland's newest fine dining restaurant.

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- If you to take a stroll through Uptown Oakland and stop at the corner of 23rd and Webster Streets, you cannot miss the Cactus Cooler soda lime green and orange building. The establishment called Hi, Felicia is Oakland's newest fine dining restaurant.

"I'm from LA, so growing up the term, 'Bye, Felicia' was always slang all the time and I thought it would be so cute and funny to name something, 'Hi, Felicia,'" Chef Imana, who does not use her last name, said.

The 25-year-old chef owns Hi, Felicia. She has pulled inspiration from her work in luxury restaurants. When asked what her experience was like working in fine-dining, Chef Imana doesn't mince words.

"It was terrible," she said. "It was terrible. It's a racist, sexist world. I just learned that the higher you go with a price point, the worse people can become towards you, especially when you're one of one or one of two."

Chef Imana continued, "I spent seven years working for predominately white men and to me, that's not an option for me anymore."

In January 2021, Chef Imana had an idea to create elevated intimate dinners. It started out with just a party of two, Chef Imana and her friend, now restaurant general manager, Quin Kirwin.

"It started on a rooftop in Soma with one table we found on Amazon," he said.

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The dinners eventually exploded into full-blown events on the roof of Chef Imana's Oakland apartment building. The Hi, Felicia team outgrew the space and managed to flip a building on 23rd and Webster Streets into a new restaurant in just three months.

"I have like eight credit cards that are all maxed out, but I do own this place. Sorry Amex," Chef Imana said with a chuckle.

Inside the eatery, you will find paintings and chairs from Goodwill, local artists, and galleries.

"People use the word camp a lot," Kirwin said. "I feel like this restaurant is very camp. It really is this weird cohesive, chaotic, shouldn't work but it does kind of atmosphere."

There is no dress code, no white tablecloths, and no reservations for next month at least because Hi, Felicia is booked.

Chef Imana has a clear vision for how she wants people to feel when they step inside her restaurant.

"I want them to feel warm," she said. "I want them to feel a big hug. I want them to know that spending a lot of money doesn't have to feel stuffy and doesn't have to feel pretentious. I definitely think Hi, Felicia is disrupting order for restaurants moving forward."

Chef Imana describes the cuisine as "California food with Mexican and Japanese influence."

She continued, "I'm from Los Angeles so Mexican food is my absolute favorite thing to eat. I have such a deep love and appreciation for Mexican culture and cuisine."

Fine-dining comes with a high price tag. Some have been critical of the Oakland restaurant moving into a city grappling with gentrification and skyrocketing inflation.

"I think that question is a little bit of a trap when people ask Black and Brown people about gentrification," Chef Imana said. "That question makes no sense to me, as if Black and Brown people were displacing people from the community. I took this restaurant over. I bought it from a white man."

You could argue that with stores like Lululemon coming in up the street, Uptown Oakland has been gentrified.

Chef Imana grew up on the line of poverty and never dreamt of the position she is in. She wants Hi, Felicia to transcend into a staple, earn Michelin stars, and most importantly, be a luxurious environment where queer, non-binary and people of color can feel safe.

"I specifically sought out Black and Brown people to give them this opportunity," Chef Imana said. "It's so much more than just a restaurant obviously. It's a deep community project. I'm just starting and I just can't wait to see where it all goes."

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