A loud and controversial Auckland restaurant is closing for good

Tacos are served at Calavera in Oakland.

Alex M./Scream

Calaveraa bustling but controversial Mexican restaurant in Oakland's Uptown neighborhood known for its wide selection of mezcal, roasted capulin, and carnitas tacos, closed for good on Saturday after just over eight years in business.

“This is not the way we wanted to start the new year, but we have made the most difficult decision to close our doors,” the letter read. Instagram share Shared by the restaurant last week. “As you all know, the state of Oakland has not been kind to small businesses – with little traffic and sharply declining sales, we cannot continue.”

SFGATE could not immediately reach Calavera employees by phone Sunday for further comment. But Ryan Dixon, the restaurant's general managing partner, told SFGATE in an interview last September that frequent robberies, coupled with the Bay Area's overrated perception of Oakland, caused sales to decline. At that time, he said business was down 25%, and the number of employees had dwindled from 50 to about 30.

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He explained that customers from nearby suburbs did not feel safe walking into downtown Oakland or taking BART, and because they were so concerned about their cars being broken into, they paid up to $60 for an Uber to see the show. At the Fox Theater. Then, they would skip dinner altogether because a night out was already too expensive. He added that his car had been broken into four times, but he was concerned that talking about it publicly would turn away more potential customers.

“We want them to be safe. We want their cars to be safe. We want them to come back. Our biggest problem now is the lack of revenue due to people not coming,” he told SFGATE. “The amplification of crime here scares more people away.”

Ryan Dixon, general managing partner at Calavera, said the frequent break-ins, coupled with the Bay Area's nightmarish perception of Oakland, are crippling his restaurant.

Ryan Dixon, general managing partner at Calavera, said the frequent break-ins, coupled with the Bay Area's nightmarish perception of Oakland, are crippling his restaurant.

Yelp/Shayla B

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But the cracks began to show in April 2016, when Calavera employees filed a class-action lawsuit accusing their employers of wage theft, alleging they failed to provide minimum wage and overtime, as well as meal breaks. Reported for the first time. One of those employees, Flor Crisostomo, a Zapotec native from Oaxaca, said she worked 12-hour shifts without breaks and had to teach her owners how to implement cooking techniques she grew up with, such as grinding alkali corn to make tortillas, as well as contributing her family recipes to the list Court documents Acquired By oaklandside. Her employment was terminated before Calavera opened to the public after she asked for a pay raise mentioned. (The Chronicle and SFGATE are both owned by Hearst but have separate newsrooms.)

Calavera's owners denied the workers' claims, but the case was settled in 2022 after more than 260 employees signed the class action lawsuit. The restaurant was later transferred to a group of employee owners, and crowds often gathered for its extensive cocktail menu and its convenient location near Drake's dealership.

However, it has continued to draw criticism from some diners. On a recent visit, Chronicle associate restaurant critic Cesar Hernandez pointed out his troubled past and questioned his role in the East Bay food scene, discrediting not only the quality of the dishes but also the taste of “gentrification” they left in his mouth.

“On a lunchtime visit to Calavera, I saw a table of women toasting $15 June Tulum cocktails and eating tacos with forks, scooping up delicious proteins and leaving behind smeared tortilla chips,” he wrote. “As I studied the brunch crowd, I was plagued by a central question: Who is this restaurant for? It's definitely not for me. It's not for anyone who loves and respects Mexican food. My answer: This seems to be reserved for diners who confuse cost and ambiance for taste.”

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Calavera was at 2337 Broadway in Oakland.

SFGATE news reporter Ariana Bindman contributed to this report.

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