On a tree-lined block of 17th Street between Franklin and Harrison in downtown Oakland, popular food truck Liba Falafel has settled into a brick-and-mortar location. Although owner Gail Lillian tried to keep a low profile around the July 21 “soft” opening, devoted followers of the celebrated add-your-own-toppings falafel quickly found their way to the new restaurant. “We had lines down the sidewalk in our first week,” she said. “It’s a good problem to have.”

“Opening a brick and mortar was always part of my plan,” said Lillian. After starting the Liba Falafel food truck five years ago, she recalled, “I worked every shift on the truck for three years.” She needed six more months to recover before she could start planning the next phase of the business. “I learned a lot from overworking that much,” she said. “Hopefully I’ll never do that again.”

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When Lillian first saw the space on 17th Street, she said, “I thought it was a diamond in the rough.” The home of a former restaurant had been considered and rejected by a couple of other local food businesses, but Lillian fell in love with the natural light, high ceilings and exposed brick. After three months of construction, she said, “I’m so happy with how it looks. It’s just got beautiful bones, this place. And it’s hard to go wrong with exposed brick.”

“It’s really game-changing to have our own space,” said Lillian. “By moving into this restaurant, we have our own kitchen. This is the commissary for the food truck.” The food truck will still wend its way around the Bay. “It’s nice to have both. They serve really different purposes and have their own identity,” she said.

photo 1 (1)The fixed location gives Lillian and chef Tiffany Aoyagi more ability to experiment with and expand the menu. “We’re playing a lot more with food at this location,” said Lillian “It’s really fun for our whole staff.” Customers can expect more choices at the condiment bar as well as unique salads. A sample of the menu for the week of July 28: grilled, curried peaches, pickled grapes with star anise, and roasted cauliflower with za’atar. “It’s mostly exciting for me because the customers benefit from that,” she added. “I love having [regular] customers come in and be excited by what’s new this week.”

The central location of the restaurant and kitchen has been life changing for Lillian in other ways as well. The day the restaurant opened, she sold her car. “It’s the first time since I was 16 that I don’t have a car,” she said. “I love that I get to bike to work.” A car share membership and the many Zipcar locations in downtown Oakland allow her to get a motor when the business needs one.

Asked what is next for Liba Falafel, Lillian said that, while she will stick with the one food truck, “I would definitely like to open another shop as soon as we’re settled in here.”

Liba Falafel is currently open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday at 380 17th Street.  The restaurant will expand to evening and Saturday hours within the month.

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About The Author

Laura McCamy, is a freelance writer, editor and researcher, and a contributing production editor at Oakland Local. Her work also appears in Momentum Magazine and the Intuit Small Business Blog. Follow Laura on twitter @lmcwords

3 Responses

  1. Matt in Uptown

    Went there over the weekend and was totally wowed. I can’t wait until they’re open at night, so good!

  2. thorn

    this is exciting but why can’t we get passed the model of being open only during business lunch hours in downtown oakland–i want to eat falaf on sunday at 1pm, thursdays at 8pm as well as 12 on a tuesday.

  3. anna b

    This woman is dangerous. She had our entire bldg walking like zombies out every Tuesday at noon to the food trucks in front of City Hall in SF. They would all walk back with those sly grins of pure secret satisfaction like they had just had a noon food quickie. Good luck Oakland, you are doomed.


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