Zella’s Soul Food Kitchen in Oakland

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Swoosh. The automatic doors slowly open and close as people enter the building. At first glance, you notice the grocery store. Rows of healthy food options and beautifully displayed fruit catch your eye. To the left of the door is a bulletin board filled with pictures of the events held in the neighborhood. While admiring the photos, your nose fills with the aroma of fresh-baked biscuits. As you walk closer to the smell, you see Zella’s Soul Food Kitchen.

Zella’s Soul Food Kitchen was opened in October 2014, by Dionne Knox. Zella’s can be found in the right corner of the Mandela Food Cooperative, a worker-owned grocery store that’s been open since 2009. The cooperative is a collaboration with local farmers and family restaurants to provide healthy, fresh food to the West Oakland community at affordable prices.

Above the restaurant’s kitchen area is a black chalkboard with “Farm fresh food that feeds the soul” hand-written in white cursive. The menu is categorized into five sections: breakfast, soup, salads, sandwiches and Southern comfort foods.

After gazing at the menu, I hear a friendly “Is there anything you want to order from the menu?” from the cashier. Temptation and curiosity lead me to order the egg sandwich on a biscuit. I walk around the grocery store, waiting for my food to cook. Smooth jazz is playing. The register sings repetitive beeps as each item in someone’s basket is rung up. Near the register, handmade custom jewelry is for sale: Wooden earrings crafted in the shape of Africa, hoop earring that say “dream” on the inside, and copper necklaces.

After a few minutes, my sandwich is ready. The biscuit is the perfect combination of flaky and buttery. The crispy thick bacon stretches over the fluffy eggs. My second bite is even better than the first.

With very few places to sit, I sit on the counter facing a window showing the street. Customer after customer enters the food cooperative for either healthy groceries or one of Zella’s comfort food menu items. The first-time visitors wander the stores with the same amazement I experienced. The veteran shoppers move quickly to their desired items. Grocery store attendants refill stands of chips and restock juices in the refrigerators. Shopping carts clank when being pushed together.

I devour the last bite of my sandwich and pack up my belongings. “Enjoy your next adventure!” calls the cashier who aided me earlier. As cliché as it sounds, my soul does indeed feel fed.

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