Agave menu will be repeated in East Bay

Agave restaurateur Octavio Diaz is taking his brand of Oaxacan cuisine to the East Bay. His new restaurant, Agave Uptown, is set to open in the new Kapor Center for Social Impact building at 2135 Franklin Street in Oakland in June.

The Kapor Center is a group of organizations working to increase opportunities for underrepresented communities in the tech sector founded by Mitch Kapor and Freada Kapor Klein. Kapor was an early tech innovator and investor, and he and Klein, his wife, are regulars at Agave in Healdsburg, according to Diaz.

Diaz, who was born in Oaxaca, Mexico, but moved to Sonoma County when he was 13, said he enjoys checking in with his guests in the dining room of his restaurants and got to know Klein and Kapor over the years just as he would get to know any other diner.

“They just approached me and said, you know we have this building, we want to see if you like the space for a restaurant, for a Oaxacan style restaurant. So my eyes just literally lit up,” he said. “I still didn’t know who they were or what they did. All I knew is that they’re two people coming into my restaurant.”

Now that he knows more about the work of the Kapor Center, “I have a lot of respect for them,” he said.

The Kapor Center is an umbrella term for three organizations: the Kapor Center, which works with local schools, nonprofits and companies to develop strategies to increase diversity in computer science and tech entrepreneurship; Kapor Capital, which invests in seed-stage start-ups with a social impact; and Level Playing Field Institute, which helps prepare high school students for studies and careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

“They have this hub for social impact,” he said. “And I think we mirror that. Not in the scale that they do; we’re doing it small-scale. We support education, and public schools and community in general, but they’re doing it on a tremendous scale, and I thought it’s an opportunity to be in a place that does really positive things for the Oakland community, for kids, tremendous things.”

The new restaurant is planned to be 4,000 square feet with 80 to 100 seats. It will have a full bar and open kitchen, indoor and outdoor seating, and a private dining room that can be reserved for events. The price point for entrees is set to be between $10 and $20. The restaurant is to be open daily for lunch and dinner.

Diaz said the offerings will focus on quality, fresh ingredients, something he said was a hallmark of Oaxacan cooking. Central to the menu will be his family’s mole, which is made from more than 20 ingredients that Diaz sources from Mexico. The bar menu is set to include small-batch Oaxacan mezcals, Mexican craft beers and wines from Sonoma County.

One of the goals of the Kapor Center is to become a destination for people who want to be more involved in what Cedric Brown, the center’s chief of community engagement, called the tech entrepreneurship ecosystem. He said that Agave Uptown would help with this goal.

“When we think about diversity, when we think about entrepreneurship, when we think about local people being able to benefit from new businesses and opportunities, Agave, while it isn’t a tech outfit, certainly fits that description,” Brown said. “(Diaz) wanted to be able to work in conjunction with us in the building to really be able to provide a community oriented kitchen, culinary offerings, and ones that reflect the cultural richness of Oakland.”

Both Diaz and Brown agreed that restaurants can themselves have important social impacts, especially in their hiring by providing opportunity for career growth and training. Diaz said he plans to treat Agave Uptown as an incubator for those interested in the culinary field and hopes to partner with schools and colleges to provide internships as well.

Profit sharing will also “make sure that (the employees) feel that they are part of the restaurant,” he said. “I really want them to embrace the restaurant.”

In addition to Healdsburg’s Agave, Diaz is also part-owner of the Asian restaurant Persimmon and part-owner of Casa del Mole, a grocery store and taqueria, both in Healdsburg. Diaz insisted that the new restaurant in Oakland would not stretch him too thin. He said he had strong teams in place in each location and that his approach was to open a new restaurant and then let the right people take over and grow the business.

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