After almost six years in business near Oakland's Uptown district, Hawker Fare is closing up shop in a few short weeks, on February 18. Owner James Syhabout, whose Laotian mother has been in the restaurant business in Oakland for decades and including in this same restaurant space on Webster Street which she handed over to him in 2011 tells Inside Scoop that the reason is simply that he has a month-to-month lease and his mom has probably wisely advised him to get out now before he ends up "working for free."
Syhabout tells the site "We had a good run," and adds, "I can’t be emotionally too attached. When you get emotionally too attached to something anything, you’re bound to make dumb business decisions."
A protégé of chef David Kinch at Manresa, Syhabout made a name for himself following the 2009 opening of his Piedmont Avenue restaurant Commis. It would soon earn Oakland's first Michelin star, followed by becoming Oakland's first two-star Michelin establishment in 2016. And, in the meantime, Syhabout would get the coveted honor of being named a Food & Wine Best New Chef in 2010. In 2011 he would then open Hawker Fare, offering up Thai-style rice bowls in a casual environment with the help of a David Chang protégé, Justin Yu, in the role of executive chef. Though Syhabout had purposely run from the kinds of Southeast Asian restaurants he grew up in, he had come around to embracing modern takes on the food.
Two years ago Syhabout opened the much larger SF location of Hawker Fare, in the Valencia Street space that was built out for Amber Dhara, and the restaurant's Thai street-food style has been a hit as has the attached upstairs cocktail bar, Holy Mountain, run by barmen Troy Bayless and Christ Aivaliotis.
A Hawker Fare cookbook and memoir is en route to publication, co-written by local food scribe John Birdsall, who describes Syhabout's culinary journey on Facebook thusly: "It's been an amazing three years, working with James to tell his story of growing up a poor Lao refugee kid in Oakland. How he got forearm burns as a boy from scrubbing woks hot off the line at his mom's Thai restaurant in Concord; how he rejected his cuture to become a fine dining chef under mentorship by David Kinch at Manresa; how he painstakingly re-assembled his past by learning to honor his ancestors' food and culture
The SF location of Hawker Fare, which also does a brisk delivery business these days via Caviar and UberEats, will remain open, as will Commis, though I wouldn't be shocked to see another location of Hawker Fare arrive elsewhere in the East Bay down the road.
Previously: Hawker Fare Opens On Valencia