The restaurant industry already had a slew of troubles before having to weather a two-and-a-half-year pandemic and its consequent labor shortage. And in more proof of that, we have news today that chef Russell Moore is shutting down his last restaurant and wiping his hands of the restaurant world for good.
The Kebabery, the latest business from Moore and wife Allison Hopelain — who were celebrated in the national press a decade ago for the live-fire cooking and casual ambiance of Oakland's Camino — is closing next week after five years, the last two of which have been especially rough. The last day will be October 8.
"Come see us before we close!" the owners announced on Instagram. "All smiles, no tears, lots of kebabs! Thank you for everything! We have felt very loved but the pandemic proved too much for us. We’ve run out of time!"
As a symbol of the closure, they used a photo of a restroom key, the plastic attachment to which had to be taped back together multiple times with neon pink tape.
As they tell the Chronicle, the reasons are mostly financial, with business being "sporadic" and funds running out. But Moore also adds, "We’re all kind of burned-out on restaurants. It’s just been an exhausting few years and it hasn’t really let up.”
It sounds like also like the "post-Camino retirement plan" of running a few fast-casual kebab shops, as they described it three years ago to the LA Times, hasn't panned out, and has been more work than retirement.
Expressing his fatigue with the staffing woes of the last couple of years, Moore tells the Chronicle, "We want to not stress about paying bills and staffing and whether it’s going to be super busy today or not at all."
The Kebabery debuted prior to the announcement of Camino's closure, which ultimately came at the end of 2018 with a series of closing parties. Originally located on Market Street in Oakland's Longfellow neighborhood, it was inspired by the success of the Kebab Mondays menus that Moore did at Camino for a number of years, combining well grilled meats with excellent salads, hummus, and other vegetable sides.
After four years at that location, and having scrapped prior plans to open multiple Kebabery locations during the pandemic, the Kebabery reopened in a new location on Berkeley's Shattuck Avenue in the summer of 2021.
As Moore and Hopelain's business partner Brian Crookes told the Daily Californian at the time, "The new place is in a more discoverable location. It will allow us to grow and serve more people, and give ourselves more breathing room."
But that hasn't turned out to be the case apparently, and the team tells the Chronicle that they're running out of money and the time to close is now.
Moore is one of dozens of Bay Area chef-owners who came up through the ranks of Chez Panisse, and graduated from there to make their own mark on California Cuisine as we know it. And now, at age 58, he says he and Hopelain plan to do some traveling and focus on their other half of their retirement plan, their red wine vinegar business that also grew out of Camino. Moore barrel-ages vinegar made from a variety of wines — originally leftover bottles from the restaurant — and it sells for $25 a bottle.
"I want to keep making it, so I might as well keep selling it," Moore told the LA Times in 2019. "It’s hard to stop these weird projects that I did at Camino."
While this isn't the closure of a big, acclaimed restaurant, Moore's comments about the industry and desire to escape it echo others that have been made recently by other acclaimed chefs doing the same. Chef Aaron London abruptly closed his Michelin-starred AL's Place last month after a successful seven-year run, for personal more than financial reasons. And David Kinch announced the sale of three-Michelin-starred Manresa a week later, saying he will be focusing on his more casual businesses as of the end of this year.
Moore tells the Chronicle this week that "He said he talks regularly with other chefs who are planning their own exits from the industry."
Photo via The Kebabery/Instagram