By JR Valrey, The People’s Minister of Information
Since the covid shelter-in-place mandate began on March 12, 2020, a large number of restaurants and other businesses, in the downtown Oakland area, have recently been facing permanent closure; most notably the jazz club/sushi bar, “Yoshi’s”, in Jack London Square, because of the massive slow-down in pedestrian traffic and the inability of most businesses to get designated as “essential”, allowing them to open. Most small local businesses are now frantically gasping for income, like fish out-of-water gasping for air, in a local economy that was, for all intents and purposes, severely handicapped 10 months ago to supposedly fight a virus.
Enter Derrick Childs. After attending business school, and working at the popular John Burris law firm, during the tumultuous years of the fight to indict the officers that murdered Oscar Grant, local mover and shaker Derrick Childs has decided to jump head first into fine-dining, becoming an entrepreneur, and creating “Elaine’s Cajun Cuisine Restaurant”, which is set to officially open, this Friday January 8th, at 380 15th St, in downtown Oakland. As the proverb goes, as one door closes in life, another opens. Check out Black businessman Derrick Childs as he discusses his new restaurant, and new life quest, in this exclusive Black New World Media Q&A.
JR Valrey: What made you transition from working with John Burris’ law firm into becoming a restaurant owner?
Derrick Childs: I worked at Mr. Burris office as one of his paralegals. Business and Law have always been my passion.
JR Valrey: How did you come up with the idea to create this Cajun/Creole soul food restaurant in downtown Oakland? How did you come up with the menu?
Derrick Childs: As someone who frequents downtown restaurants and bars, I saw a niche for something different. Many restaurants have the same menu, so I went through cajun cookbooks to find some of the best cajun recipes.
JR Valrey: What’s the name of your restaurant, and what is the inspiration behind that?
Derrick Childs: The restaurant is called “Elaine’s Cajun Cuisine Restaurant”. When I first attended college, my aspirations were to be a businessman and lawyer/ attorney. In business school every student had to write a business plan. My business plan was always about a restaurant. But during my studies, my professor suggested restaurants were subject to big risk factors, so I focused on independent paralegal work. When the opportunity presented itself, I knew I would need a catchy name. I thought of my mother, Elaine. I asked family and friends what they thought, and they agreed “Elaine’s” was catchy.
JR Valrey: What is special about Creole and Cajun food?
Derrick Childs: I think the unique flavors and dishes are different from traditional American food. I’ve learned that many from the Bay Area/California don’t know about Creole or Cajun food. For example, some people don’t know what crawfish etouffee is, or never tasted a Beignet.
JR Valrey: What made you open up a restaurant in the pandemic when a lot of restaurants are closing down? What is different about your business model?
Derrick Childs: I ask myself too if I picked the right time, “Derrick is that a bright idea?” lol. I had a vision and saw a possible niche. Many may think I’m crazy, but in business you always take risks. With downtown Oakland being revitalized, with new apartments and hotels on almost every corner, I figured the location of the restaurant is a prime location. Everything is timing, and with the government promising a vaccine by December 2020, I figured the pandemic would be under control by March 2021.
In business school students are taught to not reinvent the wheel but follow the business models of others. So that’s what I do. I observe other business owners. There are many other businesses surviving the pandemic. I think the restaurants that have closed during the pandemic are restaurants with large square footage, and small restaurants owned by more older people, who are not tech savvy.
JR Valrey: What are some of your most popular dishes?
Derrick Childs: The Shrimp Po’Boy is the biggest seller. But many also like our fried chicken, fried chicken sandwiches, Boudins, Surf and Turf burgers, and Shrimp and Oyster Po’boy.
JR Valrey: Why did you pick downtown Oakland for the location of your restaurant? Can you explain the experience that you have created with the food mixed with the surroundings?
Derrick Childs: I didn’t focus on Oakland, the opportunity presented itself. I have had pleasant experiences with the neighboring businesses. Some of the other businesses mentor me and have given me advice. Many workers from AC Transit, City Hall, AT&T, and other surrounding businesses have been very supportive, by repeatedly coming to dine at the restaurant.
JR Valrey: What is the hardest thing about being a new Black restaurant owner in Oakland?
Derrick Childs: That’s a good question. I think getting people to try the food. For many years I’ve been known in Oakland to be a legal professional, and now you have me opening up a restaurant. But when people try the food they are very satisfied.
JR Valrey: When is the grand opening? And what do you have planned for it?
Derrick Childs: My grand opening is January 8, 2021. I can’t have indoor dining, but I plan to do take-out or curbside pick-up and delivery with help of Grubhub, Doordash, and UberEats. I wish I could do the more traditional red ribbon cutting.
JR Valrey: Where is the restaurant? Where can people find it online?
Derrick Childs: The restaurant is located at 380 15th Street, Oakland, Ca. Our web address is www.elainecajuncuisine.com.