By JR Valrey, the Minister of Information
There is nothing more exciting to local food connoisseurs, than the birth of a new Black ran restaurant, in Oakland, by Oaklanders. While Epec Food is not exactly a full-on restaurant, it has a multi-faceted food business service model that will potentially serve as the future of dining, in a post-covid environment, where inside seating is severely limited. Epec Food organizes the “Portobela Pop-ups”, at 411 26th street STE C from Thursday-Saturday from 5-9pm, in downtown Oakland, where you can get take-out or have a dine-in experience.
Epec Food LLC also offers a private chef option, as well as a private catering service, and an annual chef face-off, called “Knife Fight Gauntlet”. Ahmad Muwwakkil, is the marketing and business half of the Epec Food duo, while his wife, Aaronette King aka Chef AK, makes up the other half. BlackNewWorldMedia.com sat down with Ahmad Muwwakkil for this exclusive interview about the successful business that he and his wife are maintaining, in a post covid world. Check him out, in his own words.
JR Valrey: What is Epecfood.com? How did it start? And what are the different parts of the business?
Ahmad Muwwakkil: EPEC FOOD LLC; is a company dedicated to local, organic and sustainable foods. Sectioned into a few different categories our company consist of: corporate catering, private chef, popup restaurant, and a chef competition. The name epec food started as a social media handle for Eat Play Events & Catering LLC, EPEC being the acronym for the company. In the process of scaling our business upward, we decided to change our name to EPEC FOOD LLC, and keep Eat Play Events & Catering as a DBA (doing business as), as well as Chef AK Private Chef, Portobela Popup, and Knife Fight Gauntlet; a Chef Competition.
JR Valrey: How did you start a business during Covid in the Bay Area? What strategies did you have to employ because of the pandemic, that would have been different had it not been covid?
Ahmad Muwwakkil: In early 2020 when Covid first started, our business like many other businesses faced numerous cancellations due to the quarantine protocols. We pivoted a few times, first with Chef AK’s popup, which didn’t turn a profit in hindsight. Most established restaurants that were already known were offering pick-up and delivery, and they were still suffering. Community feeding was what ultimately saved our company. When the tragedy of the Covid quarantined Royal Caribbean Cruise ship was docked, at the Port of Oakland, World Central Kitchen and Eat Learn Play were feeding the passengers aboard the ship, which led to a program, “Chefs For America”; 120 Oakland restaurants helping feed the communities of Oakland, specifically children and seniors in most need.
“Portobela Popup” was started a few months ago, in Covid, with the sole premise of offering an alternative cuisine, and to create another income stream. Most companies have sent their employees home to work, which has crippled the corporate catering industry. Our hopes are to create a restaurant that can handle delivered food to individuals working from home, and in general local foodies.
JR Valrey: If your wife is the chef, what part do you play in the business? And how did you two come to those conclusions?
Ahmad Muwwakkil: My wife and I met almost 10 years ago on a club project called Tropics at Mad Oak, formerly the Oasis, in Oakland. We both loved to listen to reggae and dancehall music. Aaronette has worked in restaurants for over 30 years, and previously had another catering company called “A Little Soirée”. I was at the time a California licensed contractor working for Comcast, doing low voltage construction, and sales. From the moment we met, I was taken back by Aaronettes’ food and wine palates, and her hardworking attitude towards creating events. So in 2012, while continuously working our jobs, we started Eat Play Oakland which would later be renamed, Eat Play Events & Catering. The combination of teamwork illustrated at Tropics, led to her being the Executive Chef and handling the food and kitchen, and myself, taking care of all the business parts like marketing and finances.
JR Valrey: What kind of cuisine do y’all cater? How long has your wife been cooking that?
Ahmad Muwwakkil: Our cuisine is traditional American or what Chef AK would like to call “Soulfully Latin”, with this being a take from her background and love for Latin cuisine, and what she has cooked most of her life in restaurants, American cuisines. However we cater to our clients’ needs, so the kitchen’s menu creations can be broad.
JR Valrey: Can you tell us a little bit about your 4th annual Knife Fight Gauntlet: a Chef’s Challenge? What are the rules? Who can apply? And who is the reigning champ? Where can people get info for the next one?
Ahmad Muwwakkil: When we first started in 2012, we came up with the first food popups in Oakland; first as spirit and wine tastings, and then premiering local chefs at Hip Hop Brunch, FoodiesVsChefs, Beer&Bites, and in 2016, Knife Fight Gauntlet. The first Knife Fight Gauntlet was a competition between restaurants Calavera in Uptown, Oakland versus Drake’s Dealership, also in Uptown, Oakland. The second Knife Fight Gauntlet was at Dashes Cellars, in Oakland. It consisted of 3 local chefs competing for the trophy knife. The third Knife Fight Gauntlet was in Jack London Square, with 5 chefs competing against our current champion, Chef Nelson, the owner of Alamar and Sobre Mesa, winning. Like I mentioned, unfortunately our fourth annual Knife Fight Gauntlet at the Art & Soul festival was cancelled, due to Covid. These competitions are to display the diversity in food, businesses, and chefs. Chef AK is the host, along with Sterling James. Chef Tu, from “Top Chef”, and Chef Yaku, from the Food Network are our judges. With it being May, and Oakland still in the orange tier of gatherings our fourth annual competition will have to wait to 2022. Hopefully, in March of 2022, Chef AK will start reaching out to Chefs to compete, you can find information on website www.knifefightgauntlet.com and on Instagram and Facebook.
JR Valrey: Can you talk a little bit about the Portobela Pop-up? Where is it based? When? How does it work?
Ahmad Muwwakkil: Portobela Popup is our popup restaurant. It is at 411 26th street STE C Oakland CA 94612. Currently we’re open on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 5-9pm. People can dine in or take out. For pre-orders, visit our website www.portobela.com for delivery. Our UberEats platform should be up and running, next week. This is a partnership with CCW Bar, they handle the beer and spirits and we handle the food. This venue has a beer garden and classic car showroom.
JR Valrey: Can you talk a little bit about your business’ private catering service? What do you offer? At what kind of price range?
Ahmad Muwwakkil: Eat Play Events & Catering www.eatplayeventsandcateing.com offers corporate, production and private catering. For our standard menu, catering is approximately $20 per person. Community feedings are approximately $10 per person, and private catering depending on what the client wants could range anywhere from $50-$70 per person.
JR Valrey: What is the difference between the private chef option that you offer, and private event catering?
Ahmad Muwwakkil: Private catering and a Private Chef are very similar. In simple terms, they’re the same, however the menu pricing can change. For example there are packages for private catering on Eat Play Events & Catering that include all of the above. For Chef AK Private Chef there is a certain hourly rate for Chef AK, and then the pricing for the personalized menu.
JR Va;rey: How could people participate in the Portebela Pop-up? How could people keep up with what Epec Foods is doing?
Ahmad Muwwakkil: To keep up with what we got going on you can follow our epecfoodbiz on Instagram and our epecfood group on Facebook.