Oakland’s Understory Restaurant Prioritizes People and Community

For decades, neighbors, social scientists and city planners have recognized the critical role of “bumping places” – spots where meeting new and old friends is made natural and easy – for a healthy and vibrant communities.

Bumping places are typically cafés and coffee shops, community centers, libraries, barber shops, and parks. As community builder Glyn Butcher writes:

Bumping Spaces are places where we can do like minded things together, share our dreams together, show each other what it means to be human as we welcome the stranger, but through our time together they go out leaving as friends.

At Bumping Spaces we are both the helper and the helped, we share our new skills and abilities together, our cultures, our histories looking for what’s strong, not focusing on what’s wrong through the power of peer support, celebrating difference and embracing change. Bumping Spaces are a whole lot of magic.

 

Bumping spaces come in all shapes and sizes. What might a truly community- and people-centered bumping place look like — one that re-thinks and re-works the very core of how it operates so as to create maximum hospitality, exchange and equality for those who enter it? And how might they, and the people who frequent or work within them, be enriched by the ideas and models offered to us about more human-centered economic practices such as those outlined in a Solidarity Economy framework?

Understory Restaurant in Oakland, California gives us one glimpse into the possibilities. This worker-owned restaurant takes the idea of a bumping space and a café many steps beyond the norm, weaving together worker ownership, a passion for equity and cultural celebration, and equal access for folks of all means. Understory was recently awarded the James Beard Leadership Awards in 2022.

Check out the video below to get a “taste” of the hospitality and power generated at Understory.

In their own words:

Understory is a non-traditional restaurant space and community hub that is collectively run with Oakland Bloom, offering affordable kitchen space, free and sliding food distribution, mutual aid, business training, and mentorship programs for immigrant, refugee, and historically marginalized communities. The collective’s values include uplifting communities of color, building economic sustainability, and supporting environmentally and racially just food systems, amongst others.

What might a re-imagined bumping space look like in your community? How might ownership, friendship, and a spirit of welcome be even more firmly infused through how it operates?

Understory offers hope and concrete possibilities for an even more abundant way of finding, nurturing and being nurtured by one another.

 

Photo caption: The staffs of Oakland Bloom and Understory. Left to right: Sean Chow, Lily Haskell, Nino Serrano, Florencio Esquivel, Jenabi Pareja and Diana Wu.

Photo Credit: Papo Ricosuave, originally published on Berkleyside.org

 

Going Further:

About the Lead Author

April Doner
April Doner is a community connector, artist, and mother who is passionate about igniting the intersection between re-weaving neighbor relationships, strengthening local economies, and healing / reconciling inequities and injustices. She is a Steward at the ABCD Institute DePaul University and, while not practicing neighboring in her own neighborhood, she trains, coaches, and consults in Asset Based Community Development. April also documents local resilience as well as group processes through various creative means including writing, photography, video, and graphic recording. Since 2020, she has curated content for AbundantCommunity.com.

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