OAKLAND—Brokeass Cooks, a backyard pop-up restaurant, was founded by three out-of-work chefs, Bilal Ali, Hoang Le, and Keone Koki, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Brokeass Cooks sells family-style jerk chicken in the West Oakland backyard they share. They offer a whole chicken ($50), a half jerk chicken ($25), and organic soy milk ($4). According to their ordering site, “To order a whole chicken, please order 2 half chicken cuz this ordering system does not let us put a whole chicken on here…” According to SFGATE, the meal comes with a variety of side dishes, “including grilled scallions, scotch bonnet marmalade, coconut rice with peas, a summer tomato and sour plum salad (using plums they forage from their neighbor’s tree, chicken broth to sip on the side, and even fried plantains to snack on while you wait for your order.”
Ali, Le, and, Koki started their business about a month ago when they lost their jobs connecting with one another over ‘food.’ Le explained, “In the beginning, we did this because we wanted to keep cooking. That’s what we’ve been doing our entire lives, and it’s what we still want to do with our lives… As long as we can pay rent and pay our bills and keep cooking, that’s all we need at this point.”
Brokeass Cooks is gaining notoriety on Instagram. Customers can pre-order the family-style meals on the ordering site and pick up at the backyard in West Oakland from Friday through Sunday. The cooks usually buy food from the farmers’ market on Friday morning and cook food in their backyard until Sunday, 7:00 p.m.
Although their repeat customers are initially enticed by the jerk chicken, they are planning on changing the menu. Ali says, “We won’t know how popular we really are until we change the menu and see if people want the next dish. We don’t know if we’re just the jerk boys right now.”
Le is using TikTok in addition to Instagram as a marketing strategy to increase customers. “One of the things we were looking at was transparency and showing people the process, because with a normal restaurant, you don’t see much,” Ali explains.
The chefs’ goal is to make Brokeass Cooks a full-time job. They want to offer a home-cooked meal that is affordable and accessible to their neighbors in Oakland. “We want to do family-style dinners at a low price, because we know a lot of people who are struggling. It’s always been the community we wanted to cook for,” said Le.