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A Seat at Tanya Holland’s Table

By Pati Navalta

Tanya Holland is the executive chef and owner of Brown Sugar Kitchen. She is also the author of the Brown Sugar Kitchen cookbook and New Soul Cooking, was the host and soul food expert on the television series, Melting Pot, and competed in the 15th season of Top Chef. Holland is currently the host of Tanya’s Table, a new podcast on Spotify featuring celebrity guests, and will be opening a new “plant-forward” café called Town Fare at the Oakland Museum. 

Q. It seems like you’ve been busier than ever, despite the pandemic, which is something not all restaurateurs have experienced. How did you manage to not only survive, but also expand your brand during COVID?

A. Yes, busier than ever for sure. During the 12 years that I’ve been in business in Oakland, many restaurants have come and gone, but we’re still here and I think that’s why the press reached out to me during the beginning of COVID. That exposure certainly feeds the brand. Subsequently, with the BLM movement, my restaurant and I received further media attention as one of the more prominent black-owned business and hospitality businesses in the Bay Area. Additionally, the relationships that I’ve built over the decades I’ve been in this industry have helped as well.

Q. Speaking of BLM, you are located in Downtown Oakland where many protests have been held. How was your business impacted, and how do you see yourself and Brown Sugar Kitchen playing a role in this national reckoning?

A. We were fortunate to have a positive impact from the BLM movement. The protests were directly in front of my business, but the presence of a Black-Owned business sign and our reputation spared us any damage. I’m fortunate enough to be brought into conversations now where I can impact and influence. My appointment to the James Beard Foundation Board of Trustees is significant. There is so much work to do and there’s a great opportunity to reset the entire industry. 

Q. COVID: Are there lessons or changes from the pandemic that you think we should continue (such as outdoor seating), and what changes do you look forward to leaving behind?

A. We had planned on adding outdoor seating at some point so COVID has forced that pivot and it’s a good thing. We’re lucky to be located in a region with a temperate climate. I look forward to returning to dine-in full service, though, since I truly value hospitality and also, there’s so much material waste with take-out packaging. 

Q. What are some projects you’re working on now and what can we look forward to from you?

A. I’m working on my next cookbook, a television or streaming concept and of course, my concept at the Oakland Museum of California, Town Fare, with a plant-based forward menu.

Photo credit: Smeeta Mahanti

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