Former rapper’s latest hit is serving vegan BBQ with a side of dance videos – SF Gate

By Madeline Wells, SFGATE

Toriano Gordon is the owner of Vegan Mob, a Vegan BBQ and soul food take out restaurant in Oakland.

Toriano Gordon is the owner of Vegan Mob, a Vegan BBQ and soul food take out restaurant in Oakland.

Photo: Douglas Zimmerman/SFGate

Toriano Gordon is the owner of Vegan Mob, a Vegan BBQ and soul food take out restaurant in Oakland.

Toriano Gordon is the owner of Vegan Mob, a Vegan BBQ and soul food take out restaurant in Oakland.

Former rapper's latest hit is serving vegan BBQ with a side of dance videos

On a sunny Saturday afternoon, Oaklands Lake Park Avenue vibrates with activity.

A neon green structure that used to house the neighborhoods iconic Kwik Way Drive-In beckons Oaklanders to line up down the block for heaping plates of barbecue brisket, ribs and shrimp. A DJ pumps hip hop music out of loudspeakers onto the street, which waiting customers nod their heads to.

People order at the window, then eat gumbo on barstools or hunch over po boys at a handful of tables and chairs outside. Set up on the sidewalk is local artist Tony B. Conscious, freestyling and selling his graffiti-style artwork, which includes aprons baring the new hot spots name.

The scene is quintessentially Oakland. Theres just one element thats a little different every single morsel of barbecued goodness here is vegan.

Vegan Mob, which opened in October, is San Francisco-raised Toriano Gordons first restaurant, which he opened with the help of Seor Sisigs Evan Kidera. Gordon specializes in taking familiar barbecue and soul food recipes and swapping their meaty, heavy ingredients for plant-based, healthy ones.

I dont even see it as vegan food, because for me to think like that, it causes the consumer to think like that, too. I just want them to feel like theyre eating good food, said Gordon. I flavor it as if it were the same food my grandmother used to cook, just using plant-based ingredients.

If the word vegan conjures images of sad salads and depressingly bland grain bowls, thats not what youll find here. On the contrary: Vegan Mobs menu is pretty much the definition of fun. And thats why Gordon hasnt had any trouble attracting non-vegans as well as hardcore vegans to his new spot.

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I think that the funness of the food helps spread the culture of veganismbecause people like to have fun. They want to know they can have fun and be safe at the same time, said Gordon.

On the playful menu is a shrimp po boy with vegan BBQ fried shrimp, a Barbequito (a burrito stuffed with smoked plant-based brisket and BBQ baked beans), Impossible Mob tacos (made with Impossible Foods meat), nachos and gumbo. Ordering a Mob Plate gets you a vegan protein plus a choice of sides including smackaroni and cheese, creamy Cajun potato salad and collard greens.

Gordon is definitely having fun with his flourishing new spot not just with the menu, but also his social media presence. Alongside drool-worthy Instagram shots of the food, hes constantly promoting his business with videos featuring goofy dance moves and his catchphrase delivered in a half-sung, comical voice: Pull up on us baby! Its da Mob. In one video, he urges his whole staff to dance around the kitchen and chant ay! with him. His nearly 23,000 Instagram followers eat it up.

Gordon says his savvy social media presence comes from his background as a rapper in the Bay Area.

I kind of treat my page as if it were a page where I promoted music, but instead, its food, explained Gordon. With music you have to constantly be seen and put out new stuff and be in peoples faces, and I feel like I took that culture over to the restaurant business.

Gordons infusion of hip hop culture into Vegan Mob extends even further next month, the restaurant is shooting a music video for a Vegan Mob-themed song featuring local rappers King Cydal and B-Legit.

With lines that only grow as the months go on, Vegan Mob has definitely succeeded in making vegan food cool in Oakland. But its important to note that Gordon wasnt the first to introduce vegan gumbo and po boys to the area.

Souley Vegan, another black-owned vegan restaurant specializing in Louisiana cuisine, opened in Oaklands Jack London Square in 2009. Back then, the climate wasnt so hospitable to vegans.

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People did not understand the word vegan, said owner Tamearra Dyson. Nor did they think my Louisiana Creole vegan food was even possible because they thought it was an oxymoron. We got some laughs.

But despite the fact that veganism wasnt trendy yet, Dyson persevered with her restaurant and the community eventually caught on.

With a lot of Southern hospitality, we made it friendly, unlike the market prior to us opening people thought that vegans were uppity, she explained. But we trailblazed the industry and made vegan approachable and kind of cool. Now its cool to be vegan.

Thanks to Souley Vegan and other pioneering vegan restaurants in the East Bay, 2019 was the year Oakland was ready for a hip hop-themed vegan barbecue joint.

As San Francisco Chronicle reporter Justin Phillips put it in his Vegan Mob review, Vegan Mob shows how vegan food is modern and can be served steeped in hip-hop and black culture [...] So, are black people making vegan food in Oakland cool? The answer is yes. But, honestly, black people have always made vegan food cool. Most of us just needed a reminder.

Madeline Wells is an SFGATE associate digital reporter. Email: madeline.wells@sfgate.com | Twitter: @madwells22

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Former rapper's latest hit is serving vegan BBQ with a side of dance videos - SF Gate

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