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Shake Shack pays trans employee $20K to settle harassment case

“Intentional misgendering and other forms of discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression can be stressful and traumatic”



SHAKE SHACK West Hollywood Calif. location (File Photo by Paulo Murillo for WEHO TIMES)

OAKLAND – The New York City-based fast-food chain Shake Shack, known for its premium burgers and shakes, has settled a case in the Bay Area brought by a former trans male employee who filed the complaint with the help of California’s state Civil Rights Department, (CRD). 

In a press release issued earlier this week by CRD, the former employee, who was not named, said that the alleged harassment started after he was trained in San Francisco and assigned to work in a store in Oakland, California in 2020. He alleged he was “repeatedly misgendered by co-workers and that when he complained, management failed to take reasonable steps to correct the behavior.” 

According to CRD: “Management told him repeatedly that he would have to explain his gender to co-workers rather than rely on management to correct discriminatory behavior. Frustrated by management’s failure to address his concerns, after only a month the complainant left the company.”

Shake Shack will pay the former employee $20,000 as part of the announced settlement. The company also agreed to update its policies and training relating to retaliation, harassment, discrimination, and bullying in the workplace, CRD’s press release noted.

In an interview with Business Insider CRD director Kevin Kish told the news outlet that California law prohibits “intentional misgendering” in the workplace.

“Creating a welcoming and fulfilling environment for all our employees and guests is critical,” a Shake Shack spokesperson told Insider in a statement. “We are constantly taking steps to ensure our policies and culture reflect our commitment to diversity and inclusion in the workplace.”

“Intentional misgendering and other forms of discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression can be stressful and traumatic,” Kish told Business Insider. “CRD appreciates Shake Shack’s acknowledgement of its responsibility to provide a discrimination-free environment to its workforce.”



Rising antisemitism: A community struggles amidst conflict & hate

Hateful graffiti accompanied the vandalism. The incident coincided with rising tensions related to the Israel-Hamas conflict



Photo Credit: Chabad of Oakland/Facebook

OAKLAND, Calif. – The aftermath of Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel has sent shockwaves through the Jewish community in America, unveiling a complex tapestry of emotions and challenges. The rising tide of antisemitism has left many progressive Jews feeling abandoned, especially as once-supportive groups appear to embrace antisemitic sentiments.

In a recent interview with Ethnic Media Services, Jo Ellen Green Kaiser, CEO of J Jewish News of Northern California, provided insights into the growing sense of abandonment within the Jewish community, particularly among those who had actively participated in progressive movements. The interview exposed the isolation felt by Jewish people on the left, questioning the absence of solidarity from groups with whom they had marched side by side.

Antisemitic incidents have taken a troubling turn, with explicit expressions like “kill all the Jews” becoming distressingly common among progressive circles. This shift has left progressive Jews feeling alone, as former allies are now accused of embracing antisemitism.

The fear generated by the conflict and the subsequent rise in antisemitism goes beyond rhetoric to tangible acts of self-censorship within the Jewish community. Some Jews are refraining from displaying menorahs during Hanukkah, and parents, in particular, are grappling with concerns about their children facing verbal abuse and derogatory slurs based on their Jewish identity.

In parallel, the Chabad Jewish Center of Oakland became a focal point for the community’s resilience after a 9-foot-tall menorah was vandalized and thrown into a lake during Hanukkah celebrations.

According to J Jewish News of Northern California, the 11-foot menorah used for public Hanukkah ceremonies at Oakland’s Lake Merritt was destroyed sometime between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. Pieces of the hanukkiah were cut up and tossed across the sidewalk and into the water. Antisemitic graffiti was left on the base where it once stood.

The hate crime shocked the community and despite its destruction, the center inaugurated a new menorah, symbolizing unity and strength.

The incident prompted an active hate crime investigation by the Oakland Police Department. Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao urged treating the act as a hate crime, emphasizing that it was an attack not just on the city’s Jewish community but on shared values.

The menorah lighting at Lake Merritt, a long-standing tradition, became a powerful symbol of resilience. Rabbi Dovid Labkowski of the Chabad Jewish Center of Oakland expressed disbelief at the destruction of the menorah, stating, “I would never imagine that the menorah, which is a symbol of light, would be something that someone would want to destroy.”

Hateful graffiti accompanied the vandalism, further highlighting the depth of the act. The incident coincided with rising tensions related to the Israel-Hamas conflict, leading federal and local officials to warn about potential spillover into the United States.

Amid condemnation of the act, the Chabad Jewish Center of Oakland released a statement expressing inspiration from the community’s powerful display of Jewish pride. Muslim groups, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ San Francisco Bay Area office, condemned the vandalism, emphasizing the need for unity against antisemitism and bigotry.

As the community grapples with the aftermath of the October 7 attack, escalating antisemitism, and targeted acts of hatred, there is a collective effort to navigate through the complexities and foster unity amidst adversity. The challenges faced by progressive Jews underscore the imperative for continued dialogue, understanding, and support within and beyond the community.

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Oakland City Council signs off on new LGBTQ cultural district

Emceeing the news conference was Oakland resident Amy Schneider, a trans woman who gained a national following after appearing on “Jeopardy!”



Elected officials and LGBTQ community center staff gathered to announce the formation of the city's first LGBTQ Cultural District at a Tuesday news conference. (Photo Credit: Cynthia Laird)

By Cynthia Laird | OAKLAND, Calif. – At a joyous news conference outside the Oakland LGBTQ Community Center Tuesday morning, drag queen Vicki Sparkle Titz wowed the crowd by lip-synching and dancing to Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” before the Oakland Gay Men’s Chorus performed “Seasons of Love” from the Broadway smash “Rent.” It was all part of a celebration ahead of the Oakland City Council approving the first LGBTQ cultural district in the city, which it did at its meeting November 7.

The Lakeshore LGBTQ Cultural District is anchored by the community center on Lakeshore Avenue, and encompasses parts of the Lakeshore and Grand neighborhoods. Brandon Harami, a gay man who’s director of community resilience for Mayor Sheng Thao and her de facto LGBTQ liaison, said there are about a dozen businesses within the district’s boundaries that are LGBTQ-owned. (None of the business owners spoke at the event.)

Drag queen Vicki Sparkle Titz performs to Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” outside the Oakland LGBTQ Community Center last week. (Photo Credit: Cynthia Laird)

At the City Council meeting, the resolution passed 7-0. (Councilmember Treva Reid had an excused absence.) District 1 Councilmember Dan Kalb, who attended the kickoff, said he was “very thrilled to be one of the co-sponsors.” (Kalb is running for the open District 7 state Senate seat in the March primary.)

In fact, four councilmembers represent parts of all of the district: Kalb; Rebecca Kaplan, a lesbian who represents the entire city; Carroll Fife of District 3, and Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas of District 2.

At the kickoff, Kaplan told the Bay Area Reporter that the district is decades in the making.

“I am so proud of being part of making this district happen,” Kaplan said in a brief interview. “It’s an acknowledgement of a community presence that’s been here for a long time.”

She recounted how years ago the old Oakland Pride organization used to have its festival by Lake Merritt, and the old Sistahs Steppin’ in Pride held their event near the lake as well.

Fife, an ally, said she was honored to be at the event. Her council district is centered in West Oakland and parts of downtown.

“It’s the second official cultural district in Oakland,” Fife told the B.A.R., noting the city’s first cultural district is the Black Arts Movement Business District.

Fife added that the LGBTQ cultural district is needed to counter the right-wing attacks coming from conservative Republican lawmakers in Washington, D.C. and the U.S. Supreme Court. The conservative super-majority on the court earlier this year ruled that a website designer has free speech rights and does not have to make wedding websites for same-sex couples.

“It’s all connected,” Fife said. “I have friends in Texas who have to bring their children here for gender-affirming care.”

A ban on such care for trans youth in the Lone Star State went into effect earlier this year. Gay California Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) last year authored legislation signed by Governor Gavin Newsom that designates the Golden State as a refuge for trans kids and their families, as the B.A.R. previously reported.

Emceeing the news conference was Oakland resident Amy Schneider, a trans woman who gained a national following after her championship run on TV game show “Jeopardy!” two years ago. She is the author of her recent memoir, “In the Form of a Question.”

“I’m proud to call Oakland my home and I owe this town so much,” she said.

Jeff Myers and Joe Hawkins, gay Black men who are co-founders of the community center, praised the formation of the cultural district. For now, the center will serve as the district’s fiscal sponsor, they said.

“We have a lot of work to do,” said Hawkins. “This is just the beginning. In my mind, the whole lake is an LGBTQ cultural district.

“For people of color, Oakland has always been a refuge,” he added.

Thao, an ally who began her public service career by working as an aide for Kaplan, said she was involved with the community center since it opened in 2017.

“Our LGBTQ community is seeing constant threats and is not safe everywhere,” Thao said.

While plans call for a flagpole outside the center with a Progress Pride flag to denote the cultural district, Thao said it’s about more than that.

“It’s also about programming, like access to health care” and addressing housing insecurity, she said.

Amin Robinson, youth services coordinator at the LGBTQ center’s Town Youth Club just a short walk away from the center, said that the cultural district empowers him as a queer Black youth.

Karen Anderson, a Black lesbian senior, told the B.A.R. she was excited by the turnout. During her remarks, Anderson said the cultural district’s formation is important for youth and seniors.

“We’ve gone through the AIDS crisis, we’ve gone through the mpox crisis, and we’ve gone through the COVID crisis but we’re still here,” she said. “We’ve been isolated from our families and sometimes our friends and we’re still standing. We no longer have to concern ourselves with being out of the closet. There is no closet.”

Bas said one goal behind its creation is to make sure the city’s queer community is represented. She pointed out the community center stepped up during COVID to provide vaccinations and assistance for those facing homelessness.

Assemblymember Mia Bonta (D-Oakland) was one of several speakers who pointed out Oakland has one of the highest concentrations of LGBTQ people in the country.

“The fight continues,” Bonta said. “Resist homophobia, hate, and discrimination and the extreme conservative legislative efforts across the nation. We’ve allowed that to seep into California counties, particularly around trans youth. We’re for protecting and celebrating the LGBTQ community.”

Bonta was referring to actions by several conservative-led school boards that have adopted policies that would forcibly out trans and gender-nonconforming students to their parents without their consent. (Her husband, state Attorney General Rob Bonta, is suing one of the districts and recently won a preliminary injunction halting two main parts of the policy — the requirements that staff out students for identifying as transgender or gender non-conforming, as well as for accessing sex-segregated programs and activities that align with their gender.)

Additionally, as the B.A.R. first reported online last week, backers of three anti-trans ballot measures were cleared by the secretary of state’s office to begin gathering signatures in the hopes of placing them on the November 2024 ballot. One of them would require forced outing of trans students. The others would prohibit trans students from participating on sports teams that match their gender identity and prohibit gender-affirming care for minors.


Cynthia Laird is the Editor-In-Chief and News Editor of the Bay Area Reporter. Laird is a long time journalist in the SF Bay Area having studied Government-Journalism at California State University, Sacramento. She and her wife live in Oakland.


The preceding article was previously published by The Bay Area Reporter and is republished by permission.

Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.

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Downtown Oakland’s LGBTQ Port Bar vandalized overnight

“Someone shot out all the windows to the Port Bar this morning, The police said it appears intentional,” the co-owner said to the B.A.R.



Los Angeles Blade file photo of LAPD black and white patrol vehicle with handcuffs

By John Ferrannini | OAKLAND, Calif. – The sun came up over Oakland’s Port Bar this morning with its two front windows and glass entrance door apparently shot through in what its co-owner believes was an intentional act.

“Someone shot out all the windows to the Port Bar this morning,” Sean Sullivan, a gay man who is the co-owner of the popular downtown Oakland watering hole, told the Bay Area Reporter October 4. “The police said it appears intentional.”

Oakland police did not immediately return a request for comment for this report. The bar is located at 2023 Broadway. Sullivan stated in a text “this only happened to the Port Bar. Like not even the empty storefront next door.”

The windows of downtown Oakland’s Port Bar were apparently shot through with what police called “weights” early Wednesday morning.
(Photo by Sean Sullivan, co-owner Port Bar)

Sullivan said the police told him the windows were shot through with what appeared to be lead bullet “weights,” or metal projectiles.

The bar opened in 2016, and features popular drag events, as well as dancing. It serves as an anchor for a nascent but growing LGBTQ scene in the neighborhood, an alternative to San Francisco’s Castro and South of Market mainstays.

“We are devastated,” Sullivan said. “Our staff work hard to provide a welcoming, safe space to our beautiful LGBT community and to have this happen now with so much going on in our community is just heartbreaking.”

Sullivan created a GoFundMe on October 4 after “so many nice people asked if they could help,” he stated. The fundraiser, which has a goal of $10,000, has raised $0 as of press time.

The Oakland LGBTQ Community Center issued a statement of its own via Instagram on Wednesday.

“It is with a heavy heart that we share with our followers and LGBTQ+ community that @theportbar, one of the oldest queer bars in Oakland, was targeted for violence this morning,” the center stated. “We do not have any more details about this incident but encourage people to reach out to the owners @theportbar for more information and to show your support.”

The LGBTQ center, located near Lake Merritt, had its own windows broken in June 2020 in an act of vandalism that police called a hate crime, as the B.A.R. previously reported.

Sullivan, who helped organize the city’s Pride festivities just weeks ago, was asked by the B.A.R. at that time about violence in the Bay Area in general and Oakland in particular as concerns over crime reach a fever pitch.

“We wish it was safer. … I would say it’s difficult day-to-day — I still struggle,” Sullivan said at that time. “Criminals who break windows don’t care if they are breaking an LGBTQ person’s car window or a heterosexual person’s car window, but that’s on both sides of the bay. It gets situated in Oakland, but it’s the same as downtown San Francisco, and other parts of San Francisco, but LGBTQ people are undaunted and we will not let unfortunate incidents stop us from celebrating queer joy.”

There’ve been a number of criminal incidents against Bay Area queer bars recently; on Tuesday the B.A.R. reported about break-ins in San Francisco’s Castro and SOMA neighborhoods.

Last week, the B.A.R. reported about vandalism at the Cinch Saloon on Polk Street, and last month following Pride in San Jose the Splash Video Dance Bar had to temporarily close due to vandalism.


The preceding piece was previously published by The Bay Area Reporter and is republished with permission.

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Oakland school receives bomb threat after tweet by Libs of TikTok

According to OPD Capt. Ausmus, the bomb threat was in response to an event that occurred at the school this past Saturday



Los Angeles Blade graphic

OAKLAND, Calif. – Chabot Elementary School in the Claremont neighborhood in Northeast Oakland went into lockdown Tuesday after a bomb threat was called in around 7:30 a.m. Tuesday before school started.

According to Oakland Police Department spokesperson Capt. Lisa Ausmus, her agency along with Alameda County Sheriff’s Office K-9 bomb dogs investigated and the building was cleared at around 12:40 p.m. after no explosive devices were found.

 Chabot Elementary School in Oakland, California
(Screenshot/Google earth)

According to Capt. Ausmus, the bomb threat was in response to an event that occurred at the school this past Saturday.

Billed as a “Playdate Social for Black, Brown and API families,” the far-right anti-LGBTQ+ Libs of TikTok blasted the event in a tweet: “A California elementary school reportedly held a race segregated “playdate social” for all students except the white kids. A parent blasted the school on social media, “we’ll look back and cringe so hard that we tried to beat racism by segregating kids of color from white kids”

KRON-TV 4 San Francisco reported Wednesday that reporter Alex Baker had reached out to the group behind the playdate event, the Chabot Equity & Inclusion Committee and received a statement that read in part:

“Not only have we been continuously getting hate mails, the school has been receiving calls nonstop and Trump supporters and other unhinged racists have been spreading the school’s info by posting the address of our kids’ school for the whole internet to see. We have received a threat that has triggered an investigation by OPD which is now being considered a hate crime.”

With over 2.5M followers, many who are far-right, Libs of TikTok founder Chaya Raichik’s tweets have inspired reactions from her followers including threats of violence on issues dealing with transgender youth- especially dealing with gender-affirming healthcare, drag shows, especially drag queen story hours, and any books in secondary or elementary schools that contain LGBTQ+ themes or subject matter.

KRON4’s reporter Will Tran spoke to Briana, one of the organizers of the playdate who told him:

“I find it very concerning that people feel the need to spread the flyer, spread false narratives about it being a ‘whites not allowed’ event,” she said. “Nowhere on that flyer did it say that no one was turning anybody away at the door if they were white. Anyone could come, but the space was meant for Black, Brown and Asian families.”

Oakland’s mayor tweeted her anger over the threats against Chabot Elementary School:

A spokesperson for the Oakland Police Department confirmed to the Blade that the probe into the matter is ongoing and that the FBI is assisting but wouldn’t comment further due to the investigation.


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Proud Boys disrupt San Lorenzo Library Drag Queen Story Hour

An active hate crime investigation is underway as is an investigation into the annoying and harassing of children



Courtesy of the Alameda County Sheriff's Office

SAN LORENZO, Ca. – The Proud Boys, a right-wing extremist group whose membership espouse hate-filled anti-gay/anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric disrupted a Drag Queen Story Hour event at the San Lorenzo Library located on Paseo Grande in Alameda County, California Saturday afternoon.

Lt. Ray Kelly, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer said a that group of men described as members of the Proud Boys organization, entered the during library its “Drag Queen Story Time” event and made “homophobic and transphobic remarks against a member of the LGTBQ+ community who was hosting the event.”

Witnesses reported that the men began to shout homophobic and transphobic slurs at the event organizer, drag queen Panda Dulce. The men were described as extremely aggressive with a threatening violent demeanor causing people to fear for their safety. Alameda County Sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to the library and were able to de-escalate the situation.

Kelly indicated that there was an active hate crime investigation as a result of the actions of the five Proud Boys. According to Kelly, in addition to drag queen organiser Panda Dulce there were parents and minor children also present.

Photograph via Google Earthview

In a statement the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department noted:

An active hate crime investigation is underway as is an investigation into the annoying and harassing of children.

ACSO will dedicate all resources to ensure the safety of members of our LGBTQ community. We will make sure any future events at the library are safe against hate speech and threats of violence. As we celebrate Pride Month, we will be swift in our response to any incidents where there are threats to harm members of this community.

We will release further details as the investigation continues.

One law enforcement source told the Blade Sunday evening that the Proud Boys may have been induced to act based on a end of last month post by the vitriolic anti-LGBTQ+ Tik-Tok account which has been actively attacking the LGBTQ+ community and has spread the false narrative that LGBTQ+ people are “grooming” children.

Reaction to the actions by the Proud Boys was swift. State Senator Scott Wiener, a member of the General Assembly’s LGBTQ Caucus tweeted: “Yesterday: Proud Boys stormed Drag Queen Story Hour at San Lorenzo Public Library, wearing AK-47 shirts & calling the drag queen “pedophile” & “it.” A right-wing militia was arrested for planning to attack Pride in Idaho. Direct results of political attacks on LGBTQ people.”

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez, a local reporter for the Bay Area KQED public radio also tweeted on the incident:

“Myself and other Alameda County elected officials are sending an open letter asking that Sheriff’s Department and the district attorney to fully investigate and prosecute this as a hate crime,” Dublin California City Councilman Shawn Kumagai told the Blade in a phone call Sunday.

Kumagai also sent the text of a letter that officials are planning on submitting which read in part:

We, as out and proud LGBTQ+ officials and community leaders are outraged about the senseless act of hate caused during the Drag Queen Story Hour at the San Lorenzo Public Library on June 11th. We call upon the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office and District Attorney to investigate and charge, to the greatest extent possible under the law, these acts of hate aimed at harming members of our community and our allies. Additionally, we urge our non-LGBTQ+ allies in offices across the region and state to provide additional support to our community during these increasingly challenging times.

On Saturday June 11th, The San Lorenzo Public Library hosted a Drag Queen Story Hour. This event was part of a series of events throughout the Alameda County Library system designed to celebrate PRIDE month and uplift LGBTQ+ stories and experiences. During this event, members of the Proud Boys, a right-wing hate group, stormed the story hour yelling homophobic and transphobic slurs, with the obvious intent of threatening and intimidating the participants of the event.

We strongly condemn this act of hate aimed at harming members of our community and our allies. We are living in a time where LGBTQ+ rights are under attack across several states in our nation, and sadly, even accepting and welcoming places like Alameda County are not exempt from this type of hate. Hate has no place in our community and must be met with decisive action.”

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Newsom & cabinet members discuss California’s homelessness crisis

$14 billion plan on homelessness is all-of-government approach focused on shelter, rehousing strategies, mental & behavioral health services



Governor Newsom and Cabinet members walk encampment site in Oakland (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor)

OAKLAND – Governor Gavin Newsom today took his Cabinet members to visit an encampment in Oakland to discuss the inhumane living conditions too many Californians face.

Since his first day in office, the Governor has made addressing homelessness a top priority for the administration. Governor Newsom’s multibillion-dollar plan to tackle homelessness is an all-government effort to rapidly provide housing and connections to behavioral and physical health supportive services to individuals experiencing homelessness, while also cleaning up the state’s highway off-ramps and encampments.

“Encampments across our state are constant reminders of the broken dreams of struggling Californians and their loved ones, making them a stubborn, painful issue that we must tackle with empathy,” said Governor Newsom. “Homelessness affects us all and California is taking an all-hands approach to tackle this challenge from every angle.”

(Photo Credit: Office of the Governor)

The Governor and his Cabinet members walked the Oakland encampment and spoke directly with people experiencing homelessness. The visit was followed by a Cabinet meeting to discuss the strategies all state agencies can employ to tackle the homelessness crisis.

Governor Newsom’s multibillion-dollar homeless housing investments will provide more than 55,000 new housing units and treatment slots in the coming years. Building on last year’s historic $12 billion investment to help get the most vulnerable people off the streets, the California Blueprint proposes an additional $2 billion investment in behavioral health housing and encampment rehousing strategies, creating a total $14 billion package to confront the homelessness crisis.

Earlier this year, the Governor announced $50 million in grants through the California Homeless Coordinating and Financing Council’s Encampment Resolution Grant Program, which was created in partnership with the Legislature. The grants will serve 19 communities throughout California to provide shelter or housing for 1,401 individuals currently experiencing homelessness in encampments.

(Photo Credit: Office of the Governor)

In September 2021, Governor Newsom set a goal of cleaning 100 encampments – since then, the state has cleaned 728 encampments, coordinating with local governments that provide housing and services to former residents. The state is on course to clear 1,000 encampments by the end of 2022.

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Gay chocolatier opens new home of Michael’s Chocolates in Oakland

The shop will offer house made marshmallows to pair with chocolate beverages- hot chocolate for kids and espresso drinks for adults



Michael Benner, (L) joined by husband, Curtis Wallis, at the opening of Michael's Chocolates in Oakland October 2. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland

By Matthew S. Bajko | OAKLAND – Michael Benner began making his own specialty chocolate confections in 2015 and, within two years, had launched his own business under the brand name Michael’s Chocolates. His husband, Curtis Wallis, assisted him with marketing and sales on a part-time basis.

Ever since then they had largely run the business out of their San Francisco home in the city’s Mission Dolores micro-neighborhood, while renting a shared commercial kitchen in South San Francisco. His focus went from catering specialty events to adding online sales and getting local stores to sell his products.

The industry took note and routinely awarded Benner for his chocolate concoctions, from bars to caramels. He was named a 2021 6 Star Grand Master best chocolatier and confectioner in the U.S. by the International Chocolate Salon, which also had named his Bourbon Caramel Pecan bar as the best chocolate bar.

After surviving a brutal 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic wiping out many of the corporate events he would normally have been hired to provide sweet treats for, Benner is taking his chocolate business into a new stage. As of October 2 he now has his first brick-and-mortar retail location.

That Saturday he soft opened the new home of Michael’s Chocolates at 3338 Grand Avenue in Oakland’s Grand Lake district. The retail shop is a short walk from the city’s Lake Merritt, which is home to the East Bay’s largest farmers market on Saturdays, and from the Oakland LGBTQ Community Center.

“It literally came out of nowhere. We were not prepared,” Benner told the Bay Area Reporter during a phone interview the day prior to his store’s first day being open. “We were in survival mode.”

For several years he had looked at renting a storefront in San Francisco but could never find a suitable space or a reasonable rent. Then came the global health crisis, and the money the gay couple had saved up for a retail location was diverted to keeping the business afloat last year.

“2020 was supposed to be the year we found a location but that didn’t happen,” said Benner. “The money we had saved for opening a store went to pay for the commercial kitchen and we scrambled to find enough business to keep us going.”

Earlier this year Benner fielded a phone call from a fellow chocolatier with a tip that Michael Mischer, after 17 years of operating his own eponymously-named chocolate store, had decided that he was going out of business and was looking for someone to take over the lease at his Grand Avenue location. As it happened, Benner had thought about opening in the area but ruled it out because he didn’t want to compete with another chocolate maker, nonetheless one also named Michael.

After talking to Mischer and checking out his location, which totals about 1,500 square feet and features an 18 foot high ceiling, Benner put in an offer. He beat out another chocolatier who also vied for it.

“We prevailed and we bought out not only his lease but also all of his equipment. It is a full turn-key kitchen,” said Benner. “It has an ADA-compliant bathroom, sinks, and refrigerators. It kind of happened by serendipity; it was meant to happen.”

Once their deal was finalized, Mischer announced his last day would be July 10 and notified his customers that “another, different Michael, will take over the store on Grand Avenue and will continue to produce and sell his own chocolates and other products.”

Benner moved in August 1 and gave up the lease on the commercial kitchen he had been renting. All of his chocolates will now be made on-site at the , store, where he carved out a roughly 650 square foot space for the retail section.

“We did a major facelift of the space for the retail aspect. We painted, put up different shelving and are giving it our touch,” said Benner, noting that one defining design feature is the giant pink stylized M from his brand logo on the back wall that has been painted black to match the colors of his packaging. “It is a lot of room for a little chocolatier.”

Twelve of his most popular chocolate bonbon flavors will be available for purchase at the store. He is also debuting several new items he cooked up during the COVID pandemic, from new chocolate bars to fruit jelly confections.

The shop will also offer house made marshmallows to pair with chocolate beverages. There will be hot chocolate for kids and espresso drinks for adults.

Benner hired one of Mischer’s employees to stay on and help him run his own shop. And he will continue selling the same Berkeley-based brand of gelato that Mischer offered, Almare Gelato.

He is already making plans to offer various classes, from making chocolate to pairing the sweet with wine, as he previously worked as a sommelier. His next-door neighbor is a natural wine shop he hopes to collaborate with on the classes and other events.

“It will work out well when COVID finally settles itself down. I love doing classes and things like that,” said Benner, who doesn’t have a liquor license of his own.

For now Benner plans to be open Tuesdays through Sundays from noon to at least 6 p.m. and likely as late as 8 or 9 p.m. depending on the foot traffic in the neighborhood. Customers can also expect expanded hours during the holiday shopping season in mid-November through December.

To learn more about his chocolates, visit


Matthew S. Bajko is the Assistant Editor of The Bay Area Reporter

The preceding article was previously published by the Bay Area Reporter and is republished by permission.

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