Pican Restaurant - Eater Photo

Hey EBX & Hella Coastal – Brothers Brewing Co Was Oakland’s First Black Brewery, And Then There Was Pican Restaurant

Mario Benjamin, Chaz Hubbard, and Jeffrey Edelatpour owe Michael LeBlanc a giant apology. First, before I explain why, let me introduce Mario Benjamin, Chaz Hubbard as the founders of Hella Coastal, a new and Oakland-based black-owned brewery slated to open within the next month at Federation Brewing on 3rd Street down near Jack London Square. Jeffrey Edelatpour is a scribe with the East Bay Express who wrote about Mr. Benjamin and Mr. Hubbard’s new business. But that’s where things took a wrong turn: the messaging of the post.

Basically, Jeffrey Edelatpour has the title that has the words “Oakland’s first black-owned brewery” and when I saw those words pop up on my Oakland-focused news aggregator blog Oakland News Online (the brother blog to Oakland News Now), I hit the ceiling. Why? Because my friend Michael LeBlanc started Oakland’s first black brewery called Brothers Brewing Company long before these young brothers came along, yet Mario was quoted by Jeffrey Edelatpour as saying “1990s two men tried to start the first Black-owned brewery in Oakland, but “it just didn’t take off.” And I am thinking, where the heck did that come from, because it’s not only not true, it’s a complete insult to Michael.

What I find bothersome about young black Oaklanders today, is some of them have the attitude that black people starting businesses in areas normally inhabited by white folks never happened until they came out if the womb and grew up. That kind of thinking, amounts to a gaslighting of Oakland’s rich black entrepreneurial history, and especially the colorful characters who made up, and make up, the Oakland black business cultural landscape. Michael LeBlanc is part of that. The people who created the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame are part of that. I, as the only person in NFL history to form a bid to host the 2005 Super Bowl in Oakland (we lost to Jacksonville), and who started Oakland’s first blog and first YouTube Partner Channel Zennie62, am part of that. Paul Cobb, who owns the Oakland Post is part of that. The late Chuck Johnson, founder of SoulBeat TV, is part of that. Former Oakland Mayor Elihu Harris is part of that. Legendary Master Chef Tanya Holland is part of that. Locally famous black doctors like the late Tipkins Hood, are part of that. Oakland lawyer John Burris is part of that. I could go on and on, but this time it’s about Michael LeBlanc and Brothers Brewing Company.

Contrary to Mario’s words, Brothers Brewing Company was started in the late 1990s, specifically 1997 (Hey folks, it’s on the Internet!) Moreover, Brothers Brewing Company was not only the first black owned brewery in Oakland, it was the first in America. This is what the San Francisco Business Times wrote back in 1999:

LeBlanc is CEO of Brothers Brewing Co., the nation’s first African-American-owned beer maker. His goal: To build a $50 million enterprise that reaches the 50 to 60 largest metropolitan markets in the United States.

LeBlanc and partners Thomas Parker and Ralston Brown formed the company more than two years ago in Oakland, their hometown. Since then, BBC has steadily gained fizz. Members of the city’s business community have rallied in support, while the company’s Honey Brewed Amber Ale has won fans in supermarkets and restaurants.

LeBlanc left his job as president of Polaroid Asia, in Hong Kong, to run the company. His first aim is to make sure BBC succeeds. But he also harbors the belief that the company has come to represent something bigger than beer.

“We’re hoping we can be poster people for the city of Oakland,” says LeBlanc. “We’re homegrown. We represent a profile of what bootstrapping can do in presenting a different face of Oakland. … It’s almost like the American dream.”

Like any city, Oakland has had no shortage of energetic entrepreneurs whose businesses has fallen flat. And fierce competition in the craft-brewing industry makes BBC’s success something less than certain.

But LeBlanc believes BBC has the right ingredients to make its mark, despite the tough odds.

But, contrary to Mario’s blast, Brothers Brewing Company lasted into the 21st Century, and while it was undercapitalized, Michael took the concept and morphed it into Pican Restaurant. Pican Restaurant was to Uptown Oakland what the Playboy Club was to Chicago in the 1960s: a high-end place not just to eat and drink at, but be seen at. It was a much needed Downtown Oakland destination for a night-time Oakland crowd that was weary of going into San Francisco all of the time. As my vlogs will show, Pican, which opened on March 25th 2009 at 2295 Broadway at Broadway near Grand, was a delightful place to be.

I became a regular at Pican, and even made a vlog to recommended it as a place to go after a Donald Trump Protest that was held in Downtown Oakland.

Brothers Brewing Company Became Pican Restaurant, Which Lasted For Eight Good Years Before It Closed In 2017

Mario and company got it wrong: Michael folded BBC into Pican and created an eatery that was on its way to becoming an institution. The food was a daring mix of Asian and Soul and had favorites like the fried chicken appetizer. It’s selection of bourbons was without peer in Oakland. And it became a place where one rubbed shoulders with Golden State Warriors players, politicians, and even Iron Man himself, Robert Downey, Jr.

Rumor Has It That Phil Tagami Brought Robert Downey, Jr. To Pican Restaurant

In fact, rumor has it that it was famed Oakland Developer Phil Tagami who brought Robert Downey, Jr, to Pican Restaurant. That’s Phil with MARVEL Entertainment’s Iron Man and key pitchman at a fundraiser called “Ann and Gordon Getty Host Robert Downey, Jr. and Jerry Brown for the Oakland School For The Arts”, May 10th, 2016.

Robert Downey Jr and Phil Tagami at Gordon Getty Host Robert Downey Jr, And Jerry Brown To Benefit Oakland School For The Arts
Ann & Gordon Getty Host Robert Downey Jr, And Jerry Brown To Benefit Oakland School For The Arts

This is what I said about Pican when it was slated to close in 2017:

I will always miss Pican. I was happy when it opened and sad when it closed. It was the place where a lot of, as they say, political shit went down, over good food, drink, and whatever sports event was on television. To Mario and Chaz I say, here’s your history. Build on it.

And make sure to put some respect on Michael’s name while you’re at it.

Stay tuned.

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