Uber Founder’s Latest Sinister Business Venture Lands in Oakland & SF
You may be familiar with Uber founder Travis Kalanick. In 2017, Kalanick was forced to resign as CEO after complaints of Uber’s toxic workplace culture surfaced, including claims of sexual harassment and discrimination. Nevertheless, this tick has found a new host. Kalanick has since launched another highly exploitative and secretive business venture, known as CloudKitchens.
CloudKitchens bills itself as “restaurants, reimagined.” Reimagined with a dystopian cast, maybe. CloudKitchens is a cramped collection of “ghost kitchens,” tiny, hot boxes in which faceless laborers prepare food for Uber Eats and GrubHub delivery drivers. In January of 2019, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign-wealth fund invested $400 million in the startup, noted by Fortune to be “Silicon Valley’s First Post-Khashoggi Deal.” Internally, this venture has proven to be an extension of Kalanick’s “temple of bros,” and has already seen an exodus of more than 300 corporate employees.
Kalanick’s ghost kitchens or “dark kitchens” are not without precedent. Last October, an investigation in the UK revealed that a British food delivery company called Deliveroo was profiting handsomely off of dark kitchens during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Deliveroo app hosts fine dining and familiar chain restaurants, but its relationship to these establishments is tenable at best. In fact, many meals ordered through Deliveroo are prepared in parking lots and “windowless sheds.”
The same month that these findings were revealed, The Wall Street Journal reported that Kalanick had sunk $130 million into 40 CloudKitchens properties in nearly two dozen cities, including Oakland and San Francisco. Properties are seeded in the SOMA and lower Mission districts of San Francisco, as well as East and North Oakland.
CloudKitchens’ North Oakland location at 5333 Adeline Street has created a stir among neighborhood residents. Previous occupants at the address were subject to eviction, and 36 tiny kitchens were built in their wake. Angela Gennino, president of the Golden Gate Community Association, has led community retaliation, citing an “onslaught of parking, traffic, noise, pollution, garbage, and pest impacts.” Earlier this month, in an email to concerned residents, Gennino detailed CloudKitchens’ dubious zoning permit, along with the City of Oakland’s embittering response:
On August 23, the City denied our request for a hearing on the revocation of the CloudKitchens zoning permit. In its denial, Zoning Manager Robert Merkamp dismissed our claim that his staff issued the zoning permit in error by classifying it as light manufacturing rather than a fast-food restaurant (which is prohibited by Housing-Business zoning codes). He also claimed that our June 1 letter of protest (with 300 petition signatures) has no standing because it was submitted after a 90-window of the permit’s issuance. The fact that the public had no idea the permit was issued in September 2020 makes no difference.
We immediately filed an appeal in order for an independent hearing officer to determine whether there is sufficient evidence for a hearing on the permit revocation. Nathaniel Dunn heard the case on Sept. 20, and he issued his decision in October denying our appeal on all counts.
Neighborhood residents expressed their dismay. “I feel sad that the city has come down on the side of a huge business with an anonymous model, when what our neighborhood really needs are vibrant small businesses,” said Constance Hale, journalist and resident of 56th Street. “By the time we found out what was really going on, it was too late.”
As delivery trucks continue to roar through the neighborhood at ungodly hours, community resistance will inevitably continue. In the meantime, though, you may want to question where your Uber Eats meal is really coming from.
Check out our previous coverage of these ghost kitchens right here.