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Controversial Oakland Restaurateur of Pizzaiolo to Open Another Space

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A few months back I heard a rumor and it was finally confirmed this week. Charlie Hallowell, the co-owner of Pizzaiolo has purchased World Ground in The Laurel District of Oakland and plans to turn it into a restaurant within the next year or so. The rumor, circulating for almost a year now, was recently confirmed by several individuals in an Oaklandside article this week. It was revealed that last year, Hallowell and his business partner, Donna Insalaco, acquired the building located at 3724 MacArthur Blvd. This building has been home to World Ground Café for over two decades, serving as a coffee shop, cafe, and occasionally a wine bar.

Classic pizza from Pizzaiolo – photo from their restaurant

I can’t reveal my sources but I did hear from a source close to the Hallowell’s Pizzaiolo restaurant that Hallowell and Insalaco may launch a new breakfast spot in the cafe’s location. Currently World Ground Cafe is located across the street from a neighborhood hot spot, Sequoia Diner – known for their delicious breakfasts and brunch. However, whether they plan to actually open a breakfast spot is just alleged. According to the Oakland side article, the new restaurant will be inspired by Pizzaiolo and there are plans to bring in Executive Chef Anthony Lee who currently runs the kitchen at Pizzaiolo. Lee grew up in East Oakland and currently lives in The Laurel District near the new location.

Oaklandside did speak to the owner of Sequoia Diner, Andrew Vennari, who confirmed that Hallowell and Insalaco came in and spoke to him about buying the property a few months ago.

When will the new restaurant open?

World Ground has been in the neighborhood since 1998 and when you walk in you can tell the space needs some repairs done before it can become the next Pizzaiolo ideration. We were told by a local business nearby not to expect to see anything happen within the next year.

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However, The switchover is also waiting on the owner of World Ground, Uffe Gustafsson, to find a new cafe space to call home. To Oaklandside, Hallowell said “He made it clear to us that he’s looking for a smaller location, and the building is too much for him. That place needs a lot of love.” 

The controversy about Charlie Hallowell

For those of us who love to follow food news, you may remember Hallowell’s 2018 “open letter to the Oakland community,” Hallowell openly pledged to undergo counseling and therapy, among other measures, as part of his commitment to rebuilding trust within the community and facilitating his return to Pizzaiolo. This was after he was publicly accused by more than 30 workers of sexual harassment.

“I’m not perfect, but I believe so much in people’s capacity to change. And I’ve really changed. I’ve worked hard to try to make amends to people who were willing to let me try to do that. I’ve gone through years of therapy and working in a spiritual community,” said Hallowell to Oaklandside.

Hallowell speaking out about “not being perfect” is after multiple sexual harassment claims. These initial reports surfaced from 17 women, but following the publication of the first accounts, more than 30 additional individuals came forward with similar narratives which included inappropriate work place commentary and groping. Victims are speaking out again now as this new expansion news has been circulating.

Many people still don’t want to support Hallowell but he’s really hoping that he can show support to The Laurel District and Oakland while he opens this restaurant. Although plans for a new breakfast spot remain speculative, the potential arrival of a Pizzaiolo-inspired restaurant co-owned by a controversial restauranteur like Hallowell have people questioning whether he’s done the work to make amends. Still, Vennari of Sequoia Diner, told Oaklandside, “I stand with the people who were negatively impacted by him. I would ask those people. It is up to them to decide if Hallowell has been able to get redemption and done enough work to remedy.”

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Katy Atchison

Katy Atchison

Katy has lived in The Bay Area since the age of 3. While other kids were attending summer camp & soccer practice, she was raised selling wares at craft shows with her working artist parents and spent vacations in a small 1920s Montana log cabin. This has all given her a unique perspective on the ever-changing texture of San Francisco and the Greater Bay Area. Currently a blend of all that is The Bay Area - she's a web designer at a tech-company, artist and DIY teacher.