380 17th Street, plus a mobile food truck that serves the Bay Area, libafalafel.com
Liba Falafel features a Falafel Bar with 20 salads, sauces, and pickles that customers use to dress their meal, highlighting seasonal, creative uses of vegetables and fruits for a really delicious experience.
Number of years in Oakland: 5
From Gail Lillian, owner of Liba Falafel
Q: What inspired you to start your business?
A: I’ve always been in the food industry, and realized years ago that the Bay Area didn’t have any falafel bars. I thought of different ideas for ingredients on the Falafel Bar over the years, and would keep a document on my computer that I’d add to every time inspiration struck. And then finally I was ready. I went through the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center and wrote a business plan, and bought a food truck off Craigslist in 2009.
Q: Tell us in one sentence why your customers love your business.
A: People in the Bay Area love variety and creativity in their food. We create unique combinations of flavors that loosely draw on Mediterranean influence. We’re not dogmatic about sticking to any one ethnic influence in our dishes; instead, we have fun with seasonal ingredients. We also have a few sweet offerings on our Falafel Bar, like Apple Chutney, and Rosemary Caramelized Peanuts, which break up the usual savory flavors in a falafel. Last summer we had Grilled Peaches with Persian Lime Curry, and Pickled Strawberries with Star Anise – and they both work against all the other flavors in the sandwich.
Q:What’s the best thing about doing business in Oakland?
A: I’m so committed to Oakland, and feel really proud to be a business owner here, specifically. I like two things about Oakland best: the diversity, and that it isn’t ‘precious’. I don’t like when cities reflect an attitude of perfection and snobbery. Oakland is cool just because it is, and it doesn’t need to brag about it.
Q: What are some of your favorite local businesses in Oakland?
A: Well, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out my favorite burger shop, Victory Burger, in the Golden Gate neighborhood, because my husband owns it! But also because it’s my favorite burger shop, romantic associations aside. I go to Sobo Ramen in Chinatown really frequently; they dish a delicious, quality bowl of ramen every time. For Vietnamese food, Tay Ho on Webster/12th is my go-to. I pretty much only eat and cook Asian food when I’m not working!
Q: What’s the one thing Oakland offers that you couldn’t live without?
A: The one thing Oakland offers that I couldn’t live without is the sum of its parts: the fact that Oakland has great food, great hiking, and great people doing interesting things. I need all of that in the place I call home.