Before Lourdes “Lulu” Marquez-Nau hit the Bay Area with her then-catering business Casa Borinqueña in 2020, there was, arguably, a dearth of both Puerto Rican food and vegan food in the Bay Area. For sure, there was no bounty of Puerto Rican vegan food. Her fans were all the more excited when she opened her 750-square-foot permanent location at 6211 Shattuck Avenue in Oakland in 2022.
Now, the owner and founder says it’s time to call it quits. There’ll be no more plant-based arroz con gandule, yellow rice, or shrimp mofongo in that space, though she’ll go back to popping up and catering. Marquez-Nau says she racked up about $100,000 fixing a space that needed more work than she was prepared for. The business’ physical home will close for good at the end of September. “I really don’t want to close,” Marquez-Nau says. “But I don’t have the financial resource I need to fully open.”
The restaurant opened during difficult a time due to the ongoing impact of the pandemic. The building on Shattuck Avenue between 62nd and 63rd Streets was bright yellow, right across the street from similarly bright pink cafe Rose Damask. During Thanksgiving 2022, Marquez-Nau sold rich, decadent pasteles and empanadas for take-home orders while she sought to open the restaurant. Still, hours changed back and forth throughout the last year, a result of an alleged 30 or more comments from the Department of Health.
Every time Marquez-Nau addressed the problems, she says officials came back with new issues. She says she feels the Department of Health made an example of her, as what was required of Casa Borinqueña was allegedly much higher than what was required of the restaurant in the space before — a location that has been a restaurant or food business for decades. “They told me I’d be grandfathered in,” she says. “I was not grandfathered in. I just don’t have the funds to do the work they need me to do, and I don’t have the funds because I can’t open full-time to generate the income.”
She’s considered crowdfunding or a GoFundMe to bring in income, to head to a new location and start over, since she’s realized a space that may be charmingly small was actually a bit too tiny. It was the end point of a journey in the NorCal region after coming to the West Coast from New York in 2008, when Marquez-Nau ditched meat as she looked to reconnect with her Puerto Rican culinary heritage. Her son, Malibu’s owner Darren Preston, followed the same health-focused entrepreneurial route — and has gained famous fans like chef David Chang in doing so. On her end, Marquez-Nau is contemplating bankruptcy. “It’s sad that they [the Department of Health] is not on the side of small business,” she says.