The Oakland Cocktail Week: All Good In the Neighborhoods series spotlights five Oakland bartenders, their bars, and the neighborhoods they’ve rooted in. Here we pay a visit to West Oakland to interview Donna Inscho Brinkman and Pancho Kachingwe, two co-owners of 7th West, a fresh new addition that pays it forward while paying homage to the once bustling Seventh Street, otherwise known as the “Harlem of the West.”
So how did 7th West come to exist?
Donna: Well, we met each other about two years ago, all four of the partners, there's two other partners, Kevin Pelgone and Assan Jethmal. We're all local Oakland business owners. And we met each other randomly, because we decided to hang out at the Hatch, which Pancho is the owner of, in downtown Oakland and we had collective interests. We really clicked. And then we decided what business ventures would we want to do together? And we had all always separately talked about having, like, a warehouse party place. And here it is.
Our main focus here was to really create community because we are a diverse group. All our friends are a really diverse group—all backgrounds—and it was just an opportunity for us to just have a different type of space. You don't see spaces like ours, you know. Like everything is handmade down to these tables. I used to joke around that there are literally blood, sweat, and tears in our chandeliers and our bar. We made it all by hand—a lot by Assan. He's pretty talented in building out. But we all have different strengths that we can contribute to this venture.
Pancho: It was really cool how much the community supported us. “The Heart” was a gift from friends of ours. They were just like, “You guys want a heart?” “Sure.” Not knowing what it actually looked like. And then they brought it over, right? “Oh, that's massive.” Yeah, it was a lot of people that came together to support us to make it happen.
D: Yeah, the community really showed up. They wanted it too. We realized that there was a need for it, especially in West Oakland. And it just so happened that the space was available. It was an underutilized, vacant lot that was contributing to the blight in the city. And we have an amazing landlord. And the community really showed up—people helping, like hammer and nails. My husband laying tile—all of our significant others and family.
P: It was impressive to be honest with you.
D: Everybody showed up.
P: Yeah, I think well, mostly people thought we were crazy. With people not from Oakland, or they don't really understand the Bay Area that well, they thought white guys will need some help in West Oakland that gets dangerous people will never show up there. And then really, and they were like, “So you’re opening up a family friendly space, also in West Oakland? That just sounds crazy!”
Can you tell me a little bit about West Oakland and why you chose it?
P: Well, I've been in the Bay for almost 20 years now. And then when I opened up the Hatch, it was downtown Oakland, just started spending a lot more time in Oakland. And in West Oakland, man, I got friends that live out here. And just hearing the reputation that people had. Right? Or half of it. Right, it just wasn't a fair association to the people that have been here for generations, you know, and the history of the area. So I think a big part of us coming together and finding this place to meeting our landlord—he was really helpful. He was just like, you guys want to do something that pays homage to Seventh Street, to what it used to be and what it can be? And be a POC on business. Like, why not?
D: And we have a great community here. Everyone from the local businesses that are around us to the residents that live in the Prescott or that live in the Acorn—everybody shows up. And it's really interesting how a lot of these worlds really just combine and everything is just normal. Like we have all ages here, from little kids to older adults. If you see any of our photos on our on our Instagram, you see the diversity that Oakland truly represents. And it's happening here in West Oakland. It's really exciting.
P: Yeah, especially with all the changes happening in the Bay Area, especially now with Oakland, it's nice for us to be on the forefront of the changes happening here. And actually being able to either provide a template of how you can do it and be inclusive within the community, as opposed to being exclusive. So it was amazing that our landlord was even willing to give us the chance. But to have them just sit there and be like, “We believe in what you guys are talking about and what you guys are doing. Yeah, let's make it happen.”
Can you talk a little bit about the history and legacy on Seventh Street?
D: Seventh Street used to be the Broadway of Oakland where all the famous jazz and blues musicians would play. In fact, one of our specialty cocktails is called the “Raincoat Jones.” He actually used to be like a gangster but he owned and operated a bar on Seventh Street.
P: Raincoat Jones, actually ended up sponsoring a lot of [small businesses] here. It's like that type of legacy, I suppose, is what we want to carry forward.
Because for us, we're not just a bar. We also want to work as an incubator to try to help other entrepreneurs out that wouldn't get the opportunity to do it.
D: Like Jeepney Guy is one of our first incubator projects here where it's his first brick and mortar. He's always done pop up events. And this was an opportunity to get out of a commercial kitchen and come and actually run a brick and mortar location. And we're hoping to do that in a larger scale with our landlords, for future developments.
P: The funniest thing— funny is probably not the right term. But the most endearing thing about the space is some of the old timers that come in and will literally have tears in their eyes. Because they didn't think a place like this could exist for this community. You know, it's crazy. I guess you may get caught up in the day to day operations of running the place that sometimes it's lost on us. And until people actually come in, and see it, you're like, “Oh, this really means something to you!” And it's great too for the kids. It’s interesting bridging those generational gaps, and a location becomes more than just the space itself.
D: So yeah, not not only diversity, but intergenerational. Is that a word intergenerational? I'm gonna make it work. That's what makes it really exciting. You know, because you get old cats. We do different styles and types of events so that we can hit all [people]. It's, it's actually been really fun. And the community has shown up, so it's obviously they dig it.
Can you talk a bit about how 7th West has made an impact in the community and where do you want it to go?
P: Before we opened up, I went to New York, and then I came back and was talking to some people at the Hatch. And I was like, man, I really love New York! I felt comfortable there. And someone said to me, “But New York doesn't really need what you can provide for it. It already exists there, right?” Like, is it more worth your time to be somebody in the community that's helping other people grow in the community? And that really hit hard.
Then we just been talking, all of us as a group—how can we continue to do that? Luckily, I know, we keep talking about our landlord, but they're actually super amazing. With the new development that they're doing, they were just like, “Well, we have about 40 retail spaces here, below market rent on everything.” Almost free to be honest with you. And they were like, “Well, do you guys know, people that want to come in here?” And we're like, “Yeah!” and we actually created a process to help other people, whatever dreams that they have.
So that's just the kind of position that we find ourselves in, that we have an opportunity to open it up to other people that don't know how to get capital or have never made a business plan or carried out ideas. I really feel like that's what 7th West gearing up to be. If we do a good job here, it's going to open up other opportunities for other people.
D: [Our landlords] didn't have to do that. They're charging us with setting up the program to assist because we kind of went through it, and that's something that we want to do to help West Oakland. We want to help focus on POC businesses and POC entrepreneurs that wouldn't normally have an opportunity. And our landlords are so down with that.
P: So there's obviously there’s self interest, we're like, this is great, we can open up a bar. And if we do a good enough job, you know, maybe we make some money from it. But I think, for the community, it's more important to help other people establish themselves to be able to create generational wealth.
D: Pancho is a great resource in really figuring out ways like, how can we contribute to our communities. Like by hosting fundraisers, where anyone and everyone can have our space for free. Local nonprofits, schools, and churches can come in for free. Have the space to raise the funds that they need to, and help the community feel like they have a location that they don't have to pay an arm and a leg for just to have an event.
D: We try to keep our pricing affordable and really approachable for everyone. We have something from every range. So if you're not looking to spend a lot of money you don't have to, and you’d still be able to enjoy sitting outside, sitting inside, playing video games, watching TV or game nights, or coming to karaoke. Yeah, we just we have a little bit of something for everyone. And I think it's really important that people can find space here.
Last question—what do you love about Oakland?
D: Oh my god, so many [reasons]! That's hard.
P: That's a tough one. Man, everything. The geography is great. I love being able to ride my motorcycle and just go to the hills go to the ocean. That's great. I love taking my dogs to the parks. I love the people here. Like they're all creatives. And it's always funny when people come from out of town. And they're like "Oakland is just a different type of magic." Because there's people that we know, they're doing amazing things. When I go to other places. It just doesn't exist in the same way. Where I feel like Oakland just believes anything can happen.
D: Wow, that's a really great way to put it! Oakland believes that anything can happen, right? So I have been in the Bay Area for 19 years now. I left Oakland for one year and then rushed my ass back. Because I couldn't deal in Berkeley.
You know, I'm a military brat. And so I grew up all over the world. And one of the things that I've always constantly had to deal with is that I'm not Asian enough. I'm not white enough, not black enough. And I never felt that in Oakland. Ever. And that's one of the things that I really, I really dig about Oakland is that it's just so welcoming to anyone and it allows people to be who they want to be. And it is so inviting to anybody that wants to change who they want to be. It's so much more accepting. That's one of the reasons why I've kind of never left. This is the longest place I've ever lived in my entire life. We usually moved about almost every year growing up in the military, and I've never left here only that one year to finish at Cal. And I was like, yeah, moving back to Oakland!
Check out 7th West during Oakland Cocktail Week September 20-29, 2019. Learn more about Oakland Cocktail Week.