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The Damel Rolls Afro-Brazilian Empanadas Into Downtown Oakland

a close up of food

The new restaurant has a fresh location in Oakland, and is promising a food truck for the East Bay and delivery in SF

by Becky Duffett

The Damel just opened in downtown Oakland last year, bringing a multicultural mix of Senegalese, Argentinian, and Brazilian flavors to the area. A year later, first-time chef-owner Oumar Diuf is making big moves, by switching up locations, launching a food truck, and opening a ghost kitchen in SF.

Diuf grew up in Senegal, and says he started cooking with his mom at age 13, when his father passed away. He was a professional soccer player in Argentina, then suffered a leg injury and enrolled in culinary school. After cooking in hotel restaurants in Brazil during the World Cup and a chef stint with the NBA, he launched his own food business in the Bay, first as a caterer, then with an Oakland storefront.

“As a soccer player, I’m a natural competitor, so I wanted to be where the best players are,” he says of the food scene in the Bay Area. But also, he was drawn to “the diversity in Oakland and the Bay Area. People are open minded, and willing to try new foods. They’ve been very receptive to trying my food, the way that I want it.”

He describes his cooking as multicultural, combining West African and South American influences. Fans already know and love the Argentinian empanadas, stuffed with carne or ground beef and pollo picante or spicy chicken, along with 20 other different flavors. He’s also known for the Senegalese dibi or grilled meats, including lamb chops and chicken. There are also smoothies and salads, including a Brazilian acai bowl.

The menu won’t change as he slides from his existing location at 2507 Broadway to a new location at 1312 Broadway. Less than a mile from the original, the new location is slightly more central, on the same block as the 12th Street Bart and close to University of California’s offices and the Fox Theater. Diuf says the Damel Oakland was intended to be a fast-casual restaurant, where diners order at the counter, and take a seat to wait for their food. Given the current coronavirus restrictions, he’ll instead focus on takeout orders, curbside pickup, and delivery through a few different apps.

The Damel Oakland is also one of the restaurants participating in Restaurants for the People, the team effort from Ayesha and Steph Curry of Eat Learn Play and Jose Andres of World Central Kitchen, which has committed to serving 2 million meals to residents in need by the end of the month. “It basically saved my business. It saved my employees’ jobs. It was amazing,” Diuf tells Eater SF of the Curry-Andres relief effort. At the new location, he’ll continue cooking for the initiative in the mornings, and open doors to the public in the afternoons, so both residents in need and everyday diners can get delicious empanadas.

Despite the pandemic, Diuf is already strategizing his next move. In addition to the new location, slated to open this week, he plans to roll out a food truck on July 15, in order to serve more of the East Bay, so check back for those locations. He also plans to open a cloud kitchen in San Francisco on August 15, to expand delivery into the city. And virus withstanding and vaccines willing, the former ball player is talking big game — Diuf says that he’s planning to open 10 locations by 2022. Stay tuned for more empanada updates.