Sri Lankan restaurant in Oakland Anula’s Cafe closes after 13 years

For 13 years, Anula Edirising has been getting up almost every morning at 4:30 a.m. to prepare the daily specials for her restaurant. His quaint downtown Oakland boutique, Anula’s Cafe, serves a mix of Sri Lankan and Caribbean cuisines. There is no set menu. Instead, Anula and another employee make as many as they can of a few daily specials each day.

Edirisinghe said the hard work was worth it after seeing her customers smile when they took a bite of jerk chicken or lamprais, a Sri Lankan staple she prepares once a month.

“Every day I am happy here when I cook and meet people,” Edirisinghe said. “I don’t complain about work, only at the end of the day when I’m tired.”

Ben Frost has been a regular customer at Anula’s Cafe for 10 years. Frost, who works for YR media, said he’s tried most of the local food, but Anula’s home cooking has kept him coming back. “I memorized the whole menu,” Frost said, recounting item after item, from tender lamb curry to jambalaya to the beloved Lamprais to coconut cake. “I was on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday man; oh, and Thursday too.

It came as a shock to Frost when Ediris told her last week that she would be closing the cafe permanently on Thursday, August 5. “I hadn’t eaten there in over a month, so I walked in [last] Monday to get the chicken curry and she told me she was closing,” Frost said.

A group of Anula’s Cafe customers pose for a photo with owner Anula Edirisinghe during the cafe’s final week. Credit: Amir Aziz

Anula Edirisinghe told The Oaklandside that a combination of factors influenced her decision to close. Edirisinghe said the commercial kitchen space she cooks in on Franklin Street had recently raised rent. She has kept her cafe closed for the majority of the pandemic to focus on catering and only recently opened in February this year.

Foot traffic downtown was also slow. The loss of office workers, the patrons of many restaurants in the area, has hurt other cafes. “People don’t come to work anymore, and renting two places is too expensive, so I’m going to focus on my catering business,” she said.

Edirisinghe will host a party this Saturday from 12pm to 6pm to celebrate with regulars like Frost.

“I will miss my people because this is my happy place,” she said.

“I have always been independent”

Anula Edirisinghe tends to hungry customers at Anula’s Cafe, her dining establishment specializing in Sri Lankan and Caribbean cuisine. Credit: Amir Aziz

Edirisinghe left her hometown of Colombo, Sri Lanka at 17 while pregnant with her first daughter to stay with her brother in Italy. From there she found an American sponsor and traveled to Pennsylvania, where she became a citizen. “I didn’t like Pennsylvania that much, so I moved to California with my daughter,” she said.

One of her first jobs in Oakland was working at a gas station, but she changed careers because she wanted to have her own business. “I have always been independent and wanted to be free,” said Edirisinghe.

Prior to his tenure as a cafe owner, Edirisinghe operated a flower shop from 1997 to the mid-2000s at the intersection of 17th Street and Franklin Street. “I forgot the name now, I think it was heavenly flowers,” she said. “I just knew that I liked flowers and food.”

Edirisinghe said there were already a number of restaurants in East Bay that served Sri Lankan cuisine, but she wanted to do it her own way.

“My kids said to me, ‘Mix Sri Lankan and Caribbean food.’ And people always ask me how I learned to make jerk chicken,” Edirising said with a laugh.

Edirising, he grew up eating his family’s cuisine and his mother taught him and his siblings how to prepare Sri Lankan meals. She perfected her recipes through trial and error and by remembering the flavors she loved so much. “I learned to trust, more than anything else, my own flavor,” she said.

“She’s like my aunt”

Friends Myles Bess and Yared Gebru visit Anula’s Cafe on Franklin Street in downtown Oakland. Credit: Ricky Rodas

When Ben Frost found out that Anula’s cafe was closing, he texted everyone he knew who frequented the cafe. This included Yared Gebru and Myles Bess, who had been eating there with another close friend of theirs since 2015. Gebru, Bess and their other friend made it their mission to eat at Anula almost every day until its impending closure.

“There aren’t many options downtown for a home-cooked type of meal,” Gebru said, “and she’s like my aunt.”

Gebru enjoys all aspects of Anula’s café, from the tasty meals to Edisiringhe’s loving approach to cooking and her hospitality. “Anula is such a warm spirit full of light, and she is so delicate with her approach to food. She’s just a really good boss.

Myles Bess also fell in love with the taste of home cooking and saw the daily specials-only menu as a culinary adventure. “I had never had Sri Lankan food before and thought it was delicious. She had a meat dish and a vegetable dish every day so at first I continued because I wanted to try everything I fell in love with cooking,” Bess said.

Bess spent years only eating Anula’s lunch when he worked downtown. Gebru has worked downtown for most of his life and considers the café a neighborhood staple.

Over time, eating these homemade meals became a focal point of their friendship. “It’s become a tradition for us and it definitely helped establish the connection,” Bess said. “Even these past two weeks of making it a point to go together show that Anula is such a big part of why we’re friends and why we care about each other.”

Edirisinghe appreciated the support she received from this group of friends and so many others, although she is also ready to rest and travel a bit after decades of hard work.

“I have beautiful girls. They are fine and I think everything happens for a reason, so I’m happy,” she said. “I just want to say thank you to Oakland. I love him from the bottom of my heart. heart.”

Anula’s Cafe is located at 1319 Franklin St. and is open this Thursday. from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

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