Hi Felicia underground supper club chef-founder Imana — yes, just Imana — is plotting her next move: A bar in West Oakland with a somewhat controversial name.
If and when Sluts opens, it will be an intimate gathering place for wine and vermouth paired with tacos, tapas and raw bar bites. Imana has submitted a letter of intent with the landlord of an unoccupied two-story building in West Oakland.
“I just love the word,” says Imana, of the bar’s name. “I use it as slang. I like the idea of reclaiming a word that has been deemed derogatory, especially in an industry that is so male dominated.”
Imana, who goes by her first name for privacy reasons, burst onto the East Bay dining scene back in January when she began hosting an elaborate, semi-secret supper club called Hi Felicia on the patio of her Oakland Hills apartment. The food is inpsired by regional Mexican cuisine, her favorite.
“It’s what I grew up eating,” says Imama, who makes frequent trips to Mexico, especially to Oaxaca, to source glassware and ceramics from artisans. “What we’re doing is not just a meal. It’s about design and wine and food and community. You’re coming to have a full experience.”
These seven-course weekend dinners — offered with beverage pairings and a dizzying array of snacky bites — quickly caught the attention of big-name chefs, including the one and only Alice Waters, despite the fact that Hi Felicia doesn’t have a permit to operate. Now her dinners, which fetch $225 per person, are sold out through the end of the year.
Courses may be something as simple as a ceramic hand “plate” holding thin slices of fresh scallop with strawberry, blistered pepper, lime and sea salt. More elaborate courses have included summer squash tacos adorned with sea urchin and the lamb enchiladas sprinkled with sour cherries. She sources her food locally and organically whenever possible.
In the potential new space, Imana and her team will continue offering Hi Felicia supper club dinners on Friday and Saturday nights at the 10 to 12 tables downstairs. The bar will be upstairs on the first and third Mondays of each month. Imana says she imagines a neon yellow bar there, with vintage couches.
“I love (the building) because it is empty and desolate and reminds me of staying places after hours with my friends who work in the industry,” she says. “That’s why I’m doing it on Monday nights so a lot of my industry friends can come.”
Imana, who has worked in prestigious San Francisco restaurants including Coi and Californios, funded Hi Felicia on her own. The 25-year-old has set up a GoFundMe to meet her goal of raising $50,000 to start the bar.
The Black So Cal native started working in food when she was 17, with jobs at Chick-Fil-A and Umami Burger in Los Angeles. “Gotta start somewhere,” she says.
She credits her Hi Felicia team of seven or eight as “the whole reason this works,” calling the group of Black, brown, queer and non-binary friends “the most diverse and amazing team I’ve ever worked with.”
After a whirlwind year that has put her in the spotlight, Imana says she is overwhelmed but also grateful to everyone who has supported her, including patrons who have become close friends.
“There’s not one day that I don’t feel proud of myself,” she says.