A decade ago, Erin Wade was living an unhappy existence as a corporate labor and employment lawyer in San Francisco. Today, she’s the force behind Homeroom, a perennially packed mac and cheese restaurant in Oakland that’s looking ahead to its 10-year anniversary. Little did she know that what began as a spontaneous idea would wind up making a lasting mark in the Oakland restaurant community.
“One night, I was having a really crappy day and really craving mac and cheese, I realized there was no restaurant to go to for it,” she recalled. “So I pulled out my dad’s recipe—I had this amazing family recipe for mac and cheese—and started cooking it. I had this thought: That there should be a mac and cheese restaurant, and I should be the person to open it.”
With little more than a recipe, Wade and a co-founder raised money on Kickstarter and grew a fanatical community following. In 2011, they opened the doors to a restaurant with a menu centered around their love for one dish: macaroni and cheese. They named it Homeroom, a nostalgic nod to both the most beloved class in school as well as a room in one’s home.
Wade is the first to admit that Homeroom’s location, at 40th Street on the edge of Oakland’s Temescal neighborhood, wasn’t particularly by design: “Honestly, we did not have enough money to open a restaurant—and it was the cheapest.”
But as it turns out, the restaurant and the neighborhood shared more than a few things in common. Both came from humble beginnings, and both entered the pinnacle of cool at the same time. Both have become part of the undeniable charm of Oakland, and both have had to evolve in different ways over the past 10 years. In many ways, the restaurant and its surroundings have fed into the evolution of one another.
We spoke to Wade about Homeroom’s earliest days, some of her most devoted customers, and the ways in which the restaurant and the neighborhood have evolved. Keep reading to learn more—including her personal commentary on the mac and cheese menu.