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Popular Oakland restaurant Le Cheval closing at the end of September; Owner blames crime

Le Cheval in Oakland closing, citing rising crime
Le Cheval in Oakland closing, citing rising crime 03:20

OAKLAND — A popular downtown Oakland restaurant will be shutting down at the end of the month.

Le Cheval, at the corner of Clay and Tenth Streets, is considered by many as an Oakland institution. The owner, Son Tran, doesn't blame the pandemic for their closure.

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Instead, he said the crime is what's killing his business.

Tran's mother and his family opened Le Cheval 38 years ago. The restaurant serves up Vietnamese cuisine with a touch of French influence.

"What's very popular are the spicy wings, the cube steak, and the garlic noodles," said Tran.

"This is our go-to (spot). We ordered our lunches; we came after lunch. I've had many birthdays here, many celebrations for people," said Cynathya Mouton, a Le Cheval customer of 30 years.

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"I've been coming here for about 10 years. And my heart hurts. There's a lot of businesses, not just this one, but a lot of businesses are closing down. And it's sad," said customer Robin Andrews.

Tran said Le Cheval is shutting down on Saturday, Sept. 30.

"When I said shutdown, everyone cried, my family members, my employees. I feel really bad — It broke my heart," recalled Tran, when he made the announcement to the restaurant.

He laid off workers, cut back on restaurant hours, and even closed down on Sundays to try to avoid permanent closure. But he can no longer push forward.  He said business is at about 25 percent of pre-pandemic levels.

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"Even with free rent right now, we still cannot survive," said Tran.

While there've been repeated break-ins at the restaurant, the most recent being three months ago, he blames auto burglaries and violent crime for the shutdown. Some customers were even robbed at gunpoint.

"Even right in front of the restaurant, their car is still broken into. And they're really mad.  And they told me 'Son, I love your restaurant. I love your food. I love your family, but I cannot come back to Oakland. A $30 meal becomes $500 something," said Tran.

"I'm afraid to drive my vehicle here, so I actually caught an Uber here. I won't drive it because it could cost you a couple of grand with your windows gone," said Mouton.

Oakland police reported auto burglary is up 46 percent this year compared to the same period last year. The police department said it had 10,176 reported auto burglary cases from Jan. 1 to Sept. 10. 

The department reported robbery also went up by 30 percent.

"The lack of office workers did not kill us. The crime, the criminals killed us," said Tran.

City Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas said the police department will soon expand on the number of foot patrol officers to step up presence. The CHP is also sending in help.

"We know people are fearful. We know they're frustrated. They are hurting. We don't want to lose another business. We are listening and we are working on action," said Council President Fortunato Bas.

But Tran said it's too late for Le Cheval.

"Mad, really mad, very disappointed. The politicians in Oakland here, they can do nothing, just talk only," said Tran.

After the closure, Tran plans to take some time off.

But he would like to reopen the restaurant somewhere else. The Oakland resident said most likely in a neighboring city, but not Oakland.

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