Ronca’s Kitchen gains following in Oakland

Jamie DaSilva,

On a sunny afternoon at Lake Merritt in Oakland, you will find people jogging, walking, relaxing, and enjoying the day off. However, you will see Julia Ibarra, sitting on a bench, writing her weekly pop-up restaurant menu.

Ibarra, 32, is often at Lake Merritt. With her brown curly hair thrown up in a messy bun, wearing thick black muse glasses, a Ramone’s band t-shirt, sitting on a bench with a cup of coffee.

While most people relax over the weekend and prepare for work, Ibarra creates her menu, shops at local markets for chicken and produce, all the while preparing for her full-time job as a Montessori Preschool teacher. The dedication to food created a following and according to Ibarra, has now lead to a possible opportunity to make Ronca’s a permanent fixture in the Oakland food scene.

Ibarra is one of three owners of a chicken and waffles pop-up restaurant called Ronca’s Kitchen, which has become so popular they usually sell out just three hours into their day. Ibarra’s passion and love for cooking were passed down from her Guatemalan mother, who is a private chef in Napa, and also who the pop-up is named after. Ronca is a term in Spanish meaning ‘roar.’ Ibarra’s earliest memories are of her mother cooking in the kitchen, pots and pans clanking, ingredients flying everywhere and the sound of her mother’s deep voice. Ronca’s Kitchen was born out of Ibarra’s necessity to make extra money to supplement her meager preschool teacher salary. Ibarra and her fellow owners work on weekends as well as Mondays in addition to their forty-plus-hour work week at their other jobs.

Ibarra, has put in the time to make her pop-up successful, but more importantly, the love she has for cooking translates to each plate of food that leaves the kitchen. Ibarra’s dedication to perfecting her chicken and waffle recipe that has evolved into a product that Ibarra says she’s really proud of to send out of her kitchen. Ibarra tries her best to only buy only locally organic, sustainably sourced produce and chicken from Oakland, as well as supporting local businesses. Ibarra states, “that the quality of her food versus the quantity is highly important to her.” Ibarra credits the pop-up and restuarant culture with helping her start Ronca’s Kitchen, Ibarra, rents out the kitchen of her friends Rolling Sloans Bagel Shop.

Although Ibarra likes the extra cash her pop-up offers, a part-time job on top of a full-time job, because of the cost of rent has lead Bay Area residents with full-time jobs, including Ibarra, to look for extra work such as driving for Uber or Doordash, or renting out their own apartments on Airbnb, or working extra shifts at a restaurant. Some residents even started their own business such as an Etsy shop, selling essential oils or even a pop-up restaurant to help pay the bills.

The Bay Area is a well known for its culture, tech industry, music scene and food scene. It is also known for its astronomical rent prices. As of July 1, 2017, the minimum wage has been raised to fourteen dollars an hour. Ibarra has a degree and a Montessori Credential from Saint Mary’s College and earns on average $26,000 a year. That breaks down to $10.41 an hour.

Ibarra is emblematic of the daily hustle to handle the cycle of the overworked and underpaid lifestyle found in the Bay Area. Ibarra’s change in her career, in her words “has proven what my true passion in life is, where I couldn’t imagine my life now without Ronca’s Kitchen.”