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Finding inspiration in the falafel shops of Amsterdam, we wanted to deliver the same ingenuity, accessibility, and flavor intensity to the streets of the Bay Area. It was clear from the beginning that our customers connected with our novel and fantastic flavors; our creative and seasonal approach to unique sal; our ability to excite the palette. You feel it, right? At Liba, we love salad and we love you. We think you two should meet.
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The East Bay street food pioneer led a new wave of Bay Area food trucks in the late aughts. When Liba Falafel first took to the streets init was one of only a small handful of non-taco food trucks that had started to proliferate in the Bay Area at the time.
This was well before big food truck rallies like Off the Grid became an everyday feature of the local food scene — when the idea that you could order a falafel sandwich, Indian-inflected burrito, or red velvet cupcake off a truck still felt like an utter novelty. The business remained popular even after going through several permutations over the past decade, as founder Gail Lillian adapted it to the changing times — most notably by retiring the truck in to focus on Liba, its fast-casual restaurant incarnation.
But it turns out that the coronavirus pandemic was the one challenge the restaurant could not survive. The restaurant was, at its heart, as much a salad bar Liba food truck it was a falafel restaurant, and its most popular feature, going back to its food truck days, was its extensive, seasonally changing self-serve toppings barwhich was always loaded with items like braised eggplant, smoked apple chutney, pickled carrots, and a slew of housemade sauces and dips.
Part of what made the restaurant fun was the physical process of customers loading up their bowl or sandwich with whatever toppings they liked, in whatever sequence or quantity they liked. But of course, features like buffet tables and self-serve salad bars are specifically verboten during this time of heightened safety protocols and will likely continue to be for much of the foreseeable future.
As Lillian noted in her Instagram post announcing the closureshe had only finished paying off all of the debt she took on in order to open Liba just last year. Yesterday was Liba's last day of business after 11 years.
I thought I could tolerate the start-up debt that I would accrue while I tested this new model over the next couple months. But over the last two weeks of being open, we've lost thousands of dollars and I realize I am not actually comfortable going into debt all over again.
I struggled financially for years, paying the bulk of our profit to debt. I have been so honored to have you as loyal, enthusiastic supporters of a business I started as a pioneer in the food truck industry in Food service is a crazy and fulfilling industry.
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