Anula’s Cafe, the home of downtown Oakland, closes after 13 years

It was like a jazz funeral on the last day of regular lunch service at Anula’s, the small Sri Lankan-Jamaican eatery that provided a home away from home for beleaguered office workers in downtown ‘Oakland for the past 13 years. A line of megafans has spilled out, the kind of line that makes passers-by stop and ask, “What’s going on?”

The atmosphere was chatty and warm – the first time the cafe felt like it since COVID drained most regulars. Ken, a longtime customer who lined up early this Thursday, known among worshipers as lamb curry/Brussels sprouts day, put his affections like this: “Anula is like aunt Sri- lanka you never had.”

He is, of course, referring to Anula Edirisinghe, the only woman behind the cafe who is retiring at the end of the week. Even as the line spilled onto Franklin Street, Edirisinghe took time to talk with his customers, reminiscing about the past and asking everyone about their children, school life or work, depending on age.

Edirisinghe’s daughter Maya Rapier and ex-husband Phil Rapier showed up to join the crowd. “I’ve never seen a crowd like this,” says Maya, who knows: In typical family restaurant fashion, she helped her mother run the cafe all through high school.

This crowd may have been Rapier’s accidental doing – his Twitter feed celebrating his mother’s legacy went locally viral earlier in the week. “Even if all you buy is a smoothie or hot chai, it would mean so much. She gave her life to her coffee,” Rapier wrote. “She loves to feed people and she loves to make people happy. me to make her happy this week.

Anula Edirisinghe (right) and her daughter Maya Rapier pose for a photo outside Anula’s Cafe. (Thalia Gochez)

Anula’s is the kind of place people come for the company, but that doesn’t mean the food is lacking. very celebrated is Anula Jerk Chicken, which bathes moist drumsticks in a herb sauce with a strong hint of bitter smoke, served on a bed of rice and beans. Chicken is a Tuesday dish: at Anula, each working day has its own menu consisting of a vegetarian dish and a non-vegetarian dish, which repeat themselves in a cycle practically unchanged since the beginnings of the café. The daily specials, Brussels sprouts or lamb curry served over fragrant turmeric rice, were so popular they sold out mid-lunch, and Edirisinghe had to turn away dozens of customers.

David H. Henry