We Are Oakland- Kirk Roberts

As I mentioned in my previous post (check-out Part 1 here) about the Full House Cafe, the lead cook, Kirk Roberts, is pretty famous in his own right.  Full House closed it's doors for good last Sunday, but for 13 years Kirk was the face and the soul of the restaurant.  In fact, when I first met him, I just assumed he owned the place.  Kirk never met a person he didn't like.  He even earned the affection of my children who'd run to the kitchen each time we visited the restaurant to give him a big hug. Plain and simple he was (and is) an all around good human being. 

When I first had the idea to start the We Are Oakland series, Kirk was first on my list to profile. I wanted to learn more about the man that meant to much to our family and countless others. Luckily, I had a the chance to sit down with Kirk to ask him a bit about himself- his journey, his passions, his dreams.  Here's what he had to say: 

What's your name?  Kirk Roberts

How did you end of in Oakland? I'm actually from Richmond, CA, born in Martinez. I live in Pinole. I have been commuting to Oakland ever since I started this job.

I am born and raised in the Bay Area. I have never been any where else. I’ve never been on an airplane, a train, a Greyhouund, no boats. Coming up on 51 years of age and have never been anywhere besides here.

Do you Drive?  That’s all I do.

Would you like travel?  I probably will one day when I retire and have a whole bunch of money.

What do think about Oakland? It’s great. I’ve had several big jobs in Oakland. I’ve worked all over the Bay Area.

How did you become a cook?  Oh, it goes way, way back. I been cooking for 34 years.  I was in a little trouble in my youth, and I went to the California Youth Authority. I spent 18 months in CYA. I went when I was 16 and got out when I was 18. While I was in, I had a work furlough. My work furlough was at Denny’s.  This was in 1980.  I was a dishwasher. They used to take me from CYA out to a Denny’s in Stckton. Every time I took plates into the kitchen, I would always look and watch what the cooks were doing. I was real good at picking things up real fast. And one night, one of the cooks called in sick and the manager needed help.  It was on a Friday night.  I’ll never forget it.  So, I helped her out. And the next day she said, “Wow, you did a great job last night. I want you to be trained as a cook.”

So I became a cook before I got out of CYA. And when I got out, she transferred me to the Denny’s in Emeryville- closer to home. So as I continuing to work for Denny’s, I went to Culniary Arts School.  I wanted to get certified.  You know, I cooked at Denny’s for ten years. I cooked at seven different Denny’s. It was a great experience.  I could go back if I wanted to, but I would never do that.  

What do you love about cooking?   It’s a mind relaxer for me. I block everything out because when you're cooking you have to stay focused. So, if you got some things on your mind, cooking will take it off your mind.  It does something for me.

Now here, …this is the first open kitchen I’ve worked at, and I love it because I’m a people person. Some places I worked at I called it “The Man Behind the Mirror”.  You never know how much people appreciate you. The food is good, but they don’t know who you are because you’re behind the wall. I’ve always said that it’s good for a cook to walk the floor of the restaurant every now and then to let people know who you are.

I’m here for the people. Money is just a part of it.  I can go around the corner and make the same money, but will I get the same people? You got to ask yourself that. 

They’ve been talking selling about this place. (Editor's note: Full House Cafe was sold and closed it's doors on Feb 22nd) And all the custimers have said they want to know where I’m going and they want to stay in contact. The majority of the time I'm out there talking to the people, we don’t even talk about food. We talk about life and the kids and the holidays. That's the kind of stuff that people really enjoy. But at the same time, I’m going to make sure they get what they came  for, which is the food, because that’s my job.  The most important thing that I have really enjoyed is watching these kids grow up.  Like you, I watched you when you were pregnant and now you have the most adorable family. And those are the things…There’s been sadness too. I’ve lost a lot of friends here who have passed away. Two of my customers had been married for 52 years, and his wife recently passed away around Thanksgiivng. Now the husband comes in here and he looks so sad. His wife was so great.  Over the years there’s been a lot of joy and happiness and some sadness too. I had to speak on because those people were important to me.

What is your superpower?  My superpower?  Hmm...Well, I take a lot of "me" time. I’m an only child. I grew up having to play by myself a lot. So now, you’ll see my alone a lot. That’s just how I am. I tell my kids that I’m used to being alone.  I come here to work and hour or two early every morning.  Everybody needs "me" time. I don't care how old you are or how many kids you have or how long you’ve been married or what you are going through. You have to take time for yourself.  And that’s why I come early each morning. I do that from my heart because I know where my blessings come from and I have a great deal of respect for Fred (the owner of Full House).

Tell me about your dreams for the future.  My dreams are already being answered.  I turned 50 when my youngest child was 18.  She was the last one that I wanted to see graduate. It was very emotional because she was a premature baby and stayed in the hospital for four months after she was born. As a parent, your dream is to see your kids be successful. And then for God to actually let me live to see it, it is a dream come true. Now my next dream is to retire.  Oh, and I hope to get on a plane for once in my life before I check out.

When you get on that plane, where are you going to go? I have no idea. People tell me to go to Los Angeles or Las Vegas. I've never had everywhere to go- not saying that I don’t want to- I’ve just been happy here. I had my kids at a young age and now I have 5 grandkids. I’m just happy. As you grow older and you start winding down, life all comes together. I am not in a hurry to do anything anymore. 

What are you proud of?  Me. I’ve been through a lot and I’ve come a long way. It hasn’t always been a cake walk. There's a been a few stumbling blocks in my life, but I've overcome them and that’s something to be thankful for and proud of. I’m happy. I have a beautiful woman at home. Kids are grown and now me and my lady get to spend some good time together. You know, we have some of those pajamas with the feet in them that we like to wear (He lets out a huge laugh).

Is there anything else you want to tell the people reading this?  I have been working here for 13 years, and it’s going to be hard to walk away because I won't be walking away from this restaurant, I’m walking away from the people. And I’ve grown over the years, and I have a lot of respect for the cutomers that come in here.  I might get a little emotional.  Being here everyday 10-11 hours a day... I just hope that the new oweners keep it the same, and I hope that the cutomers keep coming.  I hope that Fred can drive by this place and say, “I used to own that place" and be proud. He’s run this place for 20 years and I take my hate off to that. 

I am very happy to report that Kirk has found a new cooking job at Mama's Royal Cafe in North Oakland. So, if you're local, please go check in him at his new spot. Or better yet, meet my there for breakfast! :)