The Elusive “Your Black Muslim Bakery” Fish Sandwich

by Walasia Noor Shabazz

originally published on OaklandLocal.com

Yusuf Bey IV, of the now-defunct Your Black Muslim Bakery, is on trial for the alleged murder of journalist Chauncey Bailey; but what does his innocence until proven guilty have to do with their beloved Fish Sandwiches and Pies?

“This may be the best fish sandwich you ever have.” — Matt C. of San Francisco, CA on Yelp.com. He added a 4-star rating on April 26, 2007

At the height of success, the Your Black Muslim Bakery (“YBMB”) bakeries, shops & restaurants were headquartered at 5832 San Pablo Avenue, with 5 branches in Alameda County including #2 on Telegraph Avenue, and satellites at the Oakland Airport & Oakland Coliseum.

Adam “A-Plus” Carter, co-founding member of Hieroglyphics with Del the Funky Homosapien, fondly recalls memories of YBMB. “We traveled so much and they had the best food in the airport in Oakland.”

For the Hieroglyphics crew, it was a favorite Oakland restaurant, Adam explains, whose absence has left a hole in hearts and stomachs. “Nowhere now does food taste that good and healthy. They had Spirulina drink, carrot juice, sorrel (Jamaica), and ginseng. I can remember exactly the taste in memory, but I guess I’ll never taste it again.”

The recipes developed by the Bey family were prepared in accordance with Al-Qur’an, and no refined sugars nor preservatives were ever used. The restaurant was founded by Dr. Bey in 1968 in Santa Barbara. In 1971, Bey relocated the bakery to Oakland and by 1974 YBMB was the “largest Bay Area bakery specializing exclusively in natural food products”, distributing to 150 stores, selling over 6,000 loaves of bread and 300+ cakes per week.

As “yelped” by Matt C. of SF, people from all walks of life purchased foods, beverages & baked goods at the shops on San Pablo in Emeryville and Telegraph in Temescal. Rastafarian musician & community activist Ras Ceylon recalls that the YBMB were the best place to get sorrel, a traditionally Jamaican beverage brewed from Hibiscus flowers. “The call was, ‘lets go get YBMB Fish sandwiches and a sorrel, and a Final Call paper (they used to sell it there). On the whiting sandwich, I loved the sauce especially.”

Lamenting the loss of his favorite foods and drink, Ceylon exclaimed, “Since then only homemade stuff has been a good substitute. I sorely miss the Your Black Muslim Bakery, Jah know!”
 
If you mention the words “fish sandwich” in a conversation with a foodie, or even a standard Oakland resident; there’s a 100% chance that the Your Black Muslim Bakery Whiting sandwich will be the next topic of conversation.

There is something to be said for the decline in the neighborhoods that used to have a Bakery down the street or around the corner — in the YBMB heyday, the areas surrounding the shops had heavy foot traffic from families & customers, giving those blocks a community feel. “As a child my mother purchased our bread from the bakery and if she was in a good mood, my mother would treat my sisters and I to the Honey Carrot Cake Muffins,”

Oakland resident Jasmene Miranda, who works as a producer, recalls. “My elder cousin Abdul informed us of how important it was to support the restaurant and how we should appreciate the beautiful decor & the fact that it was owned by African Americans.” Unlike some of today’s Oakland, Emeryville & Berkeley restaurants, the YBMB locations prided themselves on superior customer service & a unique, delicious, healthful product. According to Ms. Miranda, “they served good, healthy food and always treated me with respect.”

UC Berkeley student — and Oakland Local fellow contributor — Reginald James is another local who laments the loss of the Whiting sandwich.

“In hindsight, there was a freshness about the ingredients that made you think you were getting a “taste of the hereafter,”” he says, invoking one of the slogans of the Your Black Muslim Bakery.

And besides the sandwich, the YBMB’s desserts — such as Honey Carrot Pie, Blueberry Cheese Pie, Honey Carrot Cake Muffins — were the stuff of legend. None more so than the traditionally-prepared Bean Pie, which is considered a Muslim recipe containing Navy Beans and is known by anyone who lives in an urban center where there is an African-American mosque or masjid, or a branch of the Nation of Islam.

According to Mr. James, “There is huge void in the bean pie market these days. I used to get bean pies from Masjid Warithdeen in East Oakland, and I remember riding my bike to the Ashby Flea Market last year on a bean pie mission.”

So is there anywhere to get baked goods anything like those prepared by YBMB back in the day?

Perhaps the last man standing is the member of the Nation of Islam, most likely from East Oakland’s Muhammad Mosque #26, who proudly sells pies & papers on the island under the BART tracks on across from Children’s Hospital near MLK and 51st. He is very polite and professional, prepared to sell an NOI-baked Bean Pie in a pink bakery box along with a copy of The Final Call.

But sadly for Oakland, CA residents and anyone who ever enjoyed the foods of YBMB the Fish Sandwich, Bean Pie and delicious baked goods, Yusef Bey is presently on trial for his life and all that’s left of the Your Black Muslim Bakeries are mere memories of an Oakland of yesteryear.

- Walasia Noor EL Shabazz

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