Starting a Business in Oakland

Webster & 9th St

Congratulations on Taking the Initiative!

Taking the initiative to start a business in itself is already a hill to climb and the city that you’re planning to operate in does not make it any easier! Well, we’re here to change that. In this article, we’ll guide you step by step what you’ll need and the departments you’ll have to visit to get your brick-&-mortar up and running in Oakland! As a side note, we are not experts. There may be some steps that we’ve missed o ut or steps that may not be applicable to your business. The article is based on experience as Project Chinatown founders have started and do operate brick-&-mortars themselves.

Company Formation

First off, congrats on taking the first step. Now that you’ve move on from the initiation, it’s time to figure out what is the best legal structure for your business. If this is your first time opening a business, here is a link to the IRS main-page that’ll explain that different types. For restaurants, the most common would be the Limited-Liability Corporation as it’ll separate you from your business. Depending on the type of business, a business formation must be established with EIN (social security number of your new entity) readily available prior to lease signing and retrieving your business license. If you’re starting a restaurant of some sort, the Fire, Health, and EBMUD would need you to have your EIN/Articles of Organization ready prior to approval.

Your Business

Have an awesome business name but do not want to utilize your business formation’s legal name? You’ll need to visit the Alameda County Clerk-Recorder Office. It may not be a pre-requisite, but it’s best to have your legal business entity established. This is because you do not want to slap masked name onto a legal business name only to realize later that the name has already been taken. The staff at the Recorder’s Office can help you check, but to be on the safe side, best to have the structure created.

The City

Assuming that your business structure has been created and you’ve received your EIN, this is where the “fun” part begins. Depending on the type of business you’re opening, certain departments may not be applicable. In this article, we’re mainly targeting new owners who are trying to open restaurants and retail. With that aside, you’ll be spending most of your time at the Business Assistance Center.
  1. Building & Planning
  2. Fire Department
    • Due to COVID, appointments are made online
    • Fire inspector will come on-site to your location and ensure that the unit your business is operating out of is up-to-date and ready to go.
  3. Health Department
    • Due to COVID, appointments are made online
    • Health inspector will come on-site to check if your business is ready for opening. If the business is a restaurant, ensure that equipment are NSF approved.


  1. CPA
  2. EBMUD account transfer/change
    • Legal entity name & EIN must be available for services to be turned on.
  3. PG&E account transfer/change
    • Legal entity name & EIN must be available if you wish to place account owner under entity name, however, you are able to successfully turn on electrical services with just your own name as account holder.
  4. Internet
  5. Point of service (POS) provider
    • This will take 1 to 2 weeks depending on provider. Please plan accordingly.
  6. Online Delivery Services
    • If you’re opening a new cafe or restaurant, it is highly recommended that you register for a DoorDash, UberEats, & GrubHub account. Not only do these companies help prop up your cash flow, they also market for your business.
  7. Social Media
    • Market your brand and business via Instgram, Facebook, Snap Chat, etc. The key is consistency and valuable content.
    • Set up your Google Business & Yelp Business acounts
  8. Website
    • Have an extra route of communications with your new customers. Spend time writing quality content and pruning your website as this is your 24/7 storefront even when you’re closed for the day
    • If you have spare capital, invest some into SEO and target specific keywords that competitors within your locale maybe hogging.

Local Resources

Last but not least, reach out to the local resources in your neighborhood. Check out if there are grants, fundings, and other particular freebies available that would be able to help your business once you open. Non-profits like the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce are always available and eager to help businesses within their locale.


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