The food stamp cash-in: East Bay businesses capitalize on EBT

Blood sugar test kit for diabetics
Comfort food and food stamps could possibly lead to more cases of diabetes
Pizza Hut on Fruitvale Ave.
The Pizza Hut on Fruitvale Avenue now accepts EBT cards. But the two-inch thick bulletproof glass and absence of dine-in seating make it very unwelcoming. By Michael Holland, Oakland Voices 2012.

By Michael Holland

Alameda County residents who are receiving food stamps, cash and other forms of public assistance as an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) can now purchase prepared meals at Pizza Hut and Dorsey’s Locker – two establishments that didn’t accept them a month ago. But they have to be elderly, disabled, or homeless.

August 1st was the first day that Pizza Hut  began capitalizing on EBT. With two participating locations in Oakland and seven more throughout the East Bay, Pizza Hut should see an increase in sales.

But those increases in sales could also lead to an increase in the obesity rate as well as the rate of diabetes in the inner city. Dr. Kenneth Matsamura of the West Oakland Health Center said, “a lot of my overweight patients got that way by eating comfort foods like pizza in excess.”

The Mayo Clinic’s “Living with diabetes blog” published a very unfavorable report on the relationship between pizza and diabetes in 2009. Although pizza can at times be rich in protein, vegetables, and complex carbohydrates, it has also been linked to obesity and bad cholesterol. The best things that Pizza Hut have to offer are hot wings, deep dish pizza, and sodas galore. Not good.

Dorsey’s Locker has been in business since 1941. Their menu is comprised of soul food with a New Orleans theme. The food is delicious. It is also very fried and very sweet – rich in sodium, sugar, and fat.

I personally grew up eating soul food. Today, I am slightly overweight and I am also a diabetic. I attribute my diabetes to the diet I grew up on – soul food. The traditional, Down South type of deep-fried dinners that are served at Dorsey’s are what many black families still eat. Like I said, the food is delicious. But all that flavor comes with a price. A lifetime of eating such foods can lead to a lifetime of health problems.

The food at Dorsey’s Locker is also slightly overpriced for someone trying to survive off of the meager allotment of food stamps they receive. The average meal and drink at Dorsey’s runs about twenty dollars. At those prices, a recipient can only afford to eat for maybe a week.

The benefit amount varies, but according to the Alameda County Social Services website, the average applicant receives $73 a month in food stamps. If the person is head of a household the size of one they can receive up to $200.  

In the 1990s, Subway sandwich shops accepted food stamps in Oakland. They no longer do. Subway might be at least a slightly healthier option than pizza or soul food (although some of their food is also high in sodium ad fat). But health has nothing to do with the bottom line. Pizza Hut and Dorsey’s Locker did not start accepting food stamps to promote health. It seems to me like they accept stamps now to increase profit. That unhealthy food isn’t helping anyone but themselves.

Programs like CalFresh (once officially, and sometimes still, known as Food Stamps), and General Assistance were put in place to help those in need feed themselves until they get on their feet. If those in need are eventually diagnosed with diabetes, heart disease or other illnesses as a result of poor diets, state and federal governments may find themselves spending heavily on healthcare in the near future.

Fast food and soul food are parts of American culture. Knowing that, these two establishments have made a choice to capitalize on the EBT market.

Author Profile

Michael Holland is a 39 year-old slightly disabled man with a checkered past. “Remove all that,” Michael says, “and I am just your average, brutally honest Black man. I also am somewhat of a God ‘freak,’ although I don’t formally belong to a church!”


  1. Hello,
    I write to request this “In My Words” response be made available to your
    readership. It responds to the recently published article entitled:
    “Polite Policing” which makes reference to my family business, Dorsey’s Locker.

    The CalFresh program should be highly commended for responding to a
    need among seniors, the disabled and homeless community to be able to
    get their nutritional and culinary needs met despite not being able to prepare
    certain foods themselves for various reasons. (lack of a facility to
    cook in, physical or mental disability that affects their ability to
    cook, etc.) Their program is continuously expanding to allow persons
    who receive food stamps, cash, and other forms of public assistance as
    an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) to purchase prepared meals at
    various establishments.

    Dorsey’s Locker, of which I am the principal investor and general
    manager, has been fortunate enough to have been recently selected as
    one of the Restaurants that will be able to serve EBT recipients. It
    was selected by Alameda County’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance
    Program (SNAP). The program, locally officiated by the county’s
    Social Service Agency and administered by the Food and Nutrition
    Service branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is dedicated to
    providing prepared meals and other nutritional necessities to the
    elderly, homeless, and disabled populations in the area.

    Dorsey’s Locker is a family business that has been serving authentic
    soul food in Oakland since 1941. We offer a wide range of affordable
    foods that are baked, grilled, fried, and roasted. We cook with fresh
    healthy ingredients and do not cook with salt so as to be sensitive to
    the ever present issue of hypertension in our community.

    There was an article recently published in the Oakland Tribune
    entitled “Polite Policing” which showed a commendable concern for the
    health needs of the community, in particular those persons who benefit
    from the SNAP program. However, we believe the article’s focus may
    have been misguided. While it is true that most Restaurants offer
    food items that may not be appropriate for persons who have certain
    medical conditions or are subject to certain health risks, those items
    are often balanced out on the menu with food items that do not pose
    those risks and yet still offer pleasing culinary results. Dorsey’s
    Locker certainly falls into that category.

    It is most important to realize that healthy eating is a personal
    choice. It begins with “self”. We are just happy that the SNAP
    program has given it’s recipients the option of being able to eat the
    delicious, healthy, and affordable food that has been the choice of so
    many throughout the years who could afford to pay cash. We welcome
    EBT recipients to be a part of a 70 year old Oakland culinary

    Thank you,

    Donald Dorsey, President/CEO
    Dorsey & Associates, Inc.
    DBA Dorseys Locker
    5817 Shattuck Ave. Oakland, CA

  2. This piece provides interesting insight of a topic that extremely common but never spoken. Well done Mr. Holland. I am looking forward to what else you will be doing.

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