By Shirley Everett-Dicko
For the first three years of our existence we were next door to greatness. Everett and Jones Barbeques’ origin story is forever entwined with the East Bay Dragons we are a product of our time and place, steeped in Black History and the Black Biker culture. We had been next door neighbors to the baddest brothers on the planet! Hell it couldn't help but rub off.
So one can imagine how hard it was to learn that the man, the myth, the legend, Mr. Tobie Gene Levingston, (who had been the one and only president of the East Bay Dragons since 1959) passed away peacefully in his sleep on Monday, July 7, 2020 at the age of 86 years old.
Tobie Gene and the Dragons were our first customers. It was Memorial Day weekend in 1973; the East Bay Dragons were hosting their annual Memorial Day family picnic at Robert’s Park in Oakland. Tobie Gene paid us to cook all the BBQ for the picnic that first year and for many years afterwards.
Hundreds of Black bikers from throughout California came roaring into Oakland on their motorcycles for the picnic. The motorcycles lined both sides of East 14th Street for blocks, and in front of our brand new BBQ restaurant. These bad boys Mama had warned her girls about were right outside our door. And the all black, all male, East Bay Dragons, the baddest of them all, were our next door neighbors.
It was raining men outside! There was a sea of motorcycles of every color and style lining the streets outside but you could tell the Dragons because they only rode Harley Davidsons. The Dragons, the Chosen Few, the Defiant Ones, the Outcast, the Soul Brothers, the Fresco Rattlers, the Richmond Road Runners, and other black biker clubs put on the original Oakland sideshows that weekend. The bikers were popping wheelies, burning rubber, and roaring up and down the streets of East Oakland. They were loud, black and proud.
My seven sisters, one brother and I were mesmerized and watching in awe and side-eyed, from the BBQ Pit’s bay windows. We tried our hardest to work, but were totally distracted by what was going on outside.
Tobie Gene had made mom a promise to keep the bikers on their best behavior and away from her girls...yeah right! She had forbidden me and my sisters, whose ages ranged from 13 to 26, from stepping outside the door; trying to shield us from all the male testosterone and groping eyes coming from the bikers. She was trying her best, but it was a losing battle. Bless her heart... because it wasn't the Bikers who needed watching. As soon as mom wasn’t looking, we were out the door and in the Dragon’s clubhouse, or on the back of one of their Harleys roaring up and down the streets. We were cruising all up in the Oakland hills with our new brothers, the East Bay Dragons.
All the Dragons called our mother Mom. The Dragons watched over the restaurant when we went home for the night and even escorted us to our cars after locking up. If a customer acted the fool and got out of hand... guess what? We called the Dragons and they handled the situation. They were our bodyguards and big brothers. You know we talked shit!
To show our appreciation for their protection we named a BBQ sandwich after them called the “Dragon Sandwich”. It consisted of our homemade beef links on white bread with BBQ sauce for $1 dollar, but you had to be a member of the club to get it.
For three years Everett and Jones Barbeque and the East Bay Dragons were close neighbors and family. We have fond memories with Tobie Gene and the Dragons, but also there are scary memories.
I remember the food giveaway debacle following the Patty Hearst kidnapping in 1974, when in response to the demand for her release by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) Patty’s father William Hearst arranged a food giveaway for the poor people in East Oakland, right down the street from us and the Dragons. The food giveaway turned into a riot with looting and violence, and the Dragons were right there protecting us. We were scared, but comforted by their presence standing guard outside our door. They were our heroes that day!
It was perfect until that fateful night in 1976, when everything changed. While celebrating our third year anniversary, at a house party at Mom’s house, word came that the pit was on fire. We all rushed down to the restaurant in our party dresses and stood outside crying and hugging one another as firemen worked to put out the fire. The Dragons were outside with us. The restaurant was burned and damaged beyond repair forcing us both to move.
Months later we opened up a new BBQ restaurant, one block from our original location, on the corner of 91st Avenue at 9101 East 14th Street (International Blvd). And the East Bay Dragons moved up the block also to its present location, on 87th Avenue at 8731 East 14th Street (International Blvd). Although we were no longer next door neighbors, we remained family. The Dragons still came in to get their “Dragon Sandwiches” and we still cooked for their Memorial Day picnics.
Tobie Gene was not just the President of the East Bay Dragons for 60 years; he also published a best-selling memoir in 2003 called, “Soul on Bikes” The East Bay Dragons MC and the Black Biker Set by Tobie Gene Levingston, with Keith and Kent Zimmerman. The foreword is by Ralph “Sonny” Barger of the Hells Angels MC of Oakland. To purchase the book from the Dragons click here Soul on Bikes
Our brothers, the East Bay Dragons, would be honored and enshrined forever in the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC as one of the 1st all Black Biker Clubs in American history; photographed in front of another Oakland BBQ restaurant. The Dragon's are also enshrined in the Levi Strauss & Co. Museum.
Recently Jay Leno came to meet the legendary Tobie Gene and the Dragons. He brought his own motorcycle and cameras to film an episode for his Jay Leno’s Garage show on CNBC. Jay also got the chance to ride with the Dragons around town and up in the Oakland hills. The episode recently aired here is the link Jay Leno's Garage
amc show Riding with Norman Reedus and Steven Yeun join the historic black motorcycle club, the East Bay Dragons, on a ride through the streets of Oakland.
Everett and Jones Barbeque went on to accomplish some historical greats and so did Tobie Gene and the Dragons. I can picture Tobie Gene, on his Harley, riding up to the pearly gates of heaven and the gates automatically open and close behind him. Ride on Tobie Gene and rest in peace, our condolences to his family and our brothers the East Bay Dragons. Here is a link to his obituary in the East Bay Times. What a legacy!
- Mandatory Face Mask and Social Distancing -
Looking for an agent/publisher for a proposed new barbeque book from a Black woman's perspective 50 years in the game.
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