Esther Mabry, also known as “Mama Nip”, is regarded throughout West Oakland as one of the few successful female entrepreneurs on 7th Street.
Esther came to West Oakland from Texas in 1942. Two years later she was working as a cook and waitress at Slim Jenkins’ Place. Though she had a good relationship with her boss, Slim Jenkins, Esther always wanted to go into business for herself. Jenkins encouraged her to go for it. In 1950, when Mabry had saved enough money to open her own place, Esther’s Breakfast Club opened right across the street from Slim’s.
The restaurant was open 24 hours a day and Esther got lots of business from the crowds streaming out of Slim’s after closing time. But she still wanted a nightclub like Slim’s, where she could have bands and drinking and dancing. By the mid-fifties, she had met the man who would help her do it. In 1958 she married William Mabry, a dockworker she met at her restaurant. William made Esther’s dream his own, and in 1960 the couple got a liquor license and started making plans to open their club. Jenkins closed his place on 7th Street in 1962, the very year the Mabrys opened Esther’s Orbit Room.
Esther’s quickly became a hot spot. The original Esther’s was very large, almost the same size as Slim’s. It had a restaurant, bar and nightclub.
In a 2007 interview, Esther Mabry said 7th Street was a 24/7 area. Places were open day and night, and everyone “dressed nice; women in silk dresses with fur, and men in suits.”
Slim’s new location in Jack London Square still got the big headliners, but the Mabrys attracted well-known acts, too, including Al Green, T-Bone Walker, and Big Mama Thornton. “It was first class,” Mabry said. She even had a visit from Martin Luther King, Jr.
Esther’s Orbit Room outlasted all of the other establishments from 7th Street’s heyday. It remains open, and still gets a pretty good crowd most nights of the week, although big-name performers no longer make stops there.
Esther’s beloved husband, William, passed away in April of 2003. Esther says she stays on 7th Street because she’s stubborn.