By Regina Hope Sinsky
Natalie Galatzer has been up working since 11:30pm yesterday. By the time you read this, the petite, curly-haired, 26 year-old will have ridden her bike from her home in the Mission to her kitchen in the Marina, baked more than 70 handheld pies, jumped back on her bike and delivered around the city. If you’re lucky, you may be eating one of her sweet or savory pies for lunch today.
Galatzer is one of San Francisco’s “entrepedalers,” a growing group of individuals who have made careers out of distributing food — and sometimes cooking it — from their bikes.
When I met Galatzer last week I made the mistake of driving to meet her. I was 30 minutes late after struggling with a carshare which happened to be hidden down an alley behind a locked gate. Wearing her headphones and looking impeccably clean for someone who just baked dozens of pies from scratch, she met me out front.
“When do the parking meters turn on around here?” I asked, fumbling with coins.
“I have no idea,” she replies with a laugh. “I’ve never driven here.”
Galatzer, like her fellow entrepedalers, has been getting lots of attention lately. The Bold Italic and Daily Candy have both written about her (significantly increasing her sales). Interest in San Francisco’s “street food via bicycle” scene is becoming more popular as passionate foodies in search of creative outlets, extra income, or a full time job take to the streets. Many of them don’t own cars. All of them love their bikes.
Mai Le pedals her beloved bike to deliver her homemade Vietnamese sandwiches around the city on Wednesdays. She also runs the street fashion site www.fashioni.st and works for two startups. Her schedule, like Galatzer’s, is exhausting.
“Monday morning I decide on the sandwich of the week and shop for ingredients. Orders are in by Tuesday morning,” says Le. “When I get home from work on Tuesday I start prepping everything from scratch. Marinating meat, making the veggie paté, making mayo, pickling the daikon. It takes between two to six hours. I get up Wednesday, buy the bread from a special “French” Bui Phong bakery — because it’s the quintessential Ho Chi Minh baguette — turn on the oven and start working. I’m out the door by noon making deliveries. Once they’re done I get home, clean up, and start my computer work.”
Galatzer has a full time job as a server at Noodle Theory. In exchange for closing the restaurant, the owner lets her use the kitchen. She arrives at midnight on Tuesday and puts in 12 hours of work before most of us have our lunch. Food for thought, as you eat one of her pies which has never been in a motorized vehicle.
“What am I doing?” she asks no one in particular as she runs around the kitchen, getting pies ready to go. “I must be insane.”
Even her ingredients, many of which are grown in her own garden, arrive via bicycle.
As word of her pies spreads, Galatzer is finding herself loaded down with more and more pies to deliver. She has hired a bike messenger to help with the full-sized pies, but is searching for the perfect bike basket for her increased deliveries. I ask her if she’d ever consider getting a car.
She answers me with a question: “Remember how long it took you to get here this morning? I drove one time and the time I spent looking for parking made it pointless. I spent most of the day’s income on meters.”
Before I leave, Galatzer rings me up for two pies. The total is $8. I ask her why she isn’t charging more. “You get a dollar off because I didn’t deliver it to you,” she replies. I feel guilty when I devour them in less than 15 minutes.
Back in the Mission, Brian Kimball, aka the Magic Curry Man, is strategizing a new curry cart. The beachcruiser+stovetop he currently navigates around the city is a single speed, which confines him to the city’s flatter neighborhoods.
”I want to start making it uphill into the Haight,” Kimball says. “So the new cart will have three gears.”
If you ever see Kimball on the street, you’ll be wondering why he isn’t aiming for more.
Kimball was laid-off from his job in November. With job opportunities scarse, he turned to his love of bikes and cooking for income. Inspired by a trip to Asia on which he encountered several types of food being served from bikes, motorcycles, scooters, and pushcarts, Kimball’s now making a living fulltime with the cart.
“My legs are pretty strong now,” he says with a laugh.
Like Galatzer and her pies, Le and her sandwiches, Kimball, whose brother has a créme brûlée cart, mostly works in the Mission and SOMA. I asked him why these neighborhoods are so attractive to entrepedalers.
“They’re flat,” he says. “But they’re also home to a concentration of people that want this type of food. Hard economic times lead to creativity and new ideas are thriving in the Mission and SOMA where people appreciate risk-takers.”
“All of the bike lanes!” says Galatzer when asked the same question. “I always use bike lanes.”
“You could never do this in Los Angeles,” says Le, who navigates her tiny, step-thru Centurion 10-speed to make deliveries. “Everything is too spread-out there. This business is best in bike-friendly cities like Portland and Seattle. Arriving at and leaving each destination quickly by bike makes my business model possible.”
Sandwiches are one thing to deliver via bicycle, but curry is another. I ask Kimball if he’ll ever get a truck, like the Mission’s infamous taco trucks.
“I’m determined not to move into trucks,” he says. “There’s a certain romance to the bike cart. It’s fun to roll up anywhere and start serving. I like the challenge of packing lots of food into a small mobile cart. It keeps things simple.”
Besides bikes, entrepedalers also require social networking. Most use Twitter to alert the public to their location. Galatzer actually has many customers at Twitter itself, and jokes about the times she tries to twitter from their headquarters and they have a network failure. I found one Twitter user, @TinaSarang, who has only one post on her account.
“Finally gave in to Twitter so that I can at least find out where the Creme Brulee cart is, ha ha,” she writes, refering to Kimball’s brother.
“My customers are mostly at startups, foodies that are tech-savvy on Twitter,” says Le who is typically spotted making deliveries around South Park.
As these entrepedalers get more customers — and more gears — you’ll be seeing more of them in a neighborhood near you.
“Last year when people would see us on the street their reaction was ‘what are you doing?’ Now we’re everywhere and people get it,” says Kimball.
“San Franciscans are so supportive,” says Le. “Even with my 10 sandwich minimum per order requirement, some people want me to deliver just because they believe in what I am doing. I just want to share a delicious and authentic version of the banh mi. And ride my bike.”