The New Cottage Food Economy

The New Cottage Food Economy (cont.)

The barrier of entry to selling food on the street is even lower. Though flashier concerns like Belgian waffle trucks and the phenomenally successful Kogi taco truck in LA have gotten a lot of attention, you don’t need a motorized vehicle to be in business. One of San Francisco’s brightest stars last year was a Frenchman selling chai and mini quiches under the name Amuse Bouche from a small handcart whose whereabouts he Twittered to a large fan base. Unfortunately, his star was torpedoed when he was arrested and deported last November for overstaying his visa. “His cheap bite-sized eats will be missed!” deplored one online reviewer.

The new markets and street food scenes are as much social as they are commercial events, creating and refining a subculture that relishes its outsider status.

The UnFancy Food Show, started in 2007 by a couple of the creative minds behind Brooklyn restaurant Marlow & Sons, is a self-conscious nose-thumbing at the Fancy Food Show, a giant yearly trade show where food producers display their wares for potential retail partners. Bread baker Danny Gabriner at the first San Francisco Underground Market Produce at San Francisco’s Underground Market

“There was Fancy Foods over at the Javits Center, all about making these dollars … acres and acres of fluorescent lights and people wearing horrible suits,” says Tom Mylan, cofounder of UnFancy Food. “We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be awesome to have a food show of all local people in the backyard of a bar, and people could have a drink in hand and get to know each other?’”

“The foodie community is like a bunch of bands,” says Kheedim Oh, who sells his Mama O’s Premium Kimchee at the Greenpoint Food Market and other New York markets. “People follow you, they come to events, and then you come out with new flavors and it’s like you’re coming out with new songs.”

Occasionally, one of those bands breaks out. The husband-and-wife team behind ICHI Catering, a sustainable sushi business, built a strong following in San Francisco by selling at a local biker bar and rock club. “You’d never believe it—those bikers are some of the most enlightened customers when it comes to asking you where you get your tuna,” says ICHI’s Erin Archuleta.

Recently, ICHI was selected as one of a handful of small food businesses that will make up a creative new indoor food market in SF, the marketplace at 331 Cortland, opening in April in the Bernal Heights neighborhood. Each vendor will be allotted a retail kiosk inside of a larger room for a split portion of the rent. (They must prepare the food elsewhere, though, in a certified commercial kitchen.)

“I wanted people in there who had some sort of a following already,” says Debra Resnik, owner of the property and visionary behind the market.

Some products that started at indie food markets, such as Mama O’s Premium Kimchee, have graduated to actual grocery stores. Who’s Your Daddy Real Bacon HandMade Potato Chips, formerly sold by an amateur snack-maker in San Francisco’s Dolores Park, are now being carried at boutique grocer Bi-Rite Market, which has encouraged the chips’ maker to begin sourcing organically.

Photographs by Eric Slatkin

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