fare & square

Jason Angeles of Frozen Kuhsterd

Why Jason rocks: owner of Frozen Kuhsterd, a pop-up soon-to-be dessert truck!

Who is Jason?
Jason is an entrepreneur, hustler, a foodie, all encompassed in one person. By day, I am an IT recruiter. By night I created and run Frozen Kuhsterd. As a side venture, I also co-own a UPS store in Daly City. I gravitated to the food scene because I find that food as a chance to learn a little about someone’s culture, the chef’s background and to experience new things. I appreciate food more than the average person. In fact, a lot the flavors put together for Frozen Kuhsterd are inspired by places I’ve been to… not only from San Francisco but the cities I’ve visited around the world and I translate it into something local, sustainable, and organic. I’m from South San Francisco, and I am Filipino-American. In fact, the first Goldilocks was up the street from my house. I grew up on a lot of Asian influences. My earliest memory of ice cream was a Asian inspired ice cream store in the neighborhood called Coco Banana. They had flavors like: ube, avocado, macapuno, corn, lanka… a lot of flavors I was familiar with because of my mom and my family. We did trips to Thrifty’s, Mitchell’s Ice Cream.. all of the regular haunts that my dad would drive us to after church on Sundays. I don’t have a culinary background, but I love baking and creating desserts. I learned that about 10 years ago when I dabbled with baking and bringing cupcakes into work when I was working for Schwab and saying that my fiancé (at the time) made these, instead of saying here are some cupcakes I made. I thought that a dude shouldn’t be making cupcakes, but I liked to share what I made. I went to South City High School then on to San Francisco State for my undergrad, and went back to San Francisco State for my MBA in entrepreneurship. I run a UPS store, run a website (individualsole.com) that covers men street wear fashion trends, art, and local events.

You mentioned 10 years ago you started baking, how did that start off?
First off, I love sweets! I’m probably one of the few guys out there that have to have dessert. I’d take dessert over the actual meal any day. There’s something about cooking savory dishes versus desserts… desserts just make more sense to me. When I created desserts, I put my take on it and make into something I would like to eat. I’ve tried to make savory dishes, but I don’t have the connection or passion for it. Making sweets, comes easy to me because it is fun and creative outlet for me. Frozen Kuhsterd is not a job to me. It’s more than a hobby. Even if I put 12 hours on a project… it feels like its 3-4 hours.

Did it only feel natural to you to start your business here in San Francisco?
About 2 years ago, my ex-business partner and I were both laid off from our long-time jobs and had our severance packages. We were thinking about how to reinvent the food landscape in San Francisco. We bounced around ideas and a light bulb popped up in his head. He said, “Jason, when was in the mid-west, there is this stuff called frozen custard that is really popular out there and we don’t have it in the Bay Area.” We took our chances and booked a flight to St. Louis and signed up for one of these training seminars on frozen desserts to understand frozen custard. I had the money and had the time. I had never been to St. Louis before… so I got to taste frozen custard fresh and visited 12 different locations. I even made the pilgrimage to Ted Drews, one of the top frozen custard purveyors in the country. In no disrespect to a American legend, but when I tasted it, I said to myself that I could do better. We even traveled to Seattle to taste a few of the frozen custards locations up there… In both locations, they majority didn’t seem to integrate local ingredients or try to stay away from the artificial. What hit me was, during the class in St. Louis, they said lets make mint chocolate chip and asked us to grab a plastic container resembling detergent that said this is the mint flavor. I had to pour the green glop into a premade base, massaged it in and run it through the machine. They asked us to sample it and I refused to. After reading “Fast Food Nation”, I refuse to eat something that came out of a bottle and looked like detergent. Regardless I agreed to focus on bringing frozen custard to the Bay Area, bought the machine from the mid-west, but promised to focus on the use of local, natural, and organic ingredients. At this point, the only thing that I have integrated that hasn’t been local or organic is when I make alcohol-integrated flavors, like Spiked Cereal Milk (Jameson and Cereal Milk flavor).

My business partner left me 2 months into the business because he lost interest and personal issues. Late last year, we officially decided mutually to separate. For the most part, I’ve been doing it on my own, until recently with the addition of Alex Lam who has been my right hand man.

What is the Frozen Kuhsterd concept?
To bring to the Bay Area an innovative product that is different than ice cream, to educate the masses about the differences, and delivering my story, my uniqueness to the flavors that I present.

When was the first launch?
It started off officially, offering was at the Underground Market last April. It was a really great response from our initial customer base, we kicked it all off with Blue Bottle coffee and vanilla flavors. There was huge learning curve since everything was a first for us, but we sold out. We did 3 following Underground Markets before they got shut down due to the SF Health Department. The struggle at that point was to find an outlet to expose our product. A lot of the ex-Underground Market vendors moved on to the New Taste Market in Potrero Hill. The New Taste Market was about 15% of the attendance that the Underground Market drew and it is held during the day, so it was more of a family type of event. It gave us an opportunity to refine our product, explore different flavor ideas, and hone our presentation. They weren’t as popular as the Underground Market… but it’s really isn’t about the money at this point of the business. I’ve started a business before. I know that the first two years are the hardest. My angle is to share my product to the masses, building the brand identity. In fact, my initial pitch to Underground Market, which was a sampling at La Victoria Bakery, I brought Spicy Mexican Chocolate and Blue Bottle Coffee Flavors, making about 4 gallons of product, but had still a left over ice chest of dry ice and frozen custard. I told my best friend who was with me, let’s go give samples to people in line at Humphry Slocombe and then we headed to Dolores Park! We sold them for $5 dollars a pint and did a lot of talking to people about what the hell frozen custard is.

How is business now?
This past year, the momentum has been overwhelming. Recently, I’ve done a lot of corporate events for technology start-ups, who book us for ice cream socials. I think the main thing that draws people to Frozen Kuhsterd is because of the connection to the San Francisco street food and because there’s really a person behind it all.

There are certain flavors that really take me back, Avocado being one of them. I reminds me a dessert drink my father used to make us when my brothers and I wanted dessert. I am not alone when it comes to this flavor. Recently I dropped off a pint to Joanie (a Filipino food blogger) and she did a whole 3 minute YouTube video about our Avocado flavor Frozen Kuhsterd.

Currently, we are selling through Izakaya Sozai in San Francisco, Attic in San Mateo, and will be an addition to Ken Ken Ramen. We are in preliminary stages of pitching our product to Melt (they have 8 locations) brainchild of Michael Mina and the Flip Camera founder. I did a pitch with them late last year and recently reconnected with them again regarding Frozen Kuhsterd to be a frozen dessert option on their menu. Our contact told me that Michael Mina even got a chance to try our Cereal Milk flavor and was impressed. It was just bad timing then because they were focus on opening stores and not expanding the menu. But we’ll see how goes in the next few weeks.

My passion would be to do this full-time, but there’s reality. Based on what’s in motion, the dream might not be that far away.

How did you gain momentum?
Umm, social networking and building relationships with key people. If you put Underground Market vendor on your resume (which isn’t easy) and you do well… your name starts spreading. After every food event we do, I reach out and share the product all the time with other food vendors (I think they are our biggest critics). We are out there, showing people the testament of our work. My daytime job as an IT recruiter forces me to reach out and connect with people. I’ve connected with Nathan Downs last year and we’ve done a few pop up events at Coffee Bar. It even got us access to Elizabeth Faulkner as she attended one of those events. She tried our Spiked Cereal Milk and loved it. When I see someone try the product and get positive feedback, it’s just a validation of my hard work. Because I would say 70% of the events I do, I don’t make money on. The focus is sharing our product with as many people as we can.

What is the difference between frozen custard, gelato and ice cream?
It’s its own segment in the frozen dessert offering. Frozen custard is somewhere between ice cream and gelato as far as texture. The main difference is the higher egg yolk content. Unlike ice cream which is very inflated… for example if you pour 1 gallon of pre-made base into an ice cream machine you could come out with almost 2 gallons of ice cream. If you pour 1 gallon frozen custard base into a frozen custard machine, you come out with about a gallon and a quarter. It’s denser. It’s creamy. It’s smooth. It melts slower than ice cream due to the higher amount of egg yolks.

Are the flavors seasonal and how do you build on that?
We play around with ideas and execution. If I don’t like it, we don’t do it. If I’m on the fence, I’d like to ask our customers for feedback. For example the spiked cereal milk with Jameson is a confirmed flavor… everyone loves it. I recently read a book called the Purple Cow that inspires constant innovation and not playing it safe. So for the last Food Social, I took my love of cupcakes and I told myself that I was going to make cupcake tribute, the result was a Cake Batter flavor topped with Ghirardelli Buttercream. People liked it but not as much as our Cereal Milk. One that I really like… is our Fresh Mint White Chocolate flavor, it is crushed fresh mint leaves that is infused into a white chocolate base. The result is a strong white chocolate taste that’s refreshing like a Mojito. That flavor translated into creating a tribute to my favorite drink at Philz Coffee – the Mint Mojito. I want to stay true to what frozen custard is, but give it a San Francisco feel to it.

Is there a particular top-seller flavor?
I would say the Blue Bottle Coffee, Cereal Milk, Malted Chocolate and Avocado. Head over to Izakaya Sozai they are serving the avocado!

How did you come up with your brand identity?
The name Frozen Kuhsterd… everyone always asks what’s up with the spelling. If you look up Frozen Custard in the Webster Dictionary, it is the phonic spelling, it’s kuhs-terd. Also, I have a talented friend named Cat Oshiro who has done work for Yelp and a couple of other start-up food businesses. I knew she was busy, but asked her if she had time to put a logo for me that was 1920’s-1930’s, very retro look since frozen custard was started in Coney Island back then. She took on the project and did amazing work. The end result is a character that has a vintage inspired look. She went with a soft palette because I told her that vanilla custard has a little yellow tone to it. I wanted to stay true to that.

What has been the most challenging aspect of bringing the product to market?
The separation of my business partner… you know, going headstrong into a project. Dumping in thousands of dollars (the machines are expensive), after doing all the work, to find the guy that was with you step-by-step doesn’t want to do it anymore. Trying to pick up without support, I think was the hardest thing. That and finding outlets to sell my product.

How do you feel about Underground Market shut down?
I think San Francisco is losing the point… they are killing innovation. In some cases, amazing food could come from some gentlemen or ladies who have cleaner kitchens than real restaurants. It gives the general public an injustice to not allow us to taste and experiencing these things. I don’t think it takes away from the food landscape, it adds color and variation. I support everything they do and will do anything to help because they helped me launch Frozen Kuhsterd from the start.

What has been the most rewarding?
I would say, being able to handle and manage our recent corporate event, providing 26 gallons for Yelp’s Employee Appreciation party (biggest order I’ve ever had). Then there is our maintaining of our 5-five star rating on Yelp and there is also that video from Joanie, a well respected Filipino food blogger, doing a 3 minute speech about why she loved Frozen Kuhsterd. That in itself is worth more than any dollar amount. I know that down the line that money will come, if stay true to the product and to myself.

What is the vision for Frozen Kuhsterd?
We’d like to try the food truck route, you can see the success through Cupkates and the Crème Brulee Cart who have done well without a brick-and-mortar location. Right now my focus is building the brand to the point where people are begging for a store front. On my Yelp, there is my Google voice phone number and I am getting 3 to 4 phone calls a day looking for a location. If things work out and we build enough funding for a store location, I would like to be in the Mission area… the place and people have a higher appreciation for food. Cold or not, people come out, as you can see with Bi-Rite Creamery, Humphry Slocombe, Mitchell’s, etc.

Do you have any advice for people who are interested in a food venture?
If you really enjoy and have an amazing product you’d like to share outside of your family and friends then you just have to believe in yourself and just do it. I encourage people to reach out to me and ask any questions they may have. When I was going through the motions, I didn’t have much to go on, I just did a lot of research and made a lot of connections. If you’ve want to put a smile on people faces and it not all about the dollar, then just do it. You have to realize there is a trial of losing money before becoming successful.

Any last words?
I’m excited for our Food Truck, set to get onto the streets by early June, which would be in time for summer time. I’m amazed where we are at… we’re not there yet but I told myself that in the year 2012 I wanted to somehow get onto FoodTV in one way, shape or form to help promote our idea to reinvent the frozen custard and frozen dessert segment. People should remember their first experience with Frozen Kuhsterd because at first taste, it may provide you with a lasting memory!

Frozen Kuhsterd
Twitter / @frozenkuhsterd
Facebook / frozen kuhsterd

// photos by fareandsq //

Nathan Downs of the Window

A few weeks ago, a new pop up venue announced it’s debut to the public. There, on the corner of 12th and Howard Street, stands a minimalistic charcoal building, bare of all frills, the signage strictly points to only thing– the Window. What once was the home to What’s Up Dog now lays new groundwork for 1 of 7 Coffee Bars cafes and a place for chefs to slang some signature street fare. In the midst of opening day and working around the clock to get this baby running, Nathan Downs, let’s me peep behind the scenes for a more intimate look at how it all got started!

Why Nathan rocks: pop up chef event program manager at the Window

Who is Nathan? What’s your story?
Once upon a time I was that person… I went from every level… from having no money, nobody knew me, to being pretty well established.

I grew up in upstate New York, in a city called Rochester. I lived there until I was about 20 and then realized I wanted to get into food. Rochester is not a food mecca by any means… it’s kind of a medium size city. I decided I wanted to come to California. So I came here and went to culinary school. As soon as I got out of school,  I started a catering company. I had like $400 dollars.

When I started the company, I was cooking out of a fraternity at UC Berkeley. It was the only way I could cook out of a commercial kitchen. I went to every fraternity and sorority and said, “If you give me rights to your kitchen and I will cook you really good food at dirt-cheap prices!” That way, I’d have a legitimate kitchen and become legitimate from that kitchen. Prior to that, the year before, I was going to school here at California Culinary Academy (CCA). I was working at Aqua, which was one of the best restaurants in the city at that time. So I went from working at Aqua to cooking for fraternity boys… I had to bury my pride and be in a small business owner and entrepreneur like mindset and that set in really quick. Cooking for these boys, you’d wake up and there’s an inflatable doll in the kitchen. It’s a lot different environment than high-end fine dining. But I had no means, so I had to suck it up. I was cooking for this one fraternity and then a couple years later I had like 7 or 8 I was cooking for.

When did you get your big break?
As time went on and became more legitimate… I was approached by Ed Mud, it’s a water utility company in the East Bay. They said, “We want you to put together a RFP together to take over our corporate cafes,” which was a massive opportunity! So I go to this meeting— I was 23 and was really intimidated. All these companies… there was like 15 national companies. So suffice to say I put my all into the proposal and they accepted it. I had to start a month later. I went from myself and one other guy and 2 part-time employees to a month later, having 17 full-time employees! I had a high school diploma and a culinary degree. I made every mistake in the book and learned things the hard way. But it was a great experience and I did that for 7 years.

How did you establish your network?
I was establishing a network with people who worked in the industry. I was kind of all over the place, because we were catering along the bay and then I had the two cafes in downtown Oakland and then I worked at the Bohemian Club. Then I was working at UC Berkeley for the chancellor doing diplomatic dinners and fundraising events. I was in the total chef/workaholic/small business owner stage and juggling all these different things.

How did you become a part of Coffee Bar team?
After 7 years, I sold the cafes. Then I started little consulting jobs and Coffee Bar was one my clients. One of my good friends is the owner. About year ago my position at UC Berkeley was eliminated due to budget cuts and then 5 months after that my position was eliminated due to budget cuts at the Bohemian Club. I found myself in this limbo phase where at first it was kind of intimidating. What am I doing to do? I had all these side catering gigs and consulting gigs… so it wasn’t based on money. But it was like, what did I want to do with my career? It was one of those defining moments.

I started taking over Coffee Bar’s events and started doing all their pop up chef events. Then I started to create these food throw downs… then all of a sudden new ownership came into play and an infusion of investors. They were gonna open up 5 more locations in the next 7 months. All of a sudden they needed a lot more help and it felt good because it was one of my friends and his business was growing. So it’s just been spiraling and snowballing. It’s been a really good scenario and now I find myself with all these public events… working with chefs.. managing all these chefs.  I can anticipate the needs of chefs and what they are looking to get into and combine those things.. but bringing it out to the public is a new challenge for me. I’m learning a lot and that’s kind how I ended up here.

What is your current role with Coffee Bar?
I handle all their public events: pop up chef events, fundraisers, food throw downs and all their private events that happen at their Bryant Street location. I’m also their liaison to the community. Anything that happens to do with building a connection with the community, I have my hands in that one way or another. As of recently, in December they asked me to oversee their food program from one 1 location to 6 locations. As that is what my background is… I’m not necessarily a chef for them, I’m in the kitchen, but I help with arrange and coordinate their people. There’s chefs I’m working with but its more about logistics and arrangements… essentially I’m there’s program manager for all their food programs.

So in between the Coffee Bar build up stage, the Window seemed to be a good idea?
Two months ago we decided that, Coffee Bar, with this massive expansion, needed to have this commissary kitchen. Essentially [the kitchen] would facilitate having all the soups being made in one place (having the economy of scale) and the convenience, like all the grab-and-go sandwiches being made in one place for all the locations. We got into this space and then started getting that up and running. In restaurants it’s typical to say that it will take 3 months or 6 months. That’s just how it goes when you put a lot of attention to detail.

I think it was 6 weeks ago when I came up with the idea…what if I take all these chef contacts I’ve made and then take this commissary kitchen where we are only using it 30-40 hrs a week (there’s a block of hours there)? The reason why I thought this idea would work well with this whole chef concept is because with pop up dinners, it’s a tremendous amount of work. Chefs have to worry about reservations and décor and wait staff and all these things at deter from focusing on the food. If I was strongly passionate about food… trying to build a company… this is the kind of opportunity I wish had when I was cooking out of those fraternities. It’s just a great way to get exposure and minimum amount of headache from the chef’s standpoint. It’s also a fun whimsical angle to do it, where it’s like street food; it’s simple, fun and fast.

So I pitched the idea to the owners of Coffee Bar and they said yeah sounds great. I felt really great that they trusted me in that regard and chefs were equally welcoming. Then I put the idea to the media and they equally embraced it. It’s all really worked well together. So the foundation of it has really been the mindset of the ownership, to the chefs, to the media, to the food community in San Francisco that has been so welcoming and open. Even down to the health department who has really helped me and making sure that we can kind of retool some things. It’s a unique entity but not putting road blocks up, and just saying, let’s structure this together in the way that takes care of the interest of the public health.

So with such positive feedback, have you been reaching out to chefs or vice versa?
At first, Jonathan Kauffman put out an article about 5-6 weeks ago, saying Coffee Bar will be doing some pop up chefs stuff (very vague). I think I had eight or ten people get in touch with me. I already knew some contacts from before, so I took some of the new people and the people I knew and opened up. We have this 18 day schedule with 30 pop ups. In San Francisco, we’ve had 20 mentions or write ups. We’ve had a good amount of press embrace us.. and since then, I’ve had 35 chefs get in touch with me… couple of chefs from LA and a couple of chefs from NY. For me, it’s been really humbling.. like wow.. I felt really fortunate to be in the right place in the right time to have this fly.

Do you think that the pop up will continue to live on when the café opens?
I think it would be silly and short sighted of us, if we didn’t embrace the momentum that we have. I felt that the pop up scene in SF started to become a little stagnant. It wasn’t this cool trendy thing as it used to be. I felt like this was reinventing that a little a bit and the sheer volume of chefs we have coming through here is like pop up on steroids. So I think it would be silly for us to not embrace that as long as it seems to make sense… because when the café opens, it will be open during café hours. Which is how the pop up culture started, chefs weren’t getting money from banks, weren’t getting enough money to open their own places, and everybody needed more income with the struggling economy. It was cafes and other places that were willing to share their space.. so we’re already set up to operate as café hours and off hours. So if we’re already set up with this program in place there’s no reason to not to continue. I mean, we will need to tailor it a bit when open the space, but we’ll definitely move forward with it.

You touched base on media and being a public figure, do you think this aspect has been the most challenging?
The hardest part has been coordinating with these many chefs. Chefs are very strong mind, independent and trying bringing all these different concepts and logistics together and make it cohesive and work well.. its been a lot of work for past month and a half.

So how are you balancing that work load with life?
I guess ever since I had that small business growth, you get to the point where you realize it’s not work. It’s your life. It’s fully integrated into your life and if you don’t enjoy what your doing, then you cant be in the food business. Because it does dictate so much of your life. So to me, the owners of the company are my friends, the chef who runs the commissary kitchen are my friends, some of the cooks here have even worked in my cafés years ago. These are all people that are my friends and are my family. Technically am I working a ton of hours? Yes. But I’m technically surrounded the by people who are my friends and family all the time. It really depends your vantage point is and mine is the ladder.

So given that you’ve been in the food industry for 15 years, do you have any advice for people who are interested in going to culinary school or interested in starting their own food business? Or people who are just debating between the two?
That’s the 50 thousand dollar question and I’m really glad you asked that. Well, what it boils down to… San Francisco is very pro-food culture driven, and when you look at the United States in general– food is pop culture. Food is cool thing to do; it’s the fun thing to do. I think that one big thing I frequently have people ask me, “Oh you went to chef school and oh how is that? Should I go to City College versus the private school?” There is a couple things to be learned there. I usually tell people in retrospect, if they are looking to get into the food industry, pick out what your niche is. Do you want to be a Italian chef? Do you want to be pastry chef? Do you want to do fine dining? Do you like casual dining? Do you want to go corporate? Or do you want to work in a mom and pop? Figure out what resonates with you. Go work there for a year and if you still like it, still think it’s your vibe.. then go into the best community college program you can find and work another year at different place in that same vein while you are going to school. So go to school full-time and work full-time. You need to build up that endurance. I think a lot people don’t realize… the school I went to is about 52-54 thousand a year. If you have student loans a lot higher than a lot of ivy league schools (with the amount of time your going there) and you come out making $10.50 an hour… umm it really puts a lot of things in perspective when you’re working 70-80hrs a week and you’re struggling.. a lot of people don’t get that’s the reality of the food industry. To get to the point when you’re really successful and comfortable and living a comfortable life by American standards.. you really have to pay your dues big time and catch some breaks and be pretty special at what you do. A lot of people dive into culinary school blindly and don’t realize it until, oh wow.. this is not necessarily what I thought I was getting into.

The Window
1599 Howard Street
San Francisco, CA

Twitter: @thewindowSF
What’s on deck for April? Belly Burgers, Mama Empanada, Soup Junkie, Bayou by the Bay, +
View the entire schedule here.

// photos by fareandsq // thanks nathan and tom for looking so naturale! //

Julie + Arnaud of Vive La Tarte

Why Juile + Arnaud rock: owners of vive la tarte, a savory and sweet Belgian home-style pie mobile bakery that delivers straight to your door!

Who is Julie?
J: I’m coming from a small country in Europe, Belgium, which is country of chocolate and beer! So we were already born and living in a food scene. Before starting vive la tarte, I was on a corporate career track, as a management consultant close to 6 years. Then I discovered that it was absolutely not what I liked to do.
I was passionate about creating a small business with an impact on people in a sector I actually really enjoyed—which is food. Why food? Two reasons, a part of my family, my great-aunt wrote a great recipe book, which I was really inspired by. Second part is that I feel food links people, shares happiness, going around the table and enjoying food. I really like that— the community aspect.

A: What Julie forgot to say about her, she studied engineering. Engineers are very precise people. I think that is one of the key things she applies in pastry. It’s not complicated, but there’s a lot of precision. You know, if you add too much sugar to the flour, it’s not going to be the same. By using this skill in food is a great asset.

Who is Arnaud?
A: I’m coming Belgium as well. Also stuck in the corporate world and just realized I couldn’t really use my talents. I wanted to be more creative, but the market was not ready for that. I was happy to find this project. I see life as a number of projects. I think vive la tarte is the first project that we are doing in a very independent way. But I would like to think there will be other projects in the food industry and in some other things. I like a lot of things. I like real things. I like to be in front of people who are true to themselves, not afraid of being what they are. Same for food. I don’t need to have most fancy food, if I’m sure about the quality in there. That’s the rule that I apply for everything I do.

How did you both meet?
J+A: We met in high school.

A: We’ve been together for 13 years, we met when we were 17. We were best friends and then things happened… [laughs]

J: And got married last year…

So your honeymoon was in San Francisco?
J: In California. We did a classical tour starting in LA, going along the coast, going to Yosemite, Grand Canyon and we stopped for a long time in San Francisco.

A: The idea for the honeymoon was that we knew we both wanted something else and to move out of our country, where we were stuck in the Belgian dream…

J: Work a 9-5 job…

J+A: Buy a house…

A: Have 3 kids and live a very repetitive life. We knew we wanted to do something else, but didn’t really know what. By doing this in California, we saw a lot of options. As Julie, mentioned, it’s the openness to new things that is amazing, especially in San Francisco. Another thing is also that you can be young and succeed. In Europe, there’s a tendency to say that you need grey hair to be taken seriously.

What made you choose San Francisco as a location for your business?
J: It was the spirit of the city, the people we met and the quality of produce we could find here. It was a great combination.

A: I also think it was a good choice as San Francisco is closer to Europe than other cities in California. People know a lot about Europe; there’s a closer connection. For us, there are two food poles in the U.S. There’s New York, the establishment, and first stop for most Europeans. Then there is definitely San Francisco, with a focus on organic quality food. It’s less about the fanciness and more about what’s really inside.

J: It’s the authenticity of the city we liked and it’s human-sized. That’s really why we felt at home really quickly in this city.

Have you both lived abroad prior outside of Belgium?
J: I studied in Canada for 6 months in Kingston…

A: I did a student exchange in Connecticut for a few months. We both traveled quite a bit for work… Julie around Europe. I traveled to the U.S., Singapore, Bahrain and so on. Anyway, we like it here… a lot!

How did the idea of vive la tarte come about?
A: I think it actually came from a craving, especially from Julie. In the afternoon we like to sit down, chill out a bit, have a piece of pie, and drink some good coffee. We could find good coffee. We could find a lot of pastry, but not the taste we were looking for. So, the day after, we started touring the city to taste all kind of food! At the end of these two days, while looking at the Golden Gate, we were like, okay, we’ve eaten from all these bakeries in the city and no one is doing what we would like to do. There was an opportunity and so it was like, okay, let’s go!

You both did research and tasting, but what was the preparation process?
J: When we came back from our honeymoon, I quit my job to dedicate myself to vive la tarte completely. It was a process of 8 months, and 3 months here on location. We did a few different things, which was, first the VISA and other administrative stuff (legal set up, creating the entity)… and you have to do those things right. I also went to speak to potential clients to see what they liked, what they needed, what was missing. I also went to a number of potential suppliers to see what they could provide us. The most important aspect was product development. We had a number of recipes at home that we tested in Belgium. The challenge was testing out those recipes here with local ingredients and have it taste like home.

A: I think that when you start a business, there are two ways to do it. You can start to analyze everything and honestly, you don’t have the time for that. I think people ask too many questions. If you feel like something is a good idea and a few important facts to confirm that, then at the moment you have to go for it. And that is exactly what we did. Julie quit her job; she took this recipe book from her aunt, and started to do the recipes with a baker friend of ours.

Can you describe the vive la tarte business model?
A: So the idea with Vive La Tarte is to start with traditional recipes and reinterpret them in the present. We call this concept— contemporary home-style baking. It’s home-style because it’s coming from the family and handcrafted… contemporary because we’re playing with current flavors and our pies have a minimalistic look.
From a business model perspective, the first priority was to have stable revenues, because when we came here, we sold every thing we had. All our belongings have been invested into our business, there are no banks behind us. So in order to make sure we didn’t burn all the cash after 6 months we needed to have a stable revenue base. The approach was to start wholesale: hotels and restaurants, and of course see if any of these guys were interested. Next to this wholesale model, we are definitely interested in retail model. Right now, since we don’t have a retail spot, we deliver at home or people can meet us at the Upper Haight Farmers’ Market on Wednesdays. The next step is to find a great place where we can open a retail spot.

J: One thing to add, vive la tarte is a home-style bakery, but also we call it a virtuous food circle. We source our ingredients locally, sell locally, and whatever we don’t sell we give to a local food bank.

A: …which is part of our mission. Something to add, in the corporate world, there is a corporate social responsibility department that’s being paid to do campaigns to show their 1% of doing good. Julie and I were a bit sick of this type of attitude and wanted to have a real positive impact. Today we are small but we are already bringing a few pies a week to the San Francisco food bank.

How did you take advantage of the Twitter business model for your business?
A: One of the constraints was that we couldn’t really invest in a full-fledged e-commerce website. When you look at social media today, these are fantastic tools you can use in many ways. Although Twitter is primarily a conversation tool, through conversation, it can be used for many things such as transaction. Through Twitter’s direct messaging, you don’t need to show everyone what’s doing on with your order. I mean of course, I’d like to have your phone number so I can actually call you one day, but Twitter is a nice way to communicate. We’re trying to use what’s at hand, but sometimes when you are stuck in your ways, you don’t want to look at the solution. But when you step back you realize, you can do this and you can do that. We are using Twitter to take orders and then have them delivered to your home or pick them up at the farmer’s market. Even at the farmer’s market itself, we don’t want people to stand in line, so maybe with Twitter they can tweet their order before and we can prepare the order for them.

Has the feedback with ordering through Twitter been positive? Are people using this tool successfully?
J: It’s a process. Without a retail location, people need to just get used to it… once they use it, they’ll really like it, and start using it more. It’s more a step to get them to that point.

A: I think our generation is really cool and most orders we get are from our people age. I realize that a lot of people who have families or who have a few kids like to email. Then there’s another generation who’s more into phone calls. Every segment has it’s own approach, so we want to keep options open. But I would say the whole Twitter aspect is amazing, and I think that is why we think Twitter chose us for their commercial.

Who are your customers?
J: From a wholesale perspective, we work primarily with hotels and restaurants in the city. We also cater start-ups, with our breakfast, brunch and lunch offering including breakfast quiches, organic fruit yogurts, organic fruit salads… We also like to contribute to events for a few organizations like the fundraiser at the firehouse…

A: A fundraiser for aids LifeCycle, which is coming up…

Just back tracking a bit, how did you come back to creating name—vive la tarte?
J: Oh, good question!

A: I’ve been helping people selecting brand names for a while and my advice is to just make a list with a hundred names. Of course you’ve got to come up with some cool names. Then you just start crossing and then you come to about 10. So once you have a short list, test it out. People we surveyed said vive la tarte was great. We like “vive la tarte” for different reasons. Even if it’s in French, it has the same structure as, “Viva Las Vegas” … and positive aspect of saying, “Long live the pie!”

J: It’s a celebration!

A: We want people to not just celebrate on their birthday or on their wedding day… we want people to celebrate every day!

What kind of people did you meet along the way?
A: We’ve meet so many great people and they just want to help you… bakers with 30-40 years of experience, who like our product and say they want to help with material and advice.

J: Even friends in high-tech companies, who are like, “Oh you need help with your website?” because we’ve been struggling with some coding. What makes or break a business is the people. Being around good people is really important, be it your team, your employees, your friends, any stakeholders, your suppliers…

A: Friends and family are been key.

J: Suppliers are really important. We’ve worked with suppliers with great product but the attitude was wrong or the connection wasn’t there. We just stopped because it doesn’t make sense.

A: That’s the thing with having your own business— you can make your own decisions. It’s also stressful, because you have to make decision every day (what you want to do, who you want to work with). You’re not at the mercy of anything.

You touched based with the people you met along the way who jumped in to help, did that play a part of developing your brand identity?
J: It’s funny because, brand identity was that most interesting yet challenging to get to a point where we placed the visuals to match what we felt inside for the business.

A: We had so many ideas about what we wanted to incorporate in the brand, but at the end of the day, even if we have 10 dimensions (young, organic, this and that), you have to choose 1 or 2 that really drive your business. Our business is about simplicity, essential flavors and subtle textures, using organic ingredients. We just want to buy organic because it tastes much better and makes sense in the whole virtuous cycle. The other challenge was finding a medium between contemporary and the past together. We have a brand that is almost a reinterpretation of vintage. For example, we like to bring our products in crates…

J: Like the milkman

A: It’s also about the people you work with, the clients you want to support, the suppliers you work with… it’s complicated…

J: Since the start we wanted something simple, but nice and looking vintage. Certain color schemes we liked, something you can find in food but still contemporary… a little flashy but not too dark. So we picked orange. First we came up with a logo, then reiterated it what we didn’t like and then again from the reactions from our clients or people who see us.

A: I think what our current logo, vive la tarte, kind of vintage but very simple. Under vive la tarte, we have Golden Crust. Golden Crust is a reference to two things, first is our dough, which is almost a family secret. We take three days to prepare it. The second reference is the day we decided to start vive la tarte, we were in San Francisco looking at the Golden Gate as tourists. The round circle symbolizes the [virtuous food] cycle and the pie.

J: Round is round, it’s about bringing people together.
A: The color orange is energy and the whole celebration of vive la tarte. Finding the right orange was also an interesting process.

Did you develop the logo yourself?
J: Yes.

A: We started working with people in Belgium, and futher worked on it here, by downloading fonts to Illustrator and playing with it.

So a lot of DIY projects it seems…
J: When starting a business, it’s really great to do it yourself. You learn how to do it and realize how long it takes to do it… realize what you do is really what you want. Rather than having someone else do it for you. With time of course, we would love to find people who can translate what we have in our minds for us. Though we didn’t have much luck in the process, I would definitely recommend working professional people when you have the budget for it.

A: When you do it yourself, you get to cover a lot of areas. When you sit at your desk in your corporate office, you’re just sending emails and attending meetings. When you launch a business you work on your logo, work on packaging, work on your delivery truck. Your fridge doesn’t work… you got to find the solution to that. You basically learn a lot and that’s really cool.

Just stepping back a bit, prior to launching, were you both social media savvy or has this been a learning curve as well?
J: Personally, a little bit. In Europe, Facebook is developed but not really Twitter. I had a Facebook account and I heard a lot about Twitter.

A: A: It’s definitely a learning curve. I was more on Facebook and less on Twitter. It has been a learning curve. We are trying to balance what you talk about. You can’t always just talk about your projects. You can connect with customers and share advice. But shouldn’t feel the pressure to tweet too much, because too much information can ruin it. Also, I just discovered Storify

J: Storify is a platform that allows people to actually write a story to integrate tweets or Facebook or whatever to link to the subject you are writing on.

A: We like it a lot, though we just started.

You said you have your aunt’s recipe book, but what is really signature about Belgian style pies?
A: The Belgium cuisine is very much influenced by the French cuisine, definitely. The difference is that in Belgium we have more room to innovate. French food is more traditional, which is great. Belgium cuisine is high quality ingredients and in terms of style, it’s French with a touch of innovation. For example, adding the same recipe with another fruit…

J: Then there are some recipes that you can’t really explain, like some farmer came up with this idea, or produce that typically come from Belgium, such as Brussels sprouts.

A: Also the chocolate. This is the one ingredient we buy from Belgium. We have to, or otherwise, our great-grandfathers would turn themselves into their grave.

When and where was your first launch/sell?
J: It was in September to a local coffee shop in Berkeley and then one week later at the Clift hotel.

A: Our approach was very simple, we didn’t want to do a long speech because no time for that. We met and spoke about it for one minute, left the product and hoped that he called back.

J: We realized that executive chefs were the key decision makers and would really push for it. We were surprised by the quality of chefs we met and how receptive they were considering how small we are.

A: I think the chefs made us succeed, especially for the first few months. Thanks to these guys we got started… that they gave us a chance. They are still very important clients for us.

J: That was the break-through.

Has there been one particular savory and one sweet that been hot?
J: For the savory, I’d say the classical quiche Lorraine… and signature spinach goat cheese or spinach with blue cheese. On the sweet side, the sell-out is our San Francisco cheesecake. It’s our interpretation of New York cheesecake that is softer, lighter. The crust is made with a Belgian ginger and cinnamon biscuit. Also lemon meringue, everyone tells us that it has the perfect balance sweet and tartness.

A: That is what we strive for, the settle nuance that doesn’t just stop there…

Given all the feedback, cold calling, people you’ve met, has there been something that’s proven to be most challenging in developing and executing your business?
J: Challenges? Of course. Like I said before, people can make our break your business. There are some people you come across that are not always easy to work with. Be it your client or supplier. Also finding the right supplier or products. For example, farmers… they are really small but sometimes it’s challenging to connect with them individually.

A: You got to believe in your idea. You’re going to have fantastic days and some bad days. Maybe you lose a customer because the chef is gone, but the next day you have to go for it. You have to be strong.

What have been the rewards that make you think, okay, I’m going to sleep now and today was a good day?
J: There are things that make a good day. The most rewarding thing, though having great clients and having an order, but it’s when a client calls back and says they want to reorder because they like the product and enjoy working together. It’s a confirmation that we are doing something good. Also, when we are in the kitchen working together and come up with new ideas and it works well. Being in the kitchen, working together and having a good time. Even if I had to wake up 4-5am, I still had a great time.

A: We found some great people, they’re young, generally nice, efficient and cool… we’re stoked to be working with these guys!

Your operation is not just you two, you have a team of people who are working with you in your commercial kitchen?
A: We are moving to a kitchen in Lower Nob Hill [from Richmond] with a team of four. When you make 5 pies a day to 100 pies a day, you need to build a program that is efficient.

J: We were really surprised by the quality of people we were able to find [via SimplyHired and Craigslist]

What is the vision for vive la tarte in the future?
A: In the short-term, in the next year, we’d like to find the first retail spot. We are very picky about the spot… a place with outdoors. We want a space that is very minimalistic but still warm. Basically, a spot where people can have great breakfast and lunch that is healthy and tasty at the same time. Also, that people take the time not just grabbing something (though yes, there will be take-away). Eat sit down, have a chat, take your time…

J: The idea would be to still continue to do wholesale, as we evolve to retail. One of the retail spots can act like an atelier where it is an open space where people can sit with an open kitchen. We want people to see what goes on; it’s all transparent.

Any advice for people who want to start their own food business?
J: My advice, though we just started, haven’t done it for 20 years, don’t have the background… Be sure you have a product you are proud of, have a concept and a business model. Not just a product… have the whole set up, go for it, and fight!

A: Don’t be afraid to come out with a new product, I see a lot of people who have something but not confident to go all the way
to put a unique product out in the market. Don’t copy others.

Okay! Last words…
A: Go for it! Don’t ask so many questions. Only maybe 5% go and that is why they succeed. Also, some people have great ideas but just don’t do it.

J: Trust in what you believe! A lot of people will tell you not to do it, a lot of people will tell you how to do it, a lot of people will say “I’ll help”… just trust yourself! Don’t think others will do the work for you.

Twitter: @tarte
Facebook: vivelatarte

// photos courtesy of vive la tarte and by fareandsq //

Jim Angelus of Bacon Bacon

Why Jim rocks: Owner of Bacon Bacon, circa July 2011

Who is Jim? Then and now, same person, but all grown up?
Now a proud father of two girls (2 years old and 2 weeks old). Husband of 4 years and proud to be a San Franciscan. I’ve lived here 12 years and feel like I can finally say that now… the moment came when I was rooting for the 49ers versus the NY Giants this football season. Still not all grown up, but getting better with age.

What is Bacon Bacon?
BB is the food truck where you get a great meal or sandwich (yes, a burger is a sandwich). Where Bacon is not always the star– but plays an important role, co-star, character, actor or director. I try to bring some of my over 15 yrs of restaurant experience to the front of the truck [former E&O Trading GM], so you aren’t ordering into a window two feet too high.. but talking to person that loves what they are doing.

How did the concept of Bacon Bacon come to be?
I was sick of the long hours of running someone else restaurant and quickly realizing that I wasn’t home to see my little girl grow up. I had some personal issues that needed some attention which allowed me to step away and figure out what I really wanted to do. I knew I wanted to stay in the food biz. I’ve always been a fan of the food trucks, so I visited a friend’s truck in Portland and knew it was my next move. On March 1st of 2011, I officially decided to go for it. July 5th is when I launched. There was lots of messy and fun details in between. The concept was born, at the time in which I thought, was a big hole in the food truck scene– the Americana, comfort, indulgence truck was missing.

How did you prepare to start the business? Mentor?
A big help was a great chef friend of mine in Portland OR, Rick Gencarelli, owner of Lard PDX. We worked together back east for the chef Todd English. Rick was the chef, I was the GM. I spent two separate weeks with Rick on his truck. Locally, Julia, from Seoul on Wheels was also a big help. She was a great resource and an open book. And finally, Matt Cohen, from Off the Grid was helpful in getting my permitting and helped with locations.

Was the investment made solely by yourself or did you seek other means of support?
I took out one small business loan that the fed government was offering (real small) and the maxed out 2 credit cards. Not ideal, but it’s what I needed to do.

Were there any DIY projects that you took on to personalize the brand identity and the actual truck swag?
I’m not the handiest guy, but I was resourceful in getting the truck up and running. The name was my idea. The logo and design was a collaboration with designer, Adam Aaron, my self and my wife. Adam brought tons of great ideas to the table and also took direction. He was great in getting what I wanted out of our conversations. My wife was sounding board during the entire process and been super supportive from Day -17.

What was the process of creating your menu? Was there specific flare you wanted to achieve?
A few of the items are directly from chef Rick and few were my ideas with his assistance. I didn’t want it to be a mystery of what you would get when you saw our truck. The food needs to be great, but also I wanted to be straight forward. We take a few chances here and there.

Where and when was the first launch?
A few at my house with friends, neighbors and people that would pass by in Cole Valley, then we graduated to the DMV lot to practice some more with the general public. Official was on Bluxome Street in front of my friend’s screen printing shop, Burning Babylon. The lines were ridiculous and and it took us an hour to cook a burger. We sank many times before we swam.

How did it feel when you sold your first product to a stranger?
I get chills! I still see #2, #3 and # 4 often. They show up to the truck still and say, “Remember us? We were your first customers!” I remember most of the first guests.

What has been the most challenging part of developing and executing your business (past)?
Getting the locations set. People and property owners can be flaky.

What aspect(s) of your business has proved to be the most challenging (now)?
The truck is a challenge. It’s an old truck that needs lots of love. When your transportation is also your business, it can be a challenge. We’ve been towed into events a few times. I want to grow this thing but I need to remember we’re still super young. We are only 9 months old.

Who or what has been the most supportive during your business development (shout out moment)?
My wife is a rock. She is extremely supportive of the Bacon Bacon movement and I couldn’t have done it without her (I had to cook often at home before opening up and that was rough).

What has been the most rewarding?
Showing up to a new spot and there is a line. That is amazing! You feel like a rock star for a few moments.

What is your vision for the future of Bacon Bacon?
I’d love to get another truck this year to hit more of the Bay Area, as well as, work on our little store front in Cole Valley. I have bigger plans for the brand, but for now, I need to really work on getting this one truck to run as tight as possible.

What are your current thoughts regarding the street food movement? Where will it go?
I think there will always be room for both food trucks and restaurants to coexist. I think it will swell and then the fat will be trimmed, but ultimately the good/great trucks will be around. I want to be a part of that.

From your experience thus far, do you have any advice for the newbies who want to set up a mobile truck?
Go for it! Be patient. If you love your concept and the food biz then you can do it. I am.

Bacon Bacon opened up a brick and mortar in Cole Valley where they slang to-go items and use as a commissary kitchen for the food truck. The shop is open for casual breakfast and will have lunch hours available in the near future.

Bacon Bacon Kitchen
205 Frederick St.
San Francisco, CA

Twitter: @BaconBaconSF
Facebook: baconbaconsf

// photos courtesy of bacon bacon //

{beer tasting} at lagunitas brewery, petaluma

What to do on a rainy day? Beer tasting! Saturday morning, a gang of us gathered for a quick breakfast at our friend, Alyson’s place, in Nob Hill. At 10:30am we were picked up by Golden Gate Brew Tours (GGBT). One by one, we flocked onto the charter bus like a school field trip– full of excitement and wonder. The GGBT fellas: Eric, Casey and Nate hushed the crowd to give us the the itinerary. 3 breweries in 5 hours and trivia in between to see who’s actually listening. Purely educational and lots of drinking. Lagunitas Brewing Company in Petaluma was our first stop (and the only brewery that I was able to capture clearly).

Best thing about beer tasting, besides the obvious, is figuring out which beer varietal your taste buds like. For me, it was the Lagunitas IPA and Imperial Stout.

Second best thing about beer tasting is making sure you’ve got a something in your tummy to soak up the alcohol. Pulled pork nachos with all the fixings. Sharing is encouraged.

Brasied brisket sando. Bomb.

The GG Brew Tour fellas keeping us in line and entertained.

The eclectic personalities of Lagunitas are kept in this welcome loft which once stood as their bar.

How many gallons in one barrel? 31. A barrel is equal to two kegs.

Our Lagunitas tour master.

Apparently, the brew tours are great for company bonding and bachelor parties. Go figure. I’m still feeling woozy from all the day drinking and pork consumption (ForageSF’s roasted pig + gypsy jazz dinner event went off without a hitch last night)! Tonight, I’m relaxing with Mad Men’s season premiere and munching on a salmon leek quiche from vive la tarte.. come back tomorrow for a special Q&A post! XX, Sally

// photos by fareandsq //