“Entrepedalers” Deliver the Goods

maibikedenim20101.jpgMai Le leaves on a banh mi delivery. Photo: Mai Le

(Editor’s note: This story originally appeared on the SFBC’s blog)

Natalie Galatzer has been up working since 11:30 pm 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 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.

Natalie_Pie.jpgNatalie Galatzer shows off her baked goods. Photo: Amit Gupta

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 start-ups. 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 product 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.

“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,” she says.

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
scarce, 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.

Curry_Kart_1.jpgBrian on his curry cart bike. Photo: Lenaya Ponga

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 Brulée cart is, ha ha,” she writes, referring to Kimball’s
brother.

“My customers are mostly at start-ups, 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.”

  • Saw this on SFGate last night. And surprisingly there were some very supportive comments. The tide is shifting. A big well done to these hard workers!

  • Shawn Allen

    Yeah, it’s really great to see even the SFGate comments becoming (gradually, almost begrudgingly) more charitable toward cyclists. I’ve been pretty down on the state of cycling in San Francisco for the last couple of years, but with all of the recent improvements it suddenly feels like things are on the up and up. Fingers crossed for the lifting of the injunction next month!

  • Does anyone have links to their Twitter accounts?

  • Get yer pies here (apparently):
    http://bikebasketpies.com/

  • jaded

    Those pies from bikebasketpies were so awesome. We devoured them in 10 min flat at my office. Bahn mi, where are you?

  • Crazy, Natalie apparently works at Noodle Theory where my friend works.

  • D. Mesa

    Also there’s a Jerk cart, & a lumpia cart too. (Eespectively eviljerkcart & lumpiacart on twitter. that’s how I follow the creme bruleé cart!)

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