San Francisco is the perfect storm for small, single-concept food purveyors:
Economics– according to SF Business Times, as of late last year, “Retail vacancies in the San Francisco metro area trickled down to 3.1 percent in the second half of the year and are projected to drop even lower before 2013, according to real estate investment research firm Marcus & Millichap. The market is being driven by an 8.6 percent jump in retail spending, which is slightly better than the national rate of 8.1 percent. The tight market has led asking rents to climb 2 percent to $32.80 per square foot, while effective rents pushed up 2.4 percent to $29.75 per square foot”.
San Fran food scene– simply put, one of the hottest in the country. According to a HuffPost article last year, “Not only did San Francisco come in as number one with the most restaurants per capita, no other city even came close. At 39.3 restaurants per 10,000 households, San Francisco has nearly 50 percent more relative restaurants than the second place city”.
Amazing local pantry– no doubt about it, we have the best backyard in the country. No need to quote anyone, we all know it. This attracts creative chefs, which means creative food concepts. Here are some of note:
- The crème brûlée carttm “started in early 2009 (which may well make it the grandfather of the single-concept food stop in SF) in a back alley in San Francisco with a single torch and a tiny push cart”, recounts founder Curtis Kimball, known around town as the crème brûlée man. For several years, you had top follow him on Twitter so catch the cart, but now there is a permanent location in the heart of SF’s Mission district, on 24th St. The real magic begins when you order one of their creative flavor combinations (like Dulce de Leche, Chocolate, S’mores or Coconut) and out comes the blow torch, with which a perfectly caramelized finish is created. The rest of the magic comes when you take that first bite.
- Cream puffs: there are two stand-alone shops in San Francisco that sell only cream puffs; but one is a chain, so it doesn’t have an actual spot on this list (Beard Papa’s has over 250 stores in Japan and 300 worldwide, an international chain of cream puff stores started in Japan by the company Mugino Co., Ltd.). Found only in Cow Hollow (so far) Pacific Puffs on Unions St., gets 4 stars for their home-baked style handcrafted cream puffs that have been perfected over decades using an old family recipe, baked daily in signature small batches and using fresh, local ingredients. Pacific Puffs was founded in 2009 by brothers Trent and Rhys Carvolth. The story of Pacific Puffs, however, goes back to before the guys were born. Way back to the 1970s, in fact, when their mom Noreen Carvolth perfected her recipe for classic cream puffs. The toast of dinner parties and special events, Mama’s cream puffs were a smashing success! Today, the brothers are thrilled to be paying homage to their Mom’s famous dessert and fulfilling their dream of working hard, having fun, and putting a smile on the face of every customer that walks through the door. They also offer their goodies via The Puff Truck.
- Schulzies’ Bread Pudding features 108 flavors on their menu, from Biggies Figgies to Gotta Have Guiness to Magical Chocolate Malt, served to you in scoop (like a ice cream). If Rachel Ray thinks its good enough to write-up on her blog….
- The Fizzary (Mission and 25th) bills itself as an “urban menagerie of soda” but also has some throw-back candy items, all recalling the era of the corner soda fountain. Their goal is “to create a hands-on botanical brewery & soda wonderland in San Francisco”; and so they have! There are even plans to introduce a beverage museum, which is not much of a leap…. One already feels the affects of “Back to the Future” when entering, as a very contemporary concept, that of the stand-alone specialty eaterie, collides with nostalgic production methods, flavors and aesthetics.
- Cotton Candy for Grownups Pop-up- (no standing retail location so far, so follow them on FB for where and when) Sugar & Spun takes a new spin on an old favorite. With all natural, all organic, and raw ingredients, they serve interestingly flavored sugar spun with dried toppings and powders for unique fruity and savory cotton candy. Imagine Chocolate Black Sesame, Matcha Green Tea Latte, Peaches & Cream, Salted Chocolate Peanut Butter, Spiced Mango or (saving the best for last) Four Barrel Coffee!
- Not-your-Grandpa’s donut shop- Dynamo Donuts is the home of this old favorite, but all grown up. Sara Spearin, a New England Culinary School graduate and former pastry chef at some heavy-hitters like Postrio, Hawthorne Lane, Stars and Foreign Cinema, has elevated a donut to a pastry (as in “pastry chef” with 24 flavors that will having you coming back, again and again, until you have sampled every one that strikes your fancy. Here are some tempters: Chocolate Rose Geranium Hazelnut, Cornmeal Rosemary Cherry, Caramel de Sel (with orange zest and nutmeg), Bacon Maple Apple (like getting your entire breakfast flavor profile in one donut), Molasses Guinness Pear … need I go on?
Others worth mentioning:
- American Grilled Cheese- who would have imagined a restaurant build just around the concept of the all-American favorite, let’s say… 5 years ago
- The Tamale Lady- actually more of a cultural cross-over, in Mexico (and throughout the Mission District) it is common to see women selling tamales from something mobile, albeit a shopping cart or a cooler on wheels.
Did I miss your favorite single-concept food stop? Email me!