Two Berkeley Moms Try Their Hand At Street Eats

by Sarah Henry on August 27, 2010 · 28 comments

in berkeley bites,food businesses,food events,street food

The Twitter handle pretty much sums things up. Two food-obsessed moms try to have their cake and eat it too: Start a food truck and still be home with the kids.

Meet the newest truck on the block to hit the streets of Emeryville, in the East Bay of San Francisco. You can’t miss the baby-blue colored vehicle emblazened with the Ebbett’s Good To Go insignia. And there’s no mistaking this mobile food biz for some roach coach come to dish up cheap, tasteless chow.

These mamas are peddling a trio of gourmet sandwiches the Yelpers are already barking about: Spicy Cuban pulled pork with ham, gruyere, jalapeno relish and chipotle mayo; Guinness and coffee braised short ribs with horseradish mayo, pickled red onion and watercress; and shredded tofu and Vietnamese-style Banh Mi with house-baked Hodo Soy Beanery tofu, pickled carrots, cucs, piquillo peppers, spicy pesto and sriracha mayo, all served on Acme Bread rolls, all $8, with a complimentary chocolate chip cookie to go. Grab ‘em while they last.

Shari Washburn, 42, lives in North Berkeley with her husband and daughter Etta. Suzanne Schafer, 46, lives in the ambiguous border area between The Uplands in Berkeley and Rockridge in Oakland with hubbie and son Beck. (Ebbett’s is a mash-up of the childrens’ names.) Their kids attend the same school and are good friends. While hanging out on the playground, these two stay-at-home mothers cooked up the idea of starting a sandwich cart together.

Three weeks into their launch the lunch ladies will whip up around 1,000 sammies this weekend at the Eat Real Food Festival in Oakland, along with more than 80 other street food sellers. Oh, and did I mention Washburn is out of town so Schafer will be flying solo? She’s recruited a crew to help prep and get those sangers into hungry hands as quickly as humanly possible.

You can follow the trials and tribulations of these two novice street food vendors (think permit problems, parking challenges, and a last minute name change) on the often witty blog written by Washburn.

I spoke with the budding street food entrepreneurs several weeks ago at an impromptu picnic (sandwiches, of course) near the Julia Morgan Theater.

Why start a food cart selling sandwiches?

Washburn: We have no formal kitchen training but we both love food. We wanted to start our own food-related business and we thought a food truck was a simple, more affordable way to do that rather than shelling out big money for a brick-and-mortar place. We both have husbands who work long hours and young kids, so we wanted something that would work with a school pick-up schedule. And we did our research and we felt that there wasn’t anywhere in town selling really good sandwiches, so there was a market we could fill.

You live in Berkeley but you’ve chosen to take the truck to Emeryville in your first few weeks — why?

Washburn: We feel like that area is underserved by good food options and there are several big companies there, like Pixar, so it’s a good place to bring in foot traffic. Other local food carts, such as Liba, Jons Street Eats, and CupKates, have all done well there. Emeryville is an easier place to get a permit and it’s easier to park there too. In Oakland it’s either International Boulevard or private property. Berkeley is a tough, though not impossible, city to get a permit.

Do you have a favorite local food store?

Schafer: Star Grocery. This little market has been in business since 1922 and it offers high quality produce from local farms like Full Belly, Knoll, and Happy Girl. They really know the growers. I’ve been going there for years, it’s got a corner store feel and yet it sells local artisan products like June Taylor preserves and Phoenix Pastificio olive bread, and local, organic, sustainable meat and dairy.

What’s good about the food scene in Berkeley?

Schafer: Everything. Without even trying too hard everything grows here. When I travel I’m reminded that we live in the best U.S. city for food and produce.

Washburn: There’s an emerging underground food culture whether it’s people like us serving street food or Samin Nosrat‘s Pop-Up General Store. Many of the pop-up vendors are Berkeley chefs.

What’s your schedule like and where do you see the truck heading next?

Washburn: Our schedule is a work in progress but right now we’re in Emeryville from 11:30 until 2:00 on Tuesday at 53rd & Hollis Streets, Wednesday at 64th & Hollis, and Friday also 64th & Hollis, when CupKate’s is there, including today.

Ideally, we’d like to find a few places outside of Emeryville. Starting in September we have something lined up for every other Friday in the city at a soon-to-be announced location. We’d love to be in Oakland, maybe near Summit Medical Center or Kaiser or on the Cal Campus. I look at those Watergate Towers and think what a food wasteland that area is. We’re open to hearing from people who want delicious lunch options about good places for us.

(Photos of Schafer & Washburn in kitchen, logo, and sandwich: Kristen Policy. Photo of truck: Cathy Stanley.)

[This post originally appeared on Berkeleyside.]

You might also like:

Street Food Scene Mostly Bypasses Berkeley

June Taylor’s Artisan Way With Fruit

Berkeley Bites: Minh Tsai, Hodo Soy Beanery

Berkeley Bites: Samin Nosrat, Ex-Eccolo Chef and Co-Creator or the Pop-Up General Store

Street Cart Cuisine: Think Global, Eat Local


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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

MarthaAndMe August 27, 2010 at 10:35 am

Love the food truck/cart concept so much, but it doesn’t work so well in Buffalo, NY where there are many months when no one is outside!

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Sarah Henry August 27, 2010 at 10:41 am

Good point M&Me! I know things slow down a bit around here Dec-Feb but we’re blessed with a long outdoor friendly window, it’s true.

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Sheryl August 27, 2010 at 12:40 pm

What a fun idea and a great way to work AND be home with the kids. I’ll bet the sandwiches are fabulous; you can tell by the enthusiasm these ladies have for their joint venture.

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Sarah Henry August 28, 2010 at 8:27 am

Yes, they are indeed an enthusiastic pair and I think it shows in the end product.

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Alexandra August 27, 2010 at 5:02 pm

Doing something like this with a friend, as a young mom, would have appealed to me. Hats off to Schafer and Washburn!
Alexandra´s last [type] ..Finding Inspiration at Dyer Pond

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Sarah Henry August 28, 2010 at 8:28 am

They may well inspire other moms of young ones to contemplate their own reinvention — culinary or otherwise.

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Jane Boursaw August 28, 2010 at 8:43 am

Oh this is fabulous. Love it. If you guys have a chance, check out a wildly entertaining movie called ‘The Happy Poet’ (http://www.happypoetmovie.com/). It’s a feature film, but plays like a documentary, about one guy’s attempts to open an organic food stand.
Jane Boursaw´s last [type] ..New Movie Friday- Takers- The Last Exorcism- Avatar Special Edition – Watch the Trailers

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Sarah Henry August 28, 2010 at 10:30 pm

Thanks for this film tip, Jane. Look forward to watching it — sounds right on point.

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Kris Bordessa August 28, 2010 at 9:17 am

I love this! Those sandwiches sound so tasty, and I have to say, as I was reading I thought, “Hm. This is something I could do!”
Kris Bordessa´s last [type] ..On My Honor- Hawaii’s Roadside Stands

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Sarah Henry August 28, 2010 at 10:31 pm

That’s part of the appeal, I think, of what these two gals have going. It sounds tasty, fun — and doable — though there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work to get a sandwich truck up and running.

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MyKidsEatSquid August 28, 2010 at 9:54 am

The spicy cuban sounds like my kind of sandwich. I love the whole street truck food movement–you can pick up your sandwich then just eat outside. So cool. I have a friend in Boulder, stay-at-home mom who has her own cupcake vendor business.

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Sarah Henry August 29, 2010 at 7:59 am

Yes, MKES, it’s a great way to eat good eats without blowing the budget.

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Merr August 29, 2010 at 8:47 am

Their whole concept works on so many levels: food enjoyment, nutrition, novelty, friendship, innovation, maybe even a little travel (!), neighborhood connections, etc…the list goes on.
Merr´s last [type] ..The 5-Question AuthorCreative Interview- Marian Henley

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Sarah Henry September 1, 2010 at 9:54 pm

Yes, they’ve found a way to have fun, take risks, pursue their passion, and run a business too, a good model for all of us to follow, to be sure.

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Melanie @ Frugal Kiwi August 29, 2010 at 3:17 pm

Way to follow your dreams, ladies. I hope your biz takes off beyond your wildest imaginings.
Melanie @ Frugal Kiwi´s last [type] ..The Big Winner

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Sarah Henry September 1, 2010 at 9:56 pm

It’s a classic post-kid reinvention story, isn’t it? I’m hoping their biz does well too. Just today the gal I see at physiotherapy was raving about the Cuban sandwiches she had at the Eat Real Festival. When I asked if they happened to be served out of a baby blue colored truck she started nodding affirmatively.

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Alisa Bomwna August 30, 2010 at 5:57 am

I am constantly in awe of the options you have. Dang. The best food cart we have around here is the ice cream truck.
Alisa Bomwna´s last [type] ..13 Communication Tips from Writers

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Sarah Henry September 1, 2010 at 9:58 pm

Speaking of ice cream trucks: If you find yourself in Seattle on your book tour, Alisa, do check out Molly Moon, an ice cream truck that rocks with incredible artisan flavors.

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Jennifer Margulis August 30, 2010 at 9:33 am

Awesome. I’m totally impressed with what they’re doing. I love how they are managing to have a truck and STILL be home in time for the kids…
Jennifer Margulis´s last [type] ..The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

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Sarah Henry September 1, 2010 at 10:00 pm

You’re right, Jennifer, it’s the kind of balancing act that many moms of young kids struggle to be able to pull off.

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Shari August 30, 2010 at 8:52 pm

Thanks for all of the good wishes and enthusiasm. The kids started school today and we were able to pick our kids up at the regular time. They’ll be in after school activities, as usual, which will give us some extra time to get everything done.

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Sarah Henry September 1, 2010 at 10:02 pm

Hi Shari, Keen to hear a report from the Ebbett’s crew on how things went at Eat Real. Several people mentioned trying your sandwiches (see comments above). And thank the stars above for after-school activities.

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Nurit - 1 family. friendly. food. September 1, 2010 at 9:40 pm

(Was nice to meet you at IFBC by the food truck :) )
A food truck…This is (one of) my dreams. Wish I had a potential partner to start up this sort of food biz.
Nurit – 1 family. friendly. food.´s last [type] ..Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef cookbook- interview with Shauna James Ahern

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Sarah Henry September 1, 2010 at 10:04 pm

Lovely to meet you as well, Nurit.

Hold onto that dream — and keep your eyes and ears open for a potential food truck partner — you’re moving in the right circles for one to emerge, methinks.

Good luck!

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