This year, Williams-Sonoma is proud to sponsor the San Francisco Street Food Festival, a celebration of great food, talent and entrepreneurship in the culinary world. On Saturday, we’re joining the more than 80 owner-operated vendors dishing out tastes of their most delicious eats, from Vietnamese banh mi to homemade tamales to creme brulee. Bay Area readers, stop by our booth to taste our selection of salts and oils and see a knife skills demonstration, all while tasting some of the city’s best street food!
Now in its fifth year, the San Francisco Street Food Festival gathers small business owners and renowned chefs cooking out of food trucks and carts, pop-up restaurants and traditional storefronts. It’s organized by La Cocina, a food business incubator that cultivates low-income entrepreneurs to help them succeed, providing commercial kitchen space, technical assistance and market opportunities.
“We’re excited to support La Cocina because we care about small business and individual food producers,” says Jean Armstrong, Williams-Sonoma’s Brand Marketing Director.
Three days of festivities kick off with Friday’s Night Market, an evening of music, games and, of course, food from some of the top chefs in San Francisco (think Traci Des Jardins‘ pork ribs with tomatillo). The main event lasts all day Saturday, with vendors offering both large ($8) and small plates ($3), so there are plenty of tasting opportunities — see them all here. For our part, we’re looking forward to sampling samosas from Curry Up Now, fried pickled green beans from Jarred, pho rolls from Rice Paper Scissors, chocolate babka from Wise Sons Deli… the list goes on!
On Sunday, the festival wraps up with a Food & Entrepreneurship Conference , where panelists from the food community will lead interactive conversations on the importance and economics of food businesses.
If you’re in the area, come by to eat some tasty food, support a good cause and get inspired! We talked to La Cocina’s Executive Director Caleb Zigas and Events and Marketing Coordinator Michelle Fernandez for the full scoop — read on to learn what they’re looking forward to this weekend.
What’s the story behind the street food festival? How did it start?
When we sat down to envision the festival, we all thought… block party. That first year, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves in to. We thought we’d close our block off, sell some food, sell some drink and celebrate our entrepreneurs. And then it just kind of went from there. The vision of the event has remained fairly stable since year 1; a celebration of entrepreneurship, a focus on the informal and formal owner-operated food marketplaces and an inclusive and accessible event.
Every year we’ve played with layout, vendors and so forth, but it all comes back to the same thing; how do we host an event that celebrates our entrepreneurs, interacts with this complicated city and neighborhood in an insightful way and benefits La Cocina’s businesses in their quest for economic freedom. As the event has grown, some of those stories have gotten more difficult to tell. There are concerns that La Cocina and the neighborhood get lost in the outside vendors and the influx of people, respectively. There’s concern that the more vendors there are the less of the pie there is for individual vendors, and so forth and so on. And we’re always looking for better ideas.
More than anything, it’s not just some little thing that we do any more. As an organization, we get very few breaks for this event, and it’s now over 3/4 a mile of street space for one day. We have only 8 employees in our organization, so being able to do something like is really a testament not only to their efforts, energy and capacity but also to those same factors in our participants, the vendors we work with and our volunteers.
Tell us about the vendors and their small businesses – what’s special/unique about them?
La Cocina, as an organization, believes that many of the best cooks in any city are hidden under our noses. They are the women (and, yes, they are most often women) who support their families through the food that they make. They work the margins of the economy, but refine their product to a specific niche market. When they come to La Cocina, the idea is to translate that success into the broader marketplace. To see their truly impressive entrepreneurial spirit rewarded. They are driven, talented and exceptional, and in that way they are like so many other entrepreneurs. In that they are taking this risk and doing this for the opportunity of economic freedom, well, that’s fairly special.
Where do the proceeds go?
All proceeds from the Night Market benefit the incubator programming at La Cocina. All profits from the festival go to the same cause. Importantly, however, your dollars spent at the festival go to the entrepreneur themselves. That’s an important part of the event!
What are some of the dishes/vendors you’re most looking forward to this year? Any don’t miss things?
We’re just excited to eat one (or two, or three…) of everything but some definite stand outs include:
D’Maize Catering – Husband and wife duo Luis and Zenaida launched last year with El Salvadorean delicious and we’re so excited to see what they do this year.
El Pipila – Named after a Mexican folklore character called El Pipila who guarded a town in the Mexican War of Independence, Guadalupe Guerrero says her business is “a guardian of flavor.” She’ll launch this year with amazing cactus-topped sopes, or a type of chubby tortilla.
Minnie Bell’s Soul Movement – Fernay McPherson launched her soul food business at last year’s festival and now she’s in her truck. It’s just an excellent opportunity to have a platform and show her fan base how much her business has grown in the last year.
Jim n’ Nick’s BBQ, Skylight Inn BBQ, Scott’s BBQ, Helen’s BBQ at the Night Market – They’ve come all the way from Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, and North Carolina to serve 4 whole hogs in the American South region. They are not to be missed!
Aedan Fermented Foods – Mariko Grady is one La Cocina’s newest entrepreneur and her specialty is shio-koji, a type of fermented rice fungus marinade that she sells to Bar Tartine and other San Francisco restaurants. I’ve had her chicken yakitori about a million times in the office thanks to recipe testing and I love it every time. This should definitely be a stop!
Can you share a La Cocina success story?
At this year’s festival, we encourage you to find Bini’s Kitchen. Bini began cooking to support her son, and would deliver Nepalese food via the Internet. Since she has joined La Cocina (at last year’s event!) she has grown her business tremendously, cooking over 15,000 momo (Nepalese dumplings) in this week alone!