The more you reduce, reuse, recycle, revamp, repurpose, and redefine, the better. It sounds like some corny PSA, but the need for environmental consciousness is anything but clichéd. Fortunately, there’s always a supply of local characters that keep the planet in mind while they’re delivering quality, artisanal goods. Enter SF’s recent emergence of bicycle delivery businesses.
As fast as the food truck explosion planted its mobile roots in every corner of the city, its bicycle-driven brethren are grabbing SF’s bánh mì–hungry, caffeine-jonesing masses by the handlebars. These eco-visionaries travel the 7x7 far and wide, bearing the fruits of their labor on nothing but two wheels and a set of pedals.
Bicycle Coffee Co.
If you’re a coffee distributor in San Francisco, you’ve got your job cut out for you. Make it organic, make it fair trade, and make it strong. And not only has Bicycle Coffee Co. got this down to a science – they’ve also brought their bike-powered factor to the table.
The idea was born in a Panamanian bar in the midst of a Latin American pilgrimage, where the Bicycle Coffee crew searched for land to develop a completely self-sustainable community (think tree houses and organic farming). They interacted with Panamanian organic coffee farmers and were inspired by their practices, so they dropped the eco-village plan and headed to the Bay Area to deliver a dose of caffeine del sur.
In June 2009, the Bicycle Coffee crew began with an Arabica bean and a green business model. Coffee is difficult to produce entirely carbon footprint-free, since it has to be grown in tropical climates with rich soil, but Brad and the rest of his team do everything they can to treat the trade with respect and avoid disrupting good ol’ Mother Earth. They buy only from family farms that pay livable wages and grow completely organic beans in the dense jungles of Central and South America, where they’re harvested meticulously to ensure peak ripeness. Everything is done by hand – team member Mike Kirkman even built their own 20-pound drum roaster.
Brad brewed me up a cup of the medium roast that expertly captures the fresh richness of the Amazon, from the hills of Peru near Machu Picchu. They also have a dark roast (a Bolivian strain that’s both floral and chocolaty) and a decaf roast, which they distribute all throughout SF, Oakland, and Berkeley on two wheels.
SF’s merging of cultures is the perfect landscape for a bicycle delivery market, Brad tells me, because the city is defined by its marriage of other communities – where bike-powered delivery has been operating for some time now. (Like in India, where they’ve been vending chai via bike since the two-wheeler was invented.)
Bánh Mì Love You Long Time
When Jess – the sandwich-molding maven behind the year-old Bánh Mì Love You Long Time – relocated to San Francisco from Sonoma, she was a little disengaged with the city and in search of some comforting community. With the realization that food equals happy people, and happy people equals happy community, she decided to venture to the Panhandle to hawk her homemade Vietnamese sandwiches to park-goers in need of a bite. People were receptive to her tasty curry spice chicken (marinated in fresh ginger, lemongrass, and curry powder), so she developed more recipes and hit the streets by bicycle with sandwiches in tow – including her new favorite, a slow-cooked pulled pork bánh mì topped with a green onion sauté, sandwiched between a crispy baguette.
“When people want food, they want it now. With a bicycle, I can bike over to the exact location they’re sitting in Dolores Park,” Jess said, as she handed me a vegan lemongrass tofu sandwich from her bánh mì bounty, cleverly packaged in an Anchor Steam six-pack box to ensure optimum transportability. With San Francisco’s growing support for two-wheeled travelers, Jess says it’s liberating to carry and deliver food by bike.
I met up with Christina, founder of Farmgirl Flowers, at the San Francisco Wholesale Flower Mart, whose understated SOMA warehouse exterior contrasts the heaps of fluorescent-colored flowers hidden inside. Since November 2010, Farmgirl has been sourcing flora from local growers at the Flower Mart, bringing SF vendors back to their roots (ha!), rather than contributing to the imported flower industry where unfair wages, harmful chemicals, and harsh conditions are all-too consistent patterns.
Farmgirl Flowers uses Cupid Courier – the only co-op-owned bike courier service in the city – to deliver Christina’s arrangements while sticking to its green ethics. If San Francisco’s in the address, it’s fair game for the couriers, who load 15 to 20 arrangements at once on their cargo bikes and hand-deliver them for an endearingly kitschy way to receive a bouquet.
Farmgirl also sources recycled vases from defunct florists and wraps bouquets in burlap collected from Ritual Coffee. Christina even gives a donation to a local nonprofit for each burlap bouquet that leaves her meticulous hands. With this level of sustainability you’d think the buds would bust the bank – but Farmgirl keeps prices low because each and every SF-er that’s barely scraping by (or spending all their cash at Zeitgeist) should be able to send flowers to people they love.
Boozely's Pickles and Preserves
Brad began his pickle peddling two years ago in the street food scene, with his DIY goods laid out on a blanket for passersby to stumble upon. Soon SF-dwellers caught on – as Boozely’s products started flying off the shelves (blanket, rather), Brad commanded the attention of some major SF institutions. Zeitgeist now features his pickled green beans in their infamous Bloody Marys, and Bi-Rite, Cheese Plus, and Tony's Market have picked up his signature cukes, green beans, okra, and Brussels sprouts.
Brad’s been perfecting the art and science of pickling since his grandfather taught him as a kid, and now each densely packed jar is his own labor of love, canned and distributed by bicycle himself. He combines the perfect ratio of vinegar, salt, sugar, and spices before cramming in as many veggies as a Mason jar can handle, then bikes or walks the goods to their various destinations. And there’s an element of fearlessness – the farthest he’s traveled by bike is to the other side of Twin Peaks, and a one-time case delivery to Marin County.
Brad’s perfectly happy with waiting tables at Florio and canning okra on the side, rather than seeking to expand his Boozely’s empire further than his living room and the cart rigged to his bike. It's difficult to resist growth-beyond-bike in a city where micro-businesses are at the top of their game. But Brad’s among the dedicated few who return to the roots of their ventures by doing everything by hand.
Magic Curry Kart
The Magic Curry Kart is legendary. Brian Kimball, aka the Magic Curry Man, began serving his portable eats at the peak of SF’s street food uprise of 2009. A few generations of food cart rigs and countless orders of Thai curry later, Brian’s keeping busy with a Whole Foods line of his Magic Curry Paste, a Magic Cooking Klass series, and appearances at events with his signature spices.
What began as a part-time gig cooking outside his Mission dwelling has evolved into quite an enterprise. Now that he’s built a bike-powered setup in order to reach more people, he’s trekked across the city with a myriad of curried cuisine, from Southeast Asian favorites like pumpkin Thai curry and bánh mì, to the stranger menu of Magic Curry Kart originals, like curry burgers, breakfast sandwiches, and tacos. He’s even hauled his gear to Oakland. And Burning Man (twice).
Instead of jumping on the energy-demanding food truck bandwagon, “I decided to stick with something I feel more supportive of,” Brian tells me, as he’s staying true to the bike ethic that inspired him in the first place.
The Magic Curry Man is now working on a Kickstarter campaign to develop what he’ll coin the “Magic Cooking Kart” – a bike-powered food truck/co-op endeavor. He’ll stop short of nothing less than a revolution for the street food industry, with pedal-power on the front line.
Sure, pickles won’t save the world. And there’s only so far you can get on two wheels and an extra-strong cup o’ joe. But these bicycling vendors have started something powerful, and I think a rewind to manual endeavors of the past could make the planet’s future a lot less daunting. Eco-apocalypse, meet your pedal-powered match.
Tweet to Bánh Mì Love You Long Time to order a vegan tofu, pork, or chicken sandwich. Order a Farmgirl Flowers organic bouquet for your special someone (or yourself, no judgment). Find Boozely’s creations at Bi-Rite, Cheese Plus, and Zeitgeist. Check out what the Magic Curry Kart is up to on Twitter, and find Brian’s Magic Curry Paste at Whole Foods. Pick up some Bicycle Coffee Co. beans at Real Food, Bi-Rite, and the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market.