Joy Ride

May 06, 2010 at 12am

It’s amazing how pie can bring so much happiness to the world. I mean who doesn’t love flakey fruit and savory-filled deliciousness? But you can double that joy when each tasty treat is lovingly handmade and delivered on bike, as I discovered on a recent morning when I followed Natalie Galatzer, the 26-year-old brainchild behind Bike Basket Pies, on her weekly lunchtime delivery route.   

I first met Natalie in February, when she and I were both guest bartenders at Elixir for a Rocket Dog Rescue fundraiser. Being a fellow dog lover already gave her some cred in my book, but after I found out about Bike Basket Pies, I was completely sold on this girl. Although she already had two jobs at the time, she started her small-batch business in June as a just-for-fun side project. She was already spending her free time making food for friends, dumpster diving, crocheting, and involved with other DIY resourceful and crafty stuff, but when she got the brilliant idea of making pies and delivering via bicycle, the idea was more than just a passing fancy. Hell yes for us!

When I contacted Natalie about joining her to “pedal” her pies, she was all about it, excited to have company on her mostly solo venture, which has her waking up on Tuesdays before the butt crack of dawn and biking from her Mission district home to Noodle Theory, an Asian fusion restaurant in the Marina, where she also waits tables as a regular day job. Natalie says she’s lucky to have a supportive boss. She’s worked out a deal with him to use the licensed kitchen space on the day the restaurant is closed. 

We agreed to meet at Noodle Theory, when the pies were cooled, set, and ready to go. This particular morning was a little sketchy; Natalie had some trouble with the oven’s pilot light, which pushed her an hour off schedule, and to top it off, the forecast predicted rain. Although Natalie delivers her pies rain or shine (unless weather conditions make it completely unsafe), she was worried that I’d have a terrible time in a downpour. She was probably right, but we were lucky; although a light sprinkle came down briefly as I rode from my apartment in the Western Addition to Chestnut Street, the sun eventually vanquished the rain. 

I arrived at Noodle Theory at 10:30 a.m., a half hour before we would begin deliveries. Natalie, a loquacious curly-haired brunette, let me into the restaurant and led me to the kitchen where she was cleaning up. I couldn’t help but notice she was wearing a T-shirt from SF vegan bakery, Sugar Beat Sweets. A “competitor” if you choose to see it that way, but Natalie doesn’t, and she likes the shirt’s message: “I’m at the muffin top of my game.” She warned me that she’d had only a piece of toast, washed down by a whole pot of coffee that morning. This was apparent as she wrapped up her cleaning duties with the speed of a hummingbird and the efficiency of an ant.

On an average week, Natalie receives about 10–13 orders, ranging from 50–120 muffin-sized handheld pies and one to two full-size pies. On Sundays, she starts gathering her mostly organic and locally sourced ingredients from Rainbow, farmers’ markets, and her friends’ gardens. The Meyer lemons in this week’s Shaker lemon pie, for instance, were picked from a pal’s tree on Capp Street. Along with lemon, Natalie was also offering sweet apple-strawberry along with potato, leek, cheddar pies on the day that I joined her. Vegans, do not fret – Natalie can make most of her pies nondairy upon request.

When I arrived, she had already sent off four delivery orders with Chaz, her regular bike messenger from TCB Courier. Natalie started using TCB when she had more customers than she could personally deliver to. It was a difficult decision because part of what she enjoys so much about her business is seeing where the pies go and meeting the people who eat them. Fortunately, Chaz is a reliable messenger and she’s gotten feedback from customers about his friendly service. If she can’t deliver them herself, Chaz is the next best thing.

At 11 a.m., Natalie latched two pie-filled, orange waterproof panniers to her Panasonic road bike. We were ready for business! I had installed a front bike basket because Natalie thought about loading me up with some of the goodies, but we ended up not needing it. Even without any pies in it, the basket was an extra weight on my bike and created resistance in the wind, especially scary as we booked it through the Broadway tunnel.

Our first stop brought us to Howard and First Street. We locked our bikes and walked into a huge glass building with a strangely empty and oversized lobby. Although Chaz normally delivers to this location, Natalie somehow knew where to go in this office wasteland. Inside a smaller room, we approached a reception desk where Natalie explained that she was dropping off food. A group of people began to hover around us, curious about who she was and what she was delivering.  

A middle-aged man asked, “Do you love your job?” in a way that made me think he didn’t love his and was looking for inspiration. Upon hearing about the pies, the receptionist shot off questions like, “Where your menu at?” and “How many varieties you got?” Everyone was impressed that her pies were handmade and hand-delivered. I left the building feeling great, riding the wave of positivity that exuded from the experience.  

The next delivery was also to a repeat customer and was almost directly across the street from the first. In fact, four of our six deliveries were conveniently located on the 400–600 block of Howard Street, something that normally doesn’t happen. Natalie finds herself mostly pedaling in SOMA, FiDi, and the Mission, but she’ll sometimes stray from those areas if an order is substantial enough to make it worth her while.  

The only neighborhoods she won’t deliver to are in the Sunset, the Richmond, parts of Bernal Heights, and anything at the top of a large hill. It’s nothing personal, it’s just tough for a primarily one-person operation to go beyond the flatlands within the lunch hour.

Many of Natalie’s customers are friends, or become friends shortly after meeting her. When she schedules her rides, Natalie factors in some chattiness with many of her customers. Such was the case with our next three customers. Melissa Severini of GitHub, a web-hosting company, first met Natalie at a San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Bike-In Movie night, where Natalie was hawking her pies. Soon after, Melissa was having deliveries made to her home in the Mission. This day was the first delivery to Melissa at her new office, so she invited Natalie up to see the digs. While we were up there, Melissa paid for her pies using Square, a handy-dandy credit-card reader that works with her iPhone.  

Another friend, Janet, was our last customer on Howard Street. The sister of one of Natalie’s friends, Janet had already tasted Natalie’s pies, but it was her first time ordering a lunch delivery. She was stoked when we arrived because it was her last chance to partake in flour before Passover.   

Our fifth stop took us to Twitter HQ on Folsom Street. As we walked into the modern reception area filled with mid-century inspired furniture and modern décor flourishes, the receptionist welcomed us and asked if we wanted any drinks, motioning to a small fridge stocked with fancy iced teas and high-end natural drinks. Glad to see dot-com perks still live on, I helped myself to a jasmine green tea, but Natalie was focused on business. She delivered orders to two friends in the building, and as we were about to leave, a couple Twitter folks stopped Natalie, wanting to know more about her pies.  

They salivated over the goods, especially when Natalie described them as having “hella flakey crust.” One woman, Olivia, exclaimed, “I really like pie, and I really like things delivered on bikes!” Ironically, Square, a product developed by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, wasn’t working while in the building, so the women, who didn’t have any cash on them, couldn’t buy any pie. Still, everyone – including the friendly receptionist – took business cards, with promises of ordering in the future.

Our last stop took us to the seventh floor of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency building on South Van Ness. It was Natalie’s first time delivering pies to this location. The receptionist, who took the delivery, was also very excited about her pies and asked for a card. I marveled at how friendly everyone was, from security guard to receptionist to customer. It definitely helps that Natalie’s a cute girl, but I really think there’s something magical about the power of pie.

Before we parted ways, Natalie gave me one of her leftover handheld pies. She makes a few extra, just in case any get damaged before delivery. I chose a golden brown, fist-sized Shaker lemon pie, which was, just like she said, hella flakey, and perfectly tart and sweet with visible chunks of lemon – rinds and all. The words of Special Agent Dale Cooper came to mind as I gobbled it down: “Damn good pie.” 

Have a hankering for pie on a Tuesday afternoon? You’re in luck, but just make sure to email your order to natalie@bikebasketpies.com by noon on Monday. Natalie (or Chaz) delivers on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. By request, she occasionally (although rarely) delivers on some evenings and Wednesdays. Bike Basket Pies will be a part of the Taste the Mission Tour , led by epicurean Lisa Rogovin on May 8 and 22.

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