Curtis Kimball Talks About Making Crème Brûlée Cart Work

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"I feel like I have a really good idea, and if I can't make this idea work I can't make anything work," Curtis Kimball, aka Crème Brûlée Cart guy, says. Now in residence at Mission Minis, where he trades custards for commercial kitchen rent, Kimball has one of the best-known carts in San Francisco. He talked to me this week about what he hopes to do with the name he's made for himself, why that doesn't include farmers markets, and the future of the street-cart movement.

SFoodie: Where do you want to go from here?

Kimball: I want the business to be big enough to where I make more than minimum wage. I don't know how big I want it to be. I'm not into going into debt to grow the business, so I guess as big as is comfortable.

Right now, I'm just doing everything myself, and the water's at my chin. It's challenging, and I'm learning a lot about how difficult it is to run a business. People seem to think of carts as an easy way to make money ― no, it's actually hard to make money serving food. With street food you have to find places to be at; Twitter is exciting, but a lot of people don't use Twitter. Then you factor in the weather, which takes out a lot of days, and we're only out for two hours at a time at the most. Then factor in the cost of renting kitchen space. It's a much more level playing field than what restaurants imagine it is.

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I'm moving forward as a caterer. These days I do between three and four public and private events a week ― weddings and corporate events. I eventually hope to have a permanent cart setup downtown.

What about going into the farmers' markets? That's something I'm less interested in. The reason I'm into this is it makes people happy and brightens their day. There's a touch of excitement to it, not like having regular hours and regular locations. It's like an event that you're part of rather than being a once-a-week supermarket. I don't like feeling like the help, or like a carnie. I like to feel like a member of the community.

Do you see the street-cart movement peaking yet? It's hard to see any signs of it shrinking, though it's got to shrink at some point. Just learning how difficult it is to make it work weeds out a lot of people, and consumers at some point are bound to get over the trend. I've thought about that from the third month ― that the trend's going to end, and whoever's left standing will have a real business. But at the same time, you know, people have been selling tamales and empanadas on the street for years. There are definitely people doing this as a hobby or a way to meet people. They don't make any money ― they're there to hang out. Which is how I got into it. It just became more than that.

Follow us on Twitter: @SFoodie. Follow me at @jonkauffman.

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Crème Brûlée Cart

Mission and 22nd St., San Francisco, CA

Category: Restaurant

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