Wholesome Bakery's Mandy Harper Rolls Out Big Dreams

Kimberly Sandie
Mandy Harper's foray into the street-cart scene may have felt like a detour at first, but she has parlayed Wholesome Bakery into a stall at  331 Cortland, the new artisan-foods marketplace in Bernal Heights, and has much, much bigger goals. Here are a few extracts from the interview I conducted with Harper in preparation for this week's article on street-cart vendors trying to go legit.

On starting up her street cart:

About a year ago, I found I was always looking for healthy goodies and couldn't find them, so I said to myself, I'm going to try to make some on my own. My friends liked them and told me I should try to sell them. I had my cookies (under the brand "Harpers Healthy Desserts") at Rainbow, Real Food stores, and Valencia Whole Foods. Then I was just walking down the street one day and saw Magic Curry Kart. I emailed [Magic Curry vendor] Brian [Kimball] and asked, can I come do this with you? I went with him to the Gay Pride Parade event in Dolores Park. It just kept going.
Once I started doing street food, I stopped selling at the grocery stores ― I had broken my arm in a bike accident, and couldn't bake very often. At first I was going out once a week, but then I said to myself, I want to do this all the time. So I started trying to find events and to get in touch with galleries to see if they might want to have food carts there.

Then Debra Resnik from 331 Cortland approached me last fall. She hand-picked everyone in the market, and she wanted to have healthy, vegan, wheat-free goodies there. I chose to do it because, first off, it's the first of its kind. And though she's the owner and rents the stalls to us, it operates like a food collective for local companies. Trying to get the capital to open your own place is insane. Once you consider the permitting, the tiniest little details the city pays attention to ― at 331 Cortland, the city told us the paper towel holder in the bathroom was a few inches too high ― this seemed like an amazing opportunity.

On her arrangement at 331 Cortland:

I share my stand with Dezy's Drinks and Sour Flour. I wanted to give the opportunity to these great, great vendors. Also, I can't be in two places at once, but I want to be open as long as possible. People are going to want stuff in the morning and after dinner. I thought, if I bring in two other people, I can supplement the time and rent, and it just made sense. Now each of us is responsible for a certain shift. I'm there personally three days a week, but I have two business partners ― my CSO and my COO, Pierre and Scott. They each work a shift there so I can go and bake, and not have a breakdown from exhaustion.

On whether she's had to raise prices to pay for the rent at La Victoria's commercial kitchen and 331 Cortland:

Not really. For the most part, I'm trying to keep them at a fair price. I want people to have these goodies. It's important for people to ingest wholesome, nutritional things rather than junk. We use the best of the best-quality ingredients, but I want to make these things friendly, not just priced appropriately for yuppies.

This was always my next step. This is what I wanted to do. It's been such a wonderful journey. It's a ton of work, but I enjoy it ― it's not just my job.

On expanding her business from here:

I wanted to start small, and I wanted to get situated. Once we are settled, I'll be taking specialty orders again and wholesaling. [Ed. note: Harper says Rainbow Grocery has already approached her about selling her wares in the co-op again.] I want to have another kiosk in the Union Street-Fillmore area in a couple of years. Eventually, I want to be located throughout California.

At the same time, I want to continue with the shared kitchen scene. I support the idea of not creating wasted energy. It's unnecessary to build a bakery for just one thing. It also keeps our prices lower because we don't have to spend so much money on things. Given the economy, it's also safer right now to work with other people.

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

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