Gobba Gobba Hey Started With a Street Tray and Ends With Cookbooks
In his lovely essay "Never Can Say Goodbye," author and food entrepreneur Steven Gdula lays out his decision to stop his Gobba Gobba Hey baking business after 33 months, having faced a crossroads on whether to expand or focus on other pursuits.
Steven Gdula/Bloomsbury Gobs in their first incarnation (left) and the Gobba Gobba Hey cookbook.
Born on the streets of the Mission District in 2009, Gobba Gobba Hey sold "gobs," a "cake-like confection" (Gdula's words) that often got mistaken for whoopie pies, off of a tray. Back home in Pennsylvania, these were almost always of a chocolate variety, filled with plain buttercream, but Gdula utilized the bounty of California produce to create flavors like pistachio orange and lemon thyme.
Newly transplanted to San Francisco from Washington, D.C., Gdula was inspired by emerging street food mavens like the Magic Curry Cart and the Crème Brûlée Cart (brothers Brian and Curtis Kimball) and quickly became a peer. As Gdula writes:
The pace was exciting. It was exhilarating to be a part of a burgeoning movement that was being created daily as other new vendors like myself stepped onto the streets to sell their wares. But it wasn't just the people making the food who were responsible for the new scene. The food bloggers, Yelpers, local media, Twitter followers and even the curious neighbors who came to see what this mobile buffet was all about, all were part of it. We all made this thing happen. And having just relocated to San Francisco several months prior, this was my new community in more ways than one.
"I started baking gobs because no one here seemed to know what they were," Gdula told SFoodie in June 2009 as we tried our first bite in Gdula's own kitchen. "I handed them out to neighbors and friends to taste test, and then when I finally worked up the nerve I took them out the door and started baking it to the streets."
Within months, Gdula had his permits and was in full swing at a commercial kitchen, baking for street food functions and even corporate events that needed hundreds or sometimes thousands of gobs at once. Once a freelance writer covering music, Gdula chose the Ramones-toasting name of Gobba Gobba Hey and created special gob "box sets" with liner notes for various holidays. He even shouted out the Talking Heads with a promotional button that says, "Cupcake killer, qu'est-ce que c'est?"
Not only did he beguile Bay Area customers with his remixed Pennsylvania import for two years, he convinced Bloomsbury USA, who had published his first book
The Warmest Room in the House: How the Kitchen Became the Heart of the Twentieth-Century American Home in 2007, to give him a contract to write his third book on gobs. Gobba Gobba Hey: A Gob Cookbook emerged in August with a fresh gob recipe for each week of the year. Gdula shared his secrets for cakes, syrups, and other fillings, and offered recipes ranging from traditional chocolate and vanilla to far-out versions such as horchata with almond lime filling, apple chestnut, coconut with ube filling, and even bacon gobs.
While the Kimball brothers still continue to grow their businesses (Crème Brûlée Cart is now a truck, for example), many of Gdula's colleagues in food cartery have collapsed their folding tables in favor of steadier work. But others have channeled their creativity into related notions. Gdula's friend Natalie Galatzer, for example, also recently retired her Bike Basket Pies business, but not before self-publishing an endearingly cute booklet of her most popular recipes. These two publications are lovely examples of how this scene thrives on imagination and adaptability.
Today, Gdula trades the oven mitts for his trusted pen. With late night hours baking at a lonely commercial kitchen a thing of the past, he'll have more time to work on writing. His current project finds him pulling together a collection of essays based on cooking his way through the recipes that his father left behind.
Sad as we are about Gobba Gobba Hey's final curtain call as a food business, Steven Gdula's cookbook is a lasting achievement testifying to the power of daring to dream. And a pretty neat crib sheet from which to try to recreate the magic.