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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

How S.F. Food Vendors Prepare For an Event Like Outside Lands

Posted By on Wed, Aug 21, 2013 at 11:30 AM

  • Lou Bustamante
If you thought getting ready for a few days at Outside Lands was hard enough, imagine the planning involved in being one of the 72 food vendors this past year. We wanted to get a behind the scene's look at what's involved in putting together food for an event the size of Outside Lands.

See also:

Food Truck Bite of the Week: Finding Home with Laksa at Azalina's Malaysian

Food Truck Bite of the Week: Smoking Out at 4505 Meats

Food Truck Bite of the Week: Getting Hapa'd up with Hapa SF

We visited four different vendors: Azalina's Malaysian, 4505 Meats, Hapa SF, and Tacolicious to get a full spectrum of participants from small pop-up only to multiple restaurant locations.

Not surprisingly, there were some universal strategies among the vendors. The first was a reefer truck* that holds all the prepared food for the three days of the event. Not having to fight the crowds each day to bring in food is key. The second is a pared down menu that cuts prep time and creates an economy of scale for planning and serving. The third were the surprising number of volunteers who worked shifts in exchange for entry into the event, and even more impressive were the number of folks who eventually became full-time employees for some of the vendors.

Azalina Eusope and her Malaysian Nachos - LOU BUSTAMANTE
  • Lou Bustamante
  • Azalina Eusope and her Malaysian Nachos

Azalina's Malaysian

Menu: Malaysian Nachos (vegan or chicken)

Azalina Eusope's first Outside Lands experience two years ago was a big one. It was a learning experience about the kind of food that sells well at these kinds of events; her unfamiliar-sounding Curry Bomb (a chicken curry sandwich of sorts) didn't sell well. It was also her first time going to a concert -- ever. "I grew in Malaysia, in a village, and we grew up only accustomed to and excited [by] street performers," Eusope says. "So being [at Outside Lands] doing something is just beyond my imagination is wickedly rewarding for me."

For Eusope, prep begins by doing math. Lots of it. She begins by dividing the sold-out crowd number by the number of vendors, and then works backwards to find her break-even point and plans from there. Prep for the event begins six days ahead, with the nonperishables and scales up leading to the first day of the event.

But Eusope also tries to have fun. She brings her kids with her who enjoy the music and art, and she makes some of her own discoveries. "Metallica was pretty amazing which was a surprise for me last year," she says.

Ryan Farr and his (truly) Best Damn Cheeseburger - LOU BUSTAMANTE
  • Lou Bustamante
  • Ryan Farr and his (truly) Best Damn Cheeseburger

4505 Meats

Menu: Best Damn Cheeseburgers and Chimichurri Fries

With two separate locations within the event, the prep involved is doubled and planning is crucial for Ryan Farr and his team. They began planning this Outside Lands food immediately after the last one.

The team in the back is an efficient assembly line that would make Henry Ford proud. Each station and team has a task, each one focused on the task at hand, but there is also a sense of camaraderie and fun. In the back, the 4505 folks mingle and chat with some of the vendors next door, or take a break near the truck with the stash of employee provisions. It's a scene familiar to anyone who's ever worked in the kitchen of a restaurant.

William Pilz and the "secret" Deep-Fried Sisig Burrito - LOU BUSTAMANTE
  • Lou Bustamante
  • William Pilz and the "secret" Deep-Fried Sisig Burrito

Hapa SF

Menu: Lumpia and secret menu Deep-Fried Sisig Burrito

For William Pilz all the hard work has to happen before he gets to Golden Gate Park. With all of his prep happening in a shared kitchen, an extra layer of working around schedules of the other people means he needs to be on top of it. Once he's at the event, the rest is simply cooking in the same streamlined way he does at other markets.

This year Pilz had secret Twitter menu items only available at the festival. We sampled the fantastically rich Deep-Fried Sisig Burrito drenched in avocado salsa verde -- a mere few bites in and all we were suddenly ready to hit Beer Lands again. Too bad for us we had to take our sisig burrito, Frickle's Pickles, and Bacon Bacon burger clear across to the other side of the event, but perhaps a satellite Beer Lands may find its way there next year.

Kory Cogdill and muchos tacos - LOU BUSTAMANTE
  • Lou Bustamante
  • Kory Cogdill and muchos tacos


Menu: Shot and a Beer Chicken, Veggie, and Carnitas Tacos

You'll find Marketing and Sales Director of Tacolicious, Kory Cogdill, at the restaurant's tent helping out making sure the tacos are moving, daily deliveries from the restaurant are happening, and scheduling shifts so that as much of his staff has a chance to see the bands they really want to see. Cogdill on the other hand, prefers to watch from tent or reefer truck* since he's not a huge fan of large crowds. "I can hear great music and still see the shows on the main stage from our tent, and maybe have a beer or two," Cogdill says.

Tacolicious has the notable advantage of restaurant locations and a catering arm of the business that allows it some flexibility to simply scale up the prep of the tacos that are staples on their menu. Cogdill explained that they, "have learned to make it easy on ourselves and serve the same tacos we serve in the restaurants so it is just a matter of getting a head start that week and getting creative with our [walk-in] coolers."

*No, that's not a mobile medical pot dispensary, it's a refrigerated truck trailer that serves as a temporary walk-in cooler during the festival

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