1. ZEF BBQ
Located in Simi Valley, in downtown LA, California, ZEF BBQ is a kerbside pickup operation with a new menu released every Tuesday. Pre-orders go live on Wednesday at 10am for collection the following Saturday. Pickup locations change every week and are only disclosed after payment.
Just before Covid hit, Logan Sandoval had spent weeks designing a menu that highlighted unique but often overlooked dishes from Mediterranean cities such as Cairo and Malta. But his corporate bosses came back and said it was too complicated, too different. Part of the magic ZEF offers, on the other hand, is the chance to experiment and take creative freedoms that he couldn’t before. ‘“Zef” is a saying brought up in post-Apartheid South Africa and it means “Do whatever you want to do”. I really wanted to impart that on my food,’ says Logan, co-owner of ZEF BBQ with his wife, Anna Lindsey. Pit-smoked char siu ribs, brisket, Portuguese sweet breads, kimchi, Peking duck and Spam musubi have all featured on their menus.
How it started
‘ZEF BBQ came out of the necessity to make money at the height of the pandemic,’ says Logan. Both he and Anna had been working in the culinary industries for more than a decade before they were each furloughed and then let go within a week of one another. Moving from the Californian coastal city of Monterey, where Logan was an executive sous chef at a high-end resort, he knew ‘there was no way I was going to be able to sell a 14-course tasting menu to the folks down here’. With a long-standing love of barbecue, Logan had not long before won a cooking competition on the Food Network’s Supermarket Stakeout in March 2020. Wanting to keep the momentum going, he set up the website for ZEF BBQ in six hours.
Within five days, Logan and Anna – who runs the front of house – were cooking and serving BBQ. They sold out of their first batch in 23 minutes. ‘It’s been pretty wild,’ says Logan. ‘We’ve gone from zero to 1,000% basically overnight. The city of Simi Valley has been super-giving, but there’s also a learning curve that comes with everything. From my experience with hotels, I’ve been able to keep low operation and food costs while still putting out a pretty marginal product. Changing menus every week keeps it interesting.’ Business has been so good that a line of 30 cars taking up two blocks and another line of 75 people waiting for walk-up service are found on the residential streets wherever ZEF happens to be on a Saturday.
Thanks to the generosity of his former teacher (and now customer), Logan creates the menus and prepares the food from his former high school’s home economics classroom. Nothing else is run in the style of a typical restaurant, either: menus are hosted on Google Forms and Instagram. But the service is still first rate. ‘It’s that golden rule of treating others the way that you want to be treated,’ Anna says. ‘It really is a very big part of what makes ZEF BBQ so successful. We’re real people.’
Don’t overthink it
Anna encourages others considering a kerbside operation to ‘just go for it’. ‘Grind and put everything you have into it,’ she says. ‘Not monetary-wise. I mean your heart and soul.’
2. Chai Guy
In Barcelona, Spain, from 11am to 3pm every Saturday and Sunday, Chai Guy Bahram Ehsas sets out his tuk-tuk and starts selling homemade chai inspired by his Afghani roots. To find him, check the location in his Instagram bio.
How it works
Bahram crushes the spices and brews each element himself, partnering with local coffee shops to sell outside.
Why it started
In Barcelona, cafes were mandated to stay closed nearly 80% of the day after a strict lockdown closed them indefinitely in March 2020. Bahram saw Chai Guy as a way of sharing a unique concept with a follower base that would create buzz for himself and his cafe partners. After posting to Instagram one weekend, the hoped-for buzz took off, and Bahram was selling his homemade chai within an hour.
Bahram works a corporate job on weekdays. On Saturdays, he wakes at 6am to start preparing the chai, many of the ingredients for which are sourced from India. The import process was filled with challenges that he did not anticipate – for example, it took two and a half months to receive the first shipment of Assam tea in bulk – but he says it was worth the wait.
‘Pop-ups and dark kitchens will come out stronger as we come out of this moment. People are open to breaking rules they never would have before.’
3. SIDE WING
From Thursday through Sunday, Ashleigh Frans and Strone Henry make and sell things like inkomazi chicken tacos, pork-belly spare ribs and meatball subs out of their house in Ottery, a suburb of Cape Town. But it is their doughnut beef burger that has become the city’s new cult dish. The menu changes weekly and customers order through WhatsApp.
‘The main advantage of launching a food business from home is the low rental – property here is expensive to rent, let alone own,’ Ashleigh explains. ‘We were 23 years old when we started, so working from home was our only option as we didn’t have any credit records or financial backing to rent or own property.’
‘One of the disadvantages is that we are literally cooking out of our homes. Customers see your home as your business, forgetting that it’s still your home, and overstep boundaries. For example, customers have not read the trading times and knocked on the door when we’ve just sat down to eat.’
The kerbside operation has become so successful it has enabled the pair to fast-track their dream of opening a permanent space – a stand in Makers Landing food hall in Cape Town, in December 2020. Although business is still not as busy as they’d like, opening here is the realisation of their long-term goal of having a space where they can create a more holistic hospitality experience.
This article was first published in Courier issue 40, April/May 2021. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.