Six months ago, just a few blocks from home, Kristin Hoppe made a decision to do something illegal. How hard could it be? She got her supplies together in a week and hit the streets to sell her product: soup.
“Just one day I went out eating curry, and I thought, ‘I want to do this,’” said the 34-year-old nutritionist, referring to one of the dishes served on the street. “My husband built me a cart and I went out the next week.”
The Magic Curry Kart was started by Brian Kimball in April in front of his apartment on 19th and Linda streets. By May, Hoppe was out there standing next to him, part of an underground street food movement in which licenses and food permits are nonexistent. Nevertheless, it’s one that has expanded quickly and is now heading into its first winter. Like the Sexy Soup Lady’s own trajectory, it’s unclear what will happen now that a new cart seems to sprout up weekly.
Friday night, the street vendors met up at their old stomping grounds where the magic first happened: on Linda Street just beyond the tennis court gates.
“My first outing was awesome. It was like a family supper for the Mission,” said Hoppe.
Initially there were just a few a carts, but last Friday night there was at least a baker’s dozen and the street seemed closer to a food court in a posh mall than an assembly of renegades. One woman made ice cream, and then there was tortilla Española, Toasty Melts, gumbo, flan and pizza baked in a “Franken-Weber.” Paula from Chile Lindo appeared with a basket full of empanadas. Someone’s shiny black dog was gnawing Soul Cocina cart coconuts, emptied of their milk.
“The police have come a couple of times,” said Hoppe, bundled in a scarf with a black fleece jacket over her trademark hot pink, tiger-print bubble skirt paired with thick black leggings. “I don’t think they’re actively looking for me.”
That night she was nervous about the meeting point. Aside from the food aromas mingling in the air, there was a whiff of paranoia, as the part-time chefs heated food on their stovetops. Hoppe had two pots warming the organic winter squash, apple, ginger, and coconut soup. The pureed soup’s color matched her eyes.
“Tuck your twenties in your bra,” suggested a sweets vendor, in case the police came to shut down the party. It was only 7:15 p.m. and eaters were already arriving, surveying the carts.
A while back, it was decided not to host the suppers in their current location because neighbors had complained and cops had been called more than once. Instead they met a little further up the street inside the gates of the Mission Pool and nestled under a canopy of trees under minimal light. But on Friday they were again in the glare of the tennis courts lights.
“Everyone is being super-cautious tonight,” said Hoppe. Her husband Chris, who’s also her college sweetheart, didn’t think the night was going to last long.
“There are rules to this game,” he said. “Don’t block the street, and get your money out of sight.”
For Hoppe, it’s not about the money. She’s a certified nutritionist, named one of the top 5 in the Bay Area. Her Food Therapy business is thriving.
But with the soup, she said, “I’m making money. I wouldn’t say I’m making a living.”
While she initially started selling soup on a whim, she’s now uncertain if the cart gives her the same connection with food that got her started as a nutritionist in the first place.
That happened four years ago when she and her husband took an 18-month backpacking trip around the world. Throughout the trip she was eating seasonal, local, whole foods.
“In Thailand and India everybody has their own blend of spices they use. Everybody is able to share their cuisine with their neighbors. It’s more of a community feel. I made that connection with the community and within the health of myself.”
She made a career shift after she returned. She left her job in biotech to become a certified nutrition consultant and chef. For her it’s more about providing something to the community. She brings organic, healthy ingredients.
“It’s fun and I like going out, meeting my neighbors and feeding them healthy food. It’s all about fun for me.”
She said that six weeks ago. Summer is officially over. It’s the second week of October; it’s getting darker earlier and it’s cold. It was 52 degrees Friday night. Her soup could be a contender for bestseller in the colder months. But …
“I’m burnt out, man. I’m looking for something with more intention,” she expressed while preparing the cart to go out that night. “I’m clearer about what I want out of this and my business.”
It’d been a long week and that night was her first time out in three weeks. She’d seen a lot of clients, which she was excited about, but she was exhausted by Friday. A 20-minute power nap was necessary before heading out.
“A lot of these guys are trying to make a business out of this. That’s not me. I already have a business.”
She enjoys the friendships and community she gained over the six months, but she’d like to figure out how to integrate the soup into the business she already has.
There is the idea of spreading the nutrition gospel to children through food that actually tastes good. This could work for adults too. Whatever happens, she’ll let it go organically, like the cart.
“But my soup is the bomb,” she has no problem saying in the meantime.