Street Food Profiles: The Burger Bus in Santa Barbara, California
Note: It's time for another edition of Street Food Profiles. This week we scoot to Santa Barbara where a former school bus becomes a delicious burger-mobile.
Name: The Burger Bus
Vendors: Cheryl and Michael Gardner
Location and hours? Tuesday through Fridays, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Saturdays are TBA. Locations vary but are always updated online.
What's on the menu? Locally sourced cheeseburgers (including one with jelly), falafel, and sides like yam fries, fried pickle chips, and onion rings.
How long have you been street fooding? Five months.
How has Twitter affected business? Although Santa Barbara is a small city, Twitter helps remind our customers where we are and alerts them to special promotions, like wearing your Burger Bus t-shirt to get a free soda.
Why a mobile business over brick-and-mortar? Brick-and-mortar is too expensive in Santa Barbara. We own the bus, which helped control our start-up costs. Plus, as a mobile restaurant, we can serve food in six different locations in a two-week period.
Who are your typical customers? Anyone who enjoys a quality burger with delicious sides. Our customer base really covers the spectrum—from construction workers and mechanics to doctors and CEOs. Several customers come to the bus on a weekly basis, and some even twice a week! We are thankful the city of Santa Barbara and all of our customers have embraced the business.
Describe a typical day from start to finish.
- If we have to pick up meat or bread, we usually leave our house around 9 a.m. or earlier. The perk of using so many local suppliers (like Shalhoob Meat Company, Our Daily Bread, jellies from Mama's Preserves, Spring Hill Cheese, and the Santa Barbara Farmers' Market) is that we only have to travel a few blocks from home to pick up ingredients.
- Once we arrive at our commissary, we load the bus with our dishes and all the food we'll need that day. Then it's off to the daily location, where we turn on the propane, light the fryers and griddle, and get the music going. Cheryl generally cuts the bread while Michael throws the onions and bacon on the griddle. We try to give ourselves around 30 minutes to prep for the lunch crowd, then serve from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
- Once 2 p.m. arrives, or the last customer is gone, the clean-up process begins. Michael scrubs the griddle back to silver while Cheryl cleans the fryers and pans.
- When we return to the commissary, every dish and utensil, as well as the food, comes off the bus. All of the dishes are washed and dried and the bus is wiped and sanitized. If there's any prep or shopping that needs to be done, we do it now and return anytime between 4:30 and 7:00 p.m.
What are or were you doing before this? Cheryl was an elementary school science teacher and Michael, after running a local day spa, took time off to begin this project.
What makes your food so special? We use as many locally-sourced products as we can. Plus, we buy our meat, bread, and produce every few days to insure the final product's freshness. Our signature burger is the CB&J, a cheeseburger and jelly—as far as we know, it's not available anywhere else. We pair pepper jack cheese with a seasonal jalapeno jelly (right now it's olallieberry jalapeno) and cheddar cheese with a triple raspberry jelly. These burgers are served with grilled onions on toasted ciabatta.
How would you define "street food"? It could be as nondescript as a rolling cart in Mexico (with nothing more than a propane tank, vat of boiling oil, and churro batter squeezing out). Or it could be as beautiful as fried noodles and fresh vegetables from a hot plate at the end of an open-air market in China. Or as simple as a hot dog on a New York sidewalk. And of course, all this food should be served hot and fresh. Street food should represent the area—the availability and freshness that defines the region.
The best street food city and why. Cheryl is from New Jersey so for her, New York's diverse street food is the best around. Hot dogs, pretzels, fresh roasted nuts, and meaty kabobs, which are always hot, fresh, and affordable.
Your comfort food after a long day? Chili, mac and cheese, and thick stews are where it's at (especially for Michael). Unfortunately, we don't cook at home as often as we used to but our favorite take-out is Thai, Mexican, and pizza.
Advice for an aspiring vendor? Take every step one at time and go for it!