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San Francisco man spreads joy with pancakes

ELISSA NADWORNY, HOST:

The easing of pandemic restrictions is making some people nervous. It's making others generous, like one San Francisco man who's trying to bring life back to his neighborhood with parties. And not just any parties - free pancake parties. From member station KQED, Annelise Finney has more.

ANNELISE FINNEY, BYLINE: Curtis Kimball used to run a cart selling creme brulee in San Francisco city parks.

CURTIS KIMBALL: I thought it would be so cool if you just came upon, like, someone in a chef's outfit making creme brulee.

FINNEY: The cart is now defunct, but Kimball's desire to bring spontaneous joy to people lives on. Early on a Saturday morning, Kimball gets up and drags plastic tables and electric griddles to the sidewalk outside of his home. His plan - to cook up free pancakes for anyone who happens by.

KIMBALL: And I just wanted to connect with people in my neighborhood and start, you know, building back, like, the thin fabric of community.

FINNEY: And what better way to do that than with a breakfast treat that never fails?

KIMBALL: People may not love pancakes, but I don't think that many people hate pancakes.

FINNEY: Kimball says the idea also fits in with another part of his life right now.

KIMBALL: I'm like a new dad, and it just seemed like a super dad thing to do, right? I'm going to be the dad of the neighborhood and just make everyone pancakes.

FINNEY: The first time he threw a pancake party, around 75 people showed up. On this day, he's expecting many more.

KIMBALL: I actually have prepped for like 800 pancakes.

FINNEY: He's also called in backup pancake-flippers and expanded from one griddle to three. One of the flippers is his mother-in-law, Candice Evans. She came out from Delaware to spend time with her grandkids, but...

CANDICE EVANS: Curtis always makes it interesting (laughter).

FINNEY: Within no time, batter is pouring, and chocolate chip, blueberry and plain pancakes are flopping onto waiting paper plates.

EVANS: Good morning.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Good morning.

EVANS: Welcome.

FINNEY: Someone who lives nearby is Mai Le. As she waits in line, she knows exactly what kind of pancakes she wants.

MAI LE: I'll go for blueberry. Feels like it has at least a healthy ingredient.

FINNEY: To get the word out, Kimball posted on social media. But that wasn't all.

KIMBALL: So I just started making, like, flyers that I thought would be funny and putting them up around the neighborhood.

FINNEY: One reads, my wife says I'm getting weird. I need to make some friends. That's the flyer that Danielle Brandon saw.

DANIELLE BRANDON: So I appreciated that somebody was saying, like, hey, let's eat pancakes and be friends, like little kid status, you know?

FINNEY: Yes, the pancakes are essentially bait, says Kimball, coaxing San Franciscans out of their homes and into the streets, even though it might feel kind of awkward.

KIMBALL: Everyone's social skills are not tip-top (laughter). We have been inside a long time, and we are not as charming as we used to be.

FINNEY: Kimball says he can't make pancakes for everybody forever, but he hopes others will take up the cause, whether it's with pancakes or something else.

KIMBALL: Let's make San Francisco cool again, like super cool. Like, whatever thing you want to do to, like, add to the beauty and creativity and just the celebration of life that is San Francisco, you should do that. It's go time.

FINNEY: And it never hurts to have a pancake before you start.

For NPR news, I'm Annelise Finney in San Francisco.

(SOUNDBITE OF DESIRE SONG, "ESCAPE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Annelise Finney
Annelise was born and raised in the East Bay and has a background in oral history and urban studies. For the last four and half years, she's worked as a criminal defense investigator at a public defenders office in the Bronx, New York and at an appellate defenders office in the Bay Area. As an investigator, she frequently interviews people involved in different parts of the criminal punishment system. Through her work, she has become passionate about the power of personal narratives and compelling stories to increase cross-cultural understanding and initate change change.
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