By Paul McDonald, The Potrero View
Dontaye Ball, founder of Urban Gourmet Kitchen, has a passion for food that began when he was just eight years old, working alongside his grandmother Catherine, who he calls, “Granny Cat” baking cookies and cakes in her Bayview kitchen. As a youngster Ball participated in the San Francisco Boys and Girls club, wrote a cookbook for kids at age 10, and was getting paid for his burgeoning food endeavors at 17. Now, just 29, he’s setting the table for big things, with a catering business, a new restaurant outside of San Francisco General Hospital (SFGH) — Hearty Café — and soon, a fleet of food trucks.
Ball’s personality matches his self-described “hefty” physique and passionate love for everything culinary. After graduating from J. Eugene McAteer High School, he attended City College of San Francisco’s culinary arts program, travaled to Europe, returned to San Francisco and learned his trade at renowned restaurant Delfina, with stints at Spork, Contigo and Google.
“Chef,” as Ball is called, owns Good Foods Catering, the foundation for his expanding food empire. He can be found most days at a permanent trailer just outside SFGH’s main entrance. Opened last summer, the eatery starts serving at 6 a.m. and stays open until 9 p.m., offering, lunch and dinner to a passing crowd of nurses, doctors, and patients, who Ball prefers to call “guests.” Hearty Café’s motto is to serve “local, fast, healthier food,” with no trans fats, low salt and vegan and vegetarian options. As part of the agreement to secure the well-traveled spot, Ball provides monthly cooking demonstrations through the hospital’s “healthy living” community wellness program.
Ball, who lives on Kirkwood street, prefers to employ low-income District 10 residents who may not initially present well. He takes as much time and concern with his current 15 employees as he does with the ingredients of his well thought out menu offerings. “You need to love yourself first, then you can love what you do,” said Ball, who attributes his management philosophy to Delfina, where a family atmosphere is cultivated based on trust, open communication and varied interests. One of Ball’s employees has web skills, so was tasked with building the enterprise’s website; another is free to express their design talents for creating enticing atmospheres at their catering events.
On Sundays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Ball can be found at the Stonestown Farmers Market serving barbeque watermelon and cinnamon French toast, finished on the grill. And he’ll be at the Potrero Hill Festival, October 20th, serving his specialty sandwiches and salads.