This man was feeling isolated from the pandemic so he invited his neighbors to a sidewalk ‘pancake party’

Curtis Kimball, his wife, Nicole, and their two young daughters moved to a house in San Francisco’s Bernal Heights neighborhood early in the COVID-19 pandemic. Isolating at home didn’t make it easy to make new friends in this unfamiliar place.

So, when Nicole told her husband that he was starting to get “weird,” cooped up at home, Kimball decided he needed to meet more people.

Kimball told Simplemost he’s found it harder to find serendipitous ways to make friends as he’s gotten older. But, being “an introvert who doesn’t mind attention,” he wanted to host a gathering as a way to help break the ice with his anonymous neighbors.

“I think I want to meet some people,” said Kimball as he recounted his thinking. “How should I do it? I can just make pancakes.”

Nicole was supportive of the idea, albeit still thinking it was “weird,” Kimball laughed.

Given his background as an experienced chef who used to own a popular food truck called The Creme Brulee Cart, Kimball perfected a higher-fat, more vanilla-flavored pancake recipe that works well for a crowd. Chocolate chips were thrown in for good measure.

Photo courtesy Curtis Kimball

“Even if you don’t like eating pancakes, I think everyone has warm feelings about pancakes in general, memories or things in their past,” said Kimball.

In addition to counting on everyone’s love of carbs, Kimball figured other people in San Francisco might also need a refresh and be looking for new friends after the pandemic led so many people to move away from the city. So, the friendly breakfast gathering was scheduled for Jan. 22.

Eyal Cohen, who shares a backyard fence with the Kimballs, imagined the pancake party “would just be [Curtis], his wife and myself eating pancakes on the side near his house.”

Cohen underestimated the drawing power of pancakes, as more than 75 people showed up and ate well over 100 pancakes.

Photo courtesy Curtis Kimball

“I never imagined so many people would come,” Cohen told Simplemost. “I ran into people there I haven’t seen in years. The event was a blast.”

Cohen said he has seen more fliers for free events around Bernal Heights since Kimball’s pancake party. He also thinks it shows how much people in San Francisco were craving a gathering like that.

“The pandemic left a lot of people in extended periods of isolation,” Cohen said. “So many people came out, and I doubt it was just for the free food.”

Photo courtesy Curtis Kimball

For his part, Kimball said the event made him realize something profound about his neighbors.

“I felt I was alone in wanting to connect with people and feeling incompetent about my ability to connect with people,” Kimball said. “But I think everyone felt that way, and everyone was hungry for the same thing.”

He had other takeaways from the first event, which he tweeted about (read the whole, funny thread).

Given the overwhelming success of the event, Kimball decided to schedule another pancake party. On Feb. 12, he warmed up the griddles again, with extra help from his in-laws and some neighbors.

This time, 300 people showed up and formed a line that stretched around the block.

Photo courtesy Curtis Kimball

Attendees represented a diverse group of neighbors. Kimball said the event saw some people reconnect with old friends and acquaintances they hadn’t seen in a long time.

People told him, “I spent an hour talking to strangers and I hadn’t done that in two years.” Others later told him they left with more friends than they came with.

As for Kimball’s two daughters, a 4-year-old and a 1-year-old, “[they] loved being around a lot of people being happy and eating pancakes.”

Photo courtesy Curtis Kimball

For the second event, some people contacted him offering to bring gluten-free pancakes. Others brought things like juice and coffee. Many also wanted to chip in toward the cost of the events, so Kimball created a GoFundMe account, which he said received more donations than expected.

Thus, a third pancake party has been planned for early March. He’ll advertise with old-school fliers (and his Twitter account) again. Until then, his idea has been lifted by others around San Francisco, as another neighborhood saw advertisements for its own pancake party in February.

Photo courtesy Curtis Kimball

Kimball said he doesn’t have any plans to start a pancake business or revive The Creme Brulee Cart, since, as he put it, “I’m getting everything I want from this experience without going into debt.”

But he hopes to share his pancake recipe and how-tos on hosting your own neighborhood event in the near future so that others can start similar traditions in their own neighborhood.

“Just reach out and connect to your neighbors,” Kimball said. “They are looking to connect just as much as you are.”

His neighbor, Eyal Cohen, thinks the pancake parties are Kimball’s philosophy in action.

“No agenda — just bring people of all ages together and create a great social atmosphere,” Cohen said. “I’d love for him to do this every weekend, but after making 700 pancakes [in one] week, he might need a little break.”

Food, Good News, Life, News

About the Author
Anna Weaver
Anna Weaver is a writer and multimedia journalist from Hawaii. Her two young kids keep her on her toes and hooked on online shopping. Anna’s also a fan of movies, reading, photography, and sharing far too many IG stories about cute dogs and capybaras. Visit Scripps News to see more of Anna's work.

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