Stepping into Endless Summer Sweets in downtown Berkeley is like entering a weave of cotton candy. The walls are a bright retro pink with green accents, and the smell of caramel corn wafts from the open kitchen. Antoinette Sanchez’s one-stop shop for pleasing all your nostalgic carnival food cravings is supposed to feel like another world – she modeled it after her best memories of county fairs, festivals and theme parks. We chatted with her about how she’s built her business from a food cart to a restaurant, and to catering for the Bay Area’s most prominent companies.
Where did the idea come from for this business?
I actually wrote a paper in college about it. I went on a little family outing to Six Flags, and I saw that funnel cakes always had a big line. It occurred to me that no one is doing this outside of theme parks or festivals. So I really wanted to do it, because I remember going to festivals with my family and I just thought, how come I can’t buy one of these in February or March?
How did you start?
I got started at La Cocina in San Francisco, and because I had no prior experience in food, they got me an internship to make sure I was really going to continue in this industry. And I still liked it after working every station at the restaurant at the Academy of Sciences.
“I know you should have a target market, but I have people of all generations who get nostalgic eating my food and tell me that it has been forever since they had a corn dog or something else and then share their memories with me.”
I opened officially at the very first San Francisco Street Food Festival. We made 700 to 800 funnel cakes that day. The La Cocina culinary director was so scared for me. But I was on a natural high, I didn’t go to the bathroom and I didn’t eat. Our batter kind of exploded and we had to fix that. But we did it. All that stuff was a great first experience, I got it down that day to perfection. From the festival I was able to buy a box truck, which we still have it to this day. I love that truck, I should name it.
What inspired your interior decor and branding?
I like the 1950s malt shop look, that’s why I have the pink and green, but I wanted to have a more modern look so I got wooden tables. Of course I can’t have carnival rides, so I put in the funhouse mirror. I wanted the popcorn to be displayed so it looks fun. First I didn’t like the brick wall, but I can’t count how many people have taken a photo of themselves in front of it, so it worked out.
What are you proud of?
I love Disneyland and stuff like that because it takes you out of this crazy world. So I love when someone comes in and they say they feel like they are at Knott’s Berry Farm or Disneyland. I know you should have a target market, but I have people of all generations who get nostalgic eating my food and tell me that it has been forever since they had a corn dog or something else and then share their memories with me. It makes me feel like I’m creating memories for them too, and they can come back here to experience these feelings.
Also, I use fresh fruits, good chocolate, we make our chips to order for nachos, and use local ingredients when possible. We’re different from carnival food in that sense.
You went through the kitchen incubator La Cocina, and I know you worked at Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center — so you did a lot of things right. What’s your advice for someone starting a business?
Take it slow. Take steps, instead of leaping and jumping and hopping. You only have one first impression as they say, so if you’re putting a crappy product out there because you’re just trying to get it out there, just take a moment or a breather, because later on it’s going to be crazy. Put your best out first.
You have two daughters, right? What do they think of the business?
My elder one is 17, the younger one is 6. But my older one, I feel kinda bad because she was sleeping on coolers when we first started and were doing festivals. But now she can run the whole place. She can cook, handle the cash, anything. It’s so funny when I see her give orders to the staff … it’s a proud moment because I can see she has it in her too.