Photography by Michelle Kilfeather
Dontaye Ball has brought gumbo to San Francisco. Now, he's doing everything he can to make it this country's national dish.
In this episode, we meet Dontaye. Born and raised in The City, Dontaye has lived with gumbo just about his entire life. Often served at big family meals, he remembers fondly that while gumbo might've been the center of the culinary realm, it was always more about being with family, friends, and those he loved.
Started as a pop-up a few years back, in late-2022, Dontaye was able to secure a brick-and-mortar spot on Third Street near the neighborhood where he grew up. Gumbo Social is set to open this spring, and we can't wait.
In Part 1, Dontaye talks about the importance of gumbo and what it means to him. He tells us all about the crew he's assembled to assist him on this mission, including his two sons.
Until the spot on Third opens its doors, find Gumbo Social at the Sunset Mercantile market every Sunday. Tell 'em we sent ya!
In Part 2, we continue our talk with Dontaye. He dives into his own history of cooking and working in restaurants. It starts with a program he got into in high school that had him serving meals to non-English speakers in Burlingame and goes up through his time doing an externship at Delfina. Delfina happened while Dontaye went to City College, but the story of how he got connected is more direct than that.
We talk in some depth about Delfina, including a nurturing environment that its owners, Craig and Annie Stoll, have created. Dontaye also was able to go to France as part of his program at City College, which happened during his externship at Delfina. He ended up being on the team that opened the first Pizzeria Delfina.
Then we really dive into gumbo. Dontaye remembers the dish being made regularly at his house, and he describes lively scenes involving his grandmother as the conductor, working at a cast iron skillet slowly developing the roux.
Many years later, Gumbo Social got its start when Dontaye wanted to do something food-centered to bring people together. He wanted something edgy and controversial but also appetizing. He started making gumbo for friends with shellfish allergies, for example, which had him tweaking the recipes a little depending on who would be eating it. Because the gumbo was being served at private gatherings with friends and loved ones, the social component was baked in. He was falling in love with it all.
With pop-up days starting in the morning, they needed a breakfast item—the breakfast sandwich was born. Originally, it was meant to feed the farmers at the markets, but it was so popular that they added it to the menu.
He never envisioned a restaurant. But he started to crunch the numbers for the pop-up, and around that time, an opportunity presented itself. It's pretty much as simple as that. Gumbo Social will open its doors on Third Street this spring. Follow them on social media or check back with us for an exact date.
We recorded this episode at the future Gumbo Social on Third Street in the Bayview in December 2022.