SF’s famous pancake party host is leaving town. But not without a last hurray

It was Curtis Kimball’s last day in San Francisco, so he decided to throw a party.

But it wasn’t just any party. It was one of Kimball’s now-famous pancake parties, where he stands outside his Bernal Heights home, baking free pancakes for anyone who stops by – a way to build community and learn get to know the locals.

His tweets about the first part went viral – even earned him an appearance on the Today show – and his second pancake night in February drew hundreds, with lines wrapping around the block.

But this time, on his third and final pancake night in Bernal Heights, the turnout was much lower, with just a few dozen people coming in and out throughout the morning, creating an environment a little closer to the vision Kimball’s “neighborhood rally” original. The pancake night veterans remembered February, whispering to each other “were you here the last time? Do you remember the queue around the block? »

And the best part about the smaller turnout? Anyone who wanted seconds could get them. Most have.

While the atmosphere was warm and friendly – “who can be crazy about pancakes?” — there was an air of sadness in the cloudy morning. When talking about his time in the city and the people he met, Kimball more than once choked up, trying to laugh it off as fast as he could. “Okay, stop, you’re making me cry!” he said to more than one visitor.

Neighbors gather for free pancakes at Curtis Kimball’s Pancake Party in Bernal Heights.

Danielle Echeverria/The Chronicle

After more than 20 years in San Francisco, Kimball is leaving town to move to Delaware with his wife and two children, ages five and two, to be closer to his wife’s father, who was recently diagnosed with cancer. of the brain.

Kimball said he and his wife were with friends when they heard the news, and those friends were the first to advise them – “go for it.” So they leave.

“Family and relationships are everything to me,” he said. “We need to spend as much time as possible together.”

But on the way, Kimball throws her pancake party a national tour, the planning stops everywhere, from Los Angeles to Texas, from Louisiana to New York – wherever someone is willing to host it. Visitors to his farewell party, most of whom lived near Bernal Heights or the Mission, were quick to share contacts and recommendations in their hometowns across the country.

As with his events in San Francisco, Kimball hopes the idea will spread to the various places he travels.

“It feels good to do something for the community like this,” he said. “I want to continue exploring how to build neighborhoods that really feel like neighbors.”

And it was already working — his pancake night inspired another neighbor, Sean, to start hosting Friday night “stoop sits,” where anyone can stop and grab a lemonade and a cookie and just hang out. Others gathered on Saturday morning were meeting many of their neighbors for the first time.

It was an environment made exactly for that. Without hesitation, people showed up – some had lived in the city for more than 20 years, others for just a few weeks – because that was really the point.

“What you’re doing here is amazing,” Kelly Iura, who lives near Kimball, told her just before her daughter Maia asked if she could have seconds.

And in addition to bringing people together, some people even brought their own things to share. Couple Cecile and David, who live in Lower Pacific Heights, brought Canadian maple syrup, which David had just received as a gift from a Canadian colleague. He thought a pancake night was the perfect place to bring it out.

The couple found out about the party when they saw one of Kimball’s printed flyers in the Haight on Friday. They thought the flyer, designed as a meme, was funny, so they decided to come check it out.

“I saw it and I thought, ‘Anyone who does that, I want to know them,'” David said with a laugh.

They added maple syrup to Kimball’s toppings table, alongside her other toppings, like butter and sprinkles, hoping people would like it.

“It’s really good!” said Cecile, trying the syrup for the first time. “And those pancakes too!” They are just perfectly fluffy.

Brian Goldstein, who met Kimball in the early 2000s when they lived near each other in the Mission, even made him a farewell poster to sign, complete with photos of Kimball’s early days with his Creme Brulee cart in Dolores Park with cutouts of her latest media appearances.

Friends and neighbors sign a farewell poster for Curtis Kimball, who hosted free pancake parties in Bernal Heights.

Friends and neighbors sign a farewell poster for Curtis Kimball, who hosted free pancake parties in Bernal Heights.

Danielle Echeverria/The Chronicle

Children drew pictures of dogs and pancakes, and many adults signed off with genuine words of gratitude for the spirit Kimball brought to the community. By noon, the notice board was covered in notes and signatures, and perhaps a few smudges of maple syrup.

“I wanted him to have something he could look at 20 years from now and say, ‘Wow, that’s a good thing I did,'” Goldstein said.

Danielle Echeverria is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @DanielleEchev

Joseph K. Bennett