Peasant Pies Brings Portable, Affordable Meals to UCSF

Peasant Pies serves up a variety of hand-held meals at its new location at UCSF

Three years ago, Ali Keshavarz's daughter was born at UCSF. It was then, while visiting the Millberry Union on the Parnassus campus, he realized that the University was the perfect place to open a third location of Peasant Pies. "I wanted to be involved in a community," says Keshavarz. "I told Jennifer Dowd [Campus Life Services, Retail] from the start that I would wait as long as it took. Like I tell my employees, we have the advantage of dealing with open and diverse customers here; it's the perfect clientele."

In the early 1990s, Keshavarz and his business partner, Gerard Buulong, ran a jazz club/French restaurant, but wanted to change direction. "We thought, what can we do that's related to food, but that doesn't include being open late and isn't formal? Something inexpensive, delicious and nutritious - we wanted to find a concept that incorporated those three ideas," says Keshavarz. It was Buulong, a Cordon Bleu-trained chef, who originally told Keshavarz about the peasant pie, created when French fishermen would take seafood out of their catch, chop it up, and add tomato and garlic. They would cook this overnight, and in the morning they would bake dough around it to make a small pie. They could slip these pies into their pockets and take them out on the boats with them. "We wanted to be different, and be 'fast-casual'- meaning there is no waiter, you get your food, sit down and eat. The peasant pie was perfect for this," says Keshavarz. "We created a healthier version of the hamburger stand." When offered space at Mission Bay, the newest UCSF campus, Keshavarz contacted John Sutti and Associates in Burlingame, a company specializing in grocery store design and renovation, with clients including Whole Foods Market and Mollie Stone's.
Gerard Buulong and Ali Keshavaraz

Gerard Buulong and Ali Keshavaraz teamed up to open Peasant Pies, now offering affordable pies at UCSF Mission Bay.

Keshavarz was in on the design decisions from the start, from the color of the walls to the hand-blown light fixtures and custom-made tables built from 100-year-old salvaged wood. The result is a beautiful, cozy and inviting space for UCSF faculty, staff, students and neighbors to eat, relax and socialize. In addition to offering affordable meals at Mission Bay, Peasant Pies is also available to cater events, offering a discount on larger orders. "Our food is perfect for catering because it's casual. If you have a department meeting, it's an easy food to offer," Keshavarz adds. Named among "Best Cheap Eats" by San Francisco magazine, Peasant Pies offers 10 savory pie options, six sweet pie options, homemade soup and organic salad. And Keshavarz wants customers to know that he is always open to suggestions for new pie ideas. "A customer came in and asked if we'd make a ham and cheese pie. It's not normally something we would make, but I did it because I want the pies to be part my idea, part the community's idea," says Keshavarz. Keshavarz's relationship with UCSF came full circle on Dec. 17, the day the doors opened at Mission Bay, Peasant Pies' third location. "I am pleased to add such a great, local, community-minded vendor to our family of services," says Jennifer Dowd, Retail Services manager. "Ali and Gerard took such care and pride in their store here. It shines in the result." The Mission Bay Peasant Pies is located at 550-C Gene Friend Way. The eatery offers free Internet access. Hours of operation are Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Peasant Pies also has eateries at 1039 Irving St. and 4108 24th St. in San Francisco. Related Link: Peasant Pies