“There was no good breakfast sandwich options in the Bay and I had an opportunity to make that happen,” said Tim “Buna” Babilla.
Babilla opened his first Cracked pop-up in March 2016 inside the now-closed Chick & Tea in North Oakland after a visit to Eggslut, the provocatively named darling of the Los Angeles egg sandwich scene.
In December 2016, Cracked moved inside Blackwater Station at 40th and Telegraph in Oakland’s Temescal neighborhood. Soon thereafter, Babilla opened up a second pop-up, Buna Burger, also within Blackwater Station, operating in the evenings.
Babilla had to find a new spot for his sandwich pop-ups after the Blackwater space sold to James Syhabout, whom East Bay eaters may know best from Hawker Fare, which shuttered in February this year. The space had been for sale for the duration of Babilla’s tenure, and despite the closure, the two restaurateurs are on good terms. (“It finally got the right buyer,” Babilla wrote in a follow up text to Nosh.) Syhabout took over the space on Oct. 1 and plans to open a new restaurant, Hawking Bird (opening date TBD).
The upshot of all these backstories and begats is that after moving out of Blackwater Station, Babilla decided to relocate Cracked to Berkeley. While a large base of loyal eaters remains in Oakland, Babilla feels confident the pop-up will get a good deal of attention from Cal students and Berkeley residents.
Buna Burger may be on hiatus as a stand-alone pop-up, but Babilla assures that many of the Buna items will be folded into the Cracked brand once the egg-themed pop-up has had a chance to run. “But that’s not going to launch until November,” said Babilla. For the first two weekends, at least, Babilla wants the focus on eggs.
All of Babilla’s sandwiches, from Cracked and Buna Burger, follow a certain modus operandi.
“I follow a rule of five,” said Babilla. Starting with a Filipino pandesal roll, Babilla uses no more than five ingredients inside the bun. “But I can go less,” he said. Cracked’s signature sandwich involves only five ingredients, bun included: bacon, tomato jam, avocado and a medium fried egg. The Spam sandwich is likewise a party of five, consisting of a bun, medium fried egg, fried spam, miso mayo and miso nori.
As in most of his sandwiches, Babilla eschews an overuse of condiments. Instead, Babilla serves his eggs medium fried. “The yolk itself is a sauce,” he said. “So they do get messy.” Customers be warned.
The pop-up life comes with its own unique challenges as restaurateurs play their own game of square pegs and round holes. “Every time you do a pop-up you have to hermit crab into a spot and make it work,” said Babilla. So he is hoping to get a brick-and-mortar location for Cracked, preferably in Temescal, sometime in 2018.
“Temescal is kind of our go-to neighborhood right now,” he said, though has no intention of stopping there. “My plan is [to open] at least five spaces within Oakland itself and then to kind of scale it up from there even larger and start hitting other cities.”
“Our biggest problem is trying to keep up with demand,” he said.
In Berkeley, Babilla hopes to push the brand’s potential by building out delivery capabilities and possibly even creating what he refers to as “a mini franchise,” which means in this particular vision, being able to offer Cracked products in other venues besides its pop-up and eventual brick-and-mortar.
“What I like to do is test ideas in the pop-up phase to see how they work and the public response and if there’s traction, then we go with the next step,” he said.
This being the Bay Area, even restaurants built around burgers and eggs must necessarily include some vegan and gluten-free options. Cracked will offer both. All of its sandwiches can be served in an Udi’s gluten-free roll. And those who refrain from animal products can enjoy a grilled tomato, avocado, mushroom and hashbrown sandwich.
Babilla may be proud of his burgers, but he is no stranger to quality vegetarian fare. “I’m famous for my veggie burger at Buna Burger,” he said. A vegan patty so deliciously popular, according to Babilla, that customers regularly order it with bacon.