ORLEANS – In 2010, J’aime and Christian Sparrow decided to “move back home” from San Francisco. Their goal: to “simplify” and start a food truck.
“City life is amazingly stimulating. It can kick your butt,” Christian said with a broad grin. “Right? Well this was harder. We had no idea.”
J’aime laughed and nodded. With a microloan from the Community Development Partnership, the Sparrows purchased their truck “Sunbird,” food and equipment and hit the road. For five years, the truck and their signature bird breakfast sandwich were a mainstay in the Wellfleet food scene.
“We would not have succeeded without the CDP,” she said. “No way. We wouldn’t have made it.”
Last week at its 29th annual meeting, the Community Development Partnership awarded the Sparrows and their partners Karen Densmore and Garrett Smythe the Norm Edinberg Award for Excellence in Entrepreneurship.
Christian served on the CDP’s board with the late Edinberg, making the honor bittersweet, he said.
The award recognizes the growth of the business from food truck to Sunbird Kitchen in 2015. Now, in a creative approach to surviving the pandemic, the business has shifted to take out and pantry, with Sunbird Provisions.
“Our goal is just to survive for now,” Christian said. The restaurant will reopen for indoor dining in June. “We can’t wait. We miss the people.”
The focus of Sunbird’s menu and mission has always been simple-ingredient food “that is tasty and identifiable,” Christian said. J’aime, who worked in the restaurant industry in San Francisco, noted that West Coast “farm to table” dining options were further along earlier. They hoped to bring that notion to the Cape with their food truck idea.
“We wanted our ingredients sourced as locally as possible in a way that was sustainable for us and for the community,” she said. Driven by the desire to expand their menu (“there’s only so much you can make in a truck”), the couple opened the Sunbird Kitchen on Route 6.
Everything is made from scratch there, J’aime explained proudly, and the breads, condiments and sauces they’ve always served at the kitchen are now the primary “stock” in the pantry. Orders can be phoned in or placed online, and the steady stream of business has kept the Kitchen afloat.
Last March when the pandemic hit, Christian said the four of them agreed to just shut down to assess the situation, see what was happening and move forward cautiously.
“It felt so surreal,” Christian said. “Everyone was looking at each other, asking ‘What are we supposed to do?’”
One thing was clear for all of them, he said. “We didn’t like the idea of creating a situation where people could get sick, where what we decided to do could make a threat to people’s lives.”
Wait it out? Risk losing everything? Come up with a new idea? The Sparrows and their partners “plotted and planned.”
“We decided to ride the lightning and take our chances,” Christian said. Sunbird Provisions was born.
“It’s been really cool, and really frustrating sometimes,” he said.
J’aime said she is grateful to have partners who are open and creative and with whom she and Christian share inspirations and values. By making pantry items, J’aime said they all hoped their patrons could “replicate what they like about our food and use the times in some easy little way to help make life a little easier and take a piece home of the business they’ve been a part of making.”
The venture has not been without challenges, and has been like starting a whole new business, the couple acknowledged. Creating an online ordering system necessitated photographing all of their wares. With a longstanding emphasis on hiring year-rounders to help support the community, the partners hope to hire back as many employees as possible.
“We’ve just been trying to survive, finding little wins and solutions where we could, maintaining our authenticity as we keep trying to iterate this thing we do into something that is, if not so tolerable, at least doable,” Christian said.
The couple was quick to say community support has been the most important ingredient in their success. Saying he was quite sure he spoke for other small businesses in Orleans, “we wouldn’t be here. No way would we be here, unless people took a chance, and came out and supported us.”
The CDP has also played a role in the creation of Sunbird Provisions. In turn, the award recognizes the support Sunbird offers through the ripple effects of its collaboration with local growers and foragers, such as Halcyon Farm, Chatham Bars Inn Farm, Lewis Brothers Ice Cream and Midnight Our Scallops.
J’aime thinks many local business owners are unaware of the opportunities that exist through the CDP.
“We’re very proud. So honored,” she said. “And I just want to make sure that’s out in the world that we’re so lucky. I can’t imagine trying to start without the help we got from the CDP.”
To find out more information about the Community Development Partnership, go to www.capecdp.org.