Mr. Fries Man goes viral

KCRW reporter David Weinberg has the story of how a home french fry business in Gardena went viral thanks to Instagram.

There are lots of places in Los Angeles where you can get great loaded fries. But one home chef is carving out a niche for himself in Gardena. Craig Batiste goes by the name Mr. Fries Man. His menu, as the name suggests, is made up entirely of fries. There are more than a dozen toppings to choose from so you can truly get them your way. You can get them smothered with melted cheese, then covered with shrimp and snow crab, for example, or with steak teriyaki, braised oxtail, pork belly adobo and bacon. You also choose your sauce: lemon garlic or Caribbean jerk. An order of fries will run you between $11 and $24, depending on the number of toppings you choose. That may sound like a lot, but these are some seriously tasty fries, the portions are huge and they’re made-to-order.

Craig Batiste, a.k.a. Mr. Fries Man, has been selling fries out of his home in Gardena since March. (Photo by Stan Lee)

When Mr. Fries Man started selling fries seven months ago, he was only frying up orders one day a week using a couple of crock pot-sized deep fryers on the kitchen counter. But his fries have since gone viral on Instagram. Instagram is, in fact, the only way to get your hands on an order. There’s no official Mr. Fries Man website or Yelp page. On the days they are open — that would be Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and every second Sunday of the month — Batiste posts the daily menu on Instagram in the morning and starts prepping as the orders begin pouring in on his fiancée Dorothy Morales’ cell phone. The Mr. Fries Man kitchen is run out of a small two-bedroom back house in Gardena where Batiste, Morales and their three kids live. Morales starts prepping around 6 am, helping in the kitchen and processing the orders, along with Batiste’s sister, Thai Powell. Once the orders are in, it’s all hands on deck for the fries action.

Mr. Fries Man got a big boost in customers last month when rapper Nipsey Hussle, whose Instagram account has over 1 million followers, posted a photo of an order of lemon garlic shrimp fries at 1 am. Overnight, Batiste’s followers skyrocketed and business boomed the next day they were open. nipsey-hussleBatiste says other home chefs have also helped him expand the business. People like Taco Mel who sells tacos and burritos in South Central LA. “Taco Mel, he came by and got some fries and posted it. And I woke up the next morning, I had 3,000 new followers,” Batiste said. Batiste has also connected with Real Trap Kitchen, who will be featured on an upcoming episode of Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg’s new cooking show. There’s also Chef E Dubble, Bleu Kitchen, Delectable Home Cooking and a guy named Keith Garrett who sells $18 quesadillas out of his front yard in Watts. Garrett has 58,000 followers on Instagram; his business is All Flavor No Grease. “We all support each other,” said Batiste. “We swap a plate, you bring this one, I’ll bring that and we do like that. It’s like a secret society, a food secret society.”

Batiste’s close friend William Barney, who goes by the name “Barney Rebel,” works as fry cook and delivery driver for free because he believes in Batiste’s vision and wants to help in any way he can. (Photo by Stan Lee)

Mr. Fries Man is hoping to expand beyond their tiny home kitchen to a commercial location or food truck. For now, Batiste fries up his potatoes behind the house where he keeps an industrial grade deep fryer he calls Big Bertha. Then they’re portioned out on squares of aluminum foil before being covered with shredded cheddar and thrown into the oven. A few minutes later, the fries are pulled out and, one order at a time, they’re placed in styrofoam containers, topped with meat or seafood, sauced and hit with a garnish. The ultimate food porn. The boxes are neatly stacked in a large red insulated bag that William “Barney Rebel” Barney, a friend of Batiste’s and the delivery man for Mr. Fries Man, drives over to a Smart & Final parking lot a few blocks away on Redondo Beach Boulevard. By the time Barney pulls into the lot, customers are usually already waiting. This whole process, from Big Bertha to delivery at the Smart & Final, happens in a flurry so the fries don’t get even the least bit cold.

“We’re all having a good time doing something that we love doing,” says Barney. “I feel like that’s what life’s about. You’re supposed to be doing something you love, instead of stressing over things that you have no control over.” (Photo by Stan Lee)

Try ‘em for yourself! Find Mr. Fries Man on Instagram and place your order. Or search for one of the many hashtags Craig Batiste uses on his posts: #fries, #bestfries, #goodeats, #greateats, #foodporn, #lafoodies, #Compton, #Watts, #Longbeach #Carson, #Miami.

Or you can find Mr. Fries Man, Taco Mel, Bleu Kitchen and several of their other home chef friends at The Block, an event that will be held at West LA College on Saturday, November 5, from 12 to 6 pm.

Often customers are waiting when Barney’s car pulls into the lot. And they’re usually picking up more than one order of fries. (Photo by Stan Lee)

Photos by Stan Lee, FCS 2016 James Beard Foundation visual storytelling award winner. This post made possible with help from KCRW’s Independent Producer Project.