‘You should just do popsicles’

Hanh-Thu Jaymes Luu

Photo By PHOTO BY Shoka

Fatface, a new sandwich/popsicle shop in a tucked-away Davis locale, seems like a place you’d stumble on in San Francisco or Portland, Oregon. Hanh-Thu Jaymes Luu (everyone calls her Jaymes), the proprietress, sure fits the bill, from her buzzed hair to her butchers-diagram pig tattoo. As do the whimsical flavor combinations: a sandwich of kale “pesto” and butternut squash, a popsicle made of brandy-poached pear. She ended up in Davis after some bouncing around and, judging by the immediate success of her cafe, she may be there to stay.

Are you a Davis native?

No … I grew up in Louisiana and Florida, and I came out to California for food. I was working in Napa/Sonoma, working and living there, and taking classes in Rocklin. And I wanted to live somewhere in between. I was taking culinary classes in Rocklin. It’s the American Culinary Federation apprenticeship that I started in Florida, transferring out here.

Where were you working in Napa and Sonoma?

I was working at an olive-oil and vinegar company. And then I was working at the employee cafeteria at Hewlett-Packard in Sacramento and at a dinner theater in Sacramento. A bunch of jobs.

How’d you end up in Davis?

It was a lot of commuting, a bunch of hours every day, and I was like, “I just wanna pick something in between.” I heard that Davis was a small college town and I was like, “OK! I don’t know anybody. I’ll move there.” And I really really liked it, then I didn’t like it, and now I’m back to really liking it. Kinda the “maybe I should go to the city” type of thing, but Davis is a nice place to call home, and then if I want some excitement, I venture out to Sac and the Bay.

How did you get into the popsicle business?

Well, I’d been cooking and working at the olive-oil company; it was a really small company, just basically one guy and me. I was working there for like four years, and he showed me how to do everything, how to run a business. I was like, “OK, I think I want to run my own business.” So instead of working my way through restaurants—waiting 20 years to become a chef—I could do something small and do it really well and focus on a few things and then why do I need to be a chef? I wanted to do ice cream … and my friend thought I was crazy … to get the machines, and he was like, “You should just do popsicles,” and I thought he was crazy. That’s dumb! Making popsicles? Nobody’s going to want that.

When did you start?

2005. I wanted to do it in 2003. I bought the popsicle bike in 2003 and kept playing with flavors.

Just selling at the Davis Farmers Market?

Yep. Only at the farmers’ market.

You have some pretty wacky flavors. Have you had one that was completely unsuccessful?

Yeah, I have a big problem getting flavor out of cherries, and I tried to do this alcoholy cherry cordial with chocolate, and it tasted like rotten old medicine.

What’s your most popular popsicle flavor?

The kaffir lime and avocado is one of the most popular “weird” ones, as is the Thai tea and sweet potato.

When did you open the cafe Fatface, and what’s the story with the name?

I opened it in November of [2009] … and the name is a term of endearment. Me and my friends call each other fatface because we just love to eat, and it’s about really loving food but in this unpretentious way.

What’s your most popular sandwich?

Roast pork, persimmon, goat cheese and arugula.

Will you always have a pork sandwich on the menu?

Probably. I try to just make things that I would eat or that my friends would love to eat. And it just happens to be pork.

Where do you source your pork?

Some from [Bledsoe Natural Pork in Woodland], and some from the [Davis Food] Co-op.

How’s business so far?

Really good. The shop is great. The popsicles are great. It’s been almost five years now. I’m trying to move my way into the Bay Area with the popsicles. The shop was meant to be a production shop for the popsicles.

Fatface seems really kid friendly; is that something you aimed for?

(Laughs.) Maybe it’s just my personality coming … the 5-year-old in me. Yeah. I like the bright colors. I don’t know about kid friendly. It’s more like … Jaymes-centric.