At this Bay-area store with a chef’s approach to specialty retail, selections include restaurant-quality prepared foods and an emphasis on local products and ingredients.
By Nicole Potenza Denis
This San Francisco neighborhood store has deep community roots and a passion for sustainability. Bi-Rite Market offers 4,000 organic, sustainable and locally produced food products all packed into 1,500 square feet. With more than one-third of its inventory from local vendors and a nearby Bi-Rite Creamery that uses locally sourced milk, owner Sam Mogannam stresses to customers the concept of knowing where their food comes from. Mogannam touts his freshly prepared foods as the heart of the store and has significantly reduced grocery to make room for fresh products.
In 1964, brothers Ned and Jack Mogannam bought Bi-Rite Market, located in San Francisco’s rough, drug-laden neighborhood of 18th St. and the Guerrero-Dolores corridor. The area had a lot of diversity and a lot of grit.
In 1989, Ned and Jack retired, and the shop was sold and run as a liquor and convenience store. Meanwhile, Ned’s son Sam pursued his dream of becoming a chef and opened a restaurant in San Francisco. Eventually, Sam and his brother Raphael took over the market in 1998, gutting and basically reinventing it. The two installed a kitchen in the center, in line with Sam’s goal of providing customers with restaurant-quality meals and offering home cooks a place to get fresh ingredients. “Locals thought we were crazy putting a kitchen in a store and selling hot food: It was unheard of,” says Sam Mogannam. Today, prepared foods account for 15 percent of total sales. Popular selections include Vietnamese pork sandwiches and Rancho Gordo beans with artichokes and arugula.
Mogannam is now the sole owner—he bought out his brother, who is now Bi-Rite’s head grocery buyer, in 2006.
Points of Distinction…
Mogannam installed a rooftop herb garden seven years ago and also has rooftop beehives from local beekeepers. He uses the herbs in almost all prepared foods and the rooftop honey in the Creamery’s homemade Honey Lavender ice cream. Mogannam owns farms in Sonoma and Placerville and stocks Bi-Rite’s produce section with his own apples, tomatoes, peppers, figs, cucumbers and eggplants. He regularly takes staff to local farms and dairies to help them better understand the products, build relationships with vendors and more easily communicate the food’s benefits with customers.
Bi-Rite is a certified green business by the State of California and Mogannam strives to keep the carbon footprint to a minimum. The staff (55 full-timers and 25 part-timers) regularly composts organic waste and uses compostable utensils and containers. All of the Creamery’s containers are biodegradable.
Mogannam also created 18 Reasons, a nonprofit that offers outreach and education by hosting tastings, classes and dinners that connect producers and the local community.
Highest Grossing Department…
The meat department is the top seller. Bi-Rite butchers whole animals and the selection is 70 percent locally sourced. Mogannam also makes his own salami. House-made Fennel and Paprika salami ($24.99/pound) is a customer favorite.
How They Keep Innovating…
Mogannam is working on a cookbook and shopping manual: Bi- Rite’s Market Manual. He recently expanded the production area of his Creamery with plans to open two more ice cream shops next year. This fall he will open a new 2,000-square-foot commissary kitchen to service all locations as well as serve as the new home for 18 Reasons.—N.P.D.
Year Opened: 1964 (the store has operated at the 18th St. location since 1940)
Type of Business: Free-standing specialty food store
Outstanding Features: Local products, sustainable practices, chef-quality prepared foods, rooftop herb garden and beehives; 18 Reasons nonprofit organization
Contact: Sam Mogannam, 415.241.9760 , biritemarket.com
MOST READ ARTICLES