Welcome to Out of the Kitchen, our ongoing exploration of the relationships that build and sustain the food industry. This year, we’re traveling the country to look at the changing landscape of food markets. Hyper-local markets—filled with myriad grocery, retail, and restaurant options like the ones found in Europe—are on the rise. These markets benefit from their interconnected buying power but operate like small, independent businesses, allowing them to focus on quality ingredients, culinary innovation, and intimate, personal customer service. Through quality, personal touches, and exceptional product, these new food halls are revolutionizing retail one transaction at a time.
The food market inside San Francisco’s Ferry Building began in literal ruins.
After the devastating 1989 northern California earthquake destroyed the Embarcadero Freeway—the double-decker elevated highway that had blocked off the Ferry Building from the rest of the city for three and a half decades—an opportunity arose for the people of San Francisco to reclaim a piece of their history and get a bustling food market in the bargain.
It was a role the Ferry Building was well-suited for. When it opened in 1898 (six years after the architect A. Page Brown designed it), it was the hub of waterborne transportation for the entire region, welcoming both commuting workers and newcomers from overseas. He built it as a grand entrance hall to the Baghdad by the Bay, topping its Beaux Arts ceramic and steel-frame arches and light-embracing skylights with a 245-foot clock tower modeled on the one in Seville, Spain. By the 1930s, the building was the world’s second-busiest transit point, bowing only to Charing Cross Station in London.
But the Ferry Building’s fortunes waned as water-based transport became increasingly obsolete (the Bay Bridge opened in 1936, and the Golden Gate Bridge in 1937). In the 1950s, workers began chopping up the building’s once airy interior space to install a claustrophobic warren of dismal offices. The Embarcadero Freeway went up right across the face of the building in 1957, with only the clock tower peeking over the traffic jams to remind San Franciscans of the architectural gem that still stood there.
“This building had been stuck behind the double-decker freeway, and it had this macabre feel about it,” the building’s senior property manager, Jane Connors, says. The question now was what to do with it. The answer, after much public debate, was to make it a permanent home both for local artisanal food purveyors and for the farmers’ market, which was still shuttling back and forth from location to location in the city after 25 years.
Photo: Ashley Batz
Pike Place in Seattle and Granville Island in Vancouver were obvious models, but from the get-go, the Ferry Building Marketplace was meant to be uniquely San Franciscan, for San Franciscans.
“San Francisco has these great local food traditions, that Mediterranean climate, an abundance of produce, Alice Waters and Chez Panisse influencing the restaurants here, the farmers’ market,” Connors says. “We just knew that San Francisco needed a permanent home for the market and those traditions.”
The marketplace underwent an extensive $110 million renovation that restored its open-air atmosphere and original look, reopening the 65,000 square feet on the ground floor and turning the old baggage rooms lining the main hall into doorless booths for merchants.
“It was a gut renovation from inside out,” Connors says. “They had to replace hundreds of square feet of the mosaic tiles on the outside floor, restore the arcades, maintain the historical offices while demolishing the newer small offices, maintain the Tennessee marble on the walls and the clock tower.”
By the end of 2002, the market was ready to relaunch, under a public-private partnership in which the building is managed by Chicago-based Equity Office Properties, which rents the property from the city. The problem was convincing merchants to sign on in one of the most expensive real-estate markets in the world in the midst of an economic downturn.
“There were a lot of people, myself included, who were like, ‘This is going to work, but will take a few years to get it going,” says Hog Island Oyster Co. founder and tenant John Finger.
Photo: Ashley Batz
So Finger and a group of the other anchor tenants offered the Ferry Building a deal: They would sign leases, but they’d be allowed to exit without penalty if the marketplace wasn’t 75-percent booked after six months. The six-month mark came, and the merchants began talking about their options.
“It was only 60-percent filled up, and we were like, ‘Okay? What do we do?’” Finger says. “We decided to stay. And it’s the best decision we ever made.”
The deciding factor was the farmers’ market, which permanently moved to the Ferry Building Plaza in early 2003, Connors says.
“We were half-booked in March 2003. We relocated the farmers’ market in May 2003,” Connors says. “The day after, we were fully leased. Once the saw the farmers’ market in place, people got it: ‘So this is what it’s going to be like.’”
The Marketplace now has 49 tenants and gets more than 6 million visitors a year. The majority of visitors are Bay Area locals, arguably the most food aware shoppers in America.
“San Francisco’s got this phenomenal growing season. They’re literally local all year round without too much compromise—we’re not living off kale and squash from November to spring,” Connors says. “We just got strawberries this week [March], the dairy is 30 miles away, the creamery is 25 miles away. All that really plays into what goes on here.”
In other words, tenants are carefully selected to be able to contribute to the San Francisco grocery shopper’s basket.
“We are looking at everything a shopper would need, the full experience,” Connors says. “We want the butcher and the baker—we even have a candlestick maker. We’re looking at the experience as holistically as possible. We have Spanish and Italian olive oils, a gluten-free bakery. We want to make sure the building has the raw food ingredients shoppers need, while being able to get breakfast from Boulettes Larder or oysters on the half shell while they’re here.”
And the result is that the Ferry Building has become arguably the closest thing around to a local grocer for the entire city of San Francisco.
“When people walk through this building, I hear people bringing friends and family through. They say, ‘This is where I get my cheese, and this is where I get my bread,’” Connors says. “This is why they say San Franciscans vote with their forks.”
The post How San Francisco’s Ferry Building Is a Local Grocer for the Entire City appeared first on Bon Appétit.
from Bon Appétit http://www.bonappetit.com/people/out-of-the-kitchen/article/ferry-building-san-francisco