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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Faced with Whole Foods Competition, Haight Street Market Expands

Posted By on Thu, Mar 10, 2011 at 8:16 AM

The first half of Haight Street Market. - ENARI L./YELP
  • Enari L./Yelp
  • The first half of Haight Street Market.

Anyone who has ever lived in the Upper Haight ― me, for example ― has fallen in love with the Haight Street Market. On a street plagued with 18-year-olds from Stockton shopping for bongs, it's a spot where neighbors actually talk to one another ― and to the Vardakastanis family who have run the place for 30 years. So the prospect of the new Whole Foods on Stanyan and Haight has filled the market's regulars with both anticipation and guilt.

Whole Foods has killed hundreds of small natural-foods markets over the course of its existence. But rather than go into hospice mode, waiting out its final days, the Haight Street Market decided to evict Massawa and expand into the space. As SF Eater was first to report, yesterday the addition just opened to the public.

'This has me and my brother's dream for years," says Bobby, son of market founders Gus and Georgia. "To have a full-service store but keep it small enough so people could feel at home in it." (Bobby and Dimitri also run Noriega Produce on 46th and Noriega.)

To that end, they finally secured a beer and wine license, tripled the size of the bulk section, and installed a butcher case with fresh fish and grass-fed meats. The Vardakastanises also hired Cafe Flore's longtime chef and a former Il Fornaio manager to oversee the deli, and its prepared foods selection includes pastitsio, spanikopita, and moussaka that Georgia cooks herself. Up by the doors is a Blue Bottle coffee stand serving both pourover and espresso drinks ― for the past year, Coco-Luxe has been the only source for decent espresso drinks, but it doesn't open until late morning. The next stage of the expansion will be to remodel the original market space, Bobby says.

Will it be enough? Ah, that's the question. Small markets have certainly thrived in close proximity to giant grocery stores. Golden Produce (172 Church) in the Castro has done so well across the street from Safeway that it doubled its space a few years back.

My hope is that the Vardakastanises, moving forward, look at Whole Foods as a complementary business, and focus on offering things that people can't find at the larger, shinier grocery chain rather than duplicate its selection on a smaller scale. (For instance, Haight Street Market's selection of fresh, local produce is a heck of a lot cheaper, and the coffee stand should bring in a lot of us locals.) Bobby seems to agree. "I think down the line, we'll feed off each other," he says. "It's competition, but if you just run your business correctly everyone will succeed."

Haight Street Market: 1530 Haight (at Ashbury), 255-0644. Open 7 a.m.-9 p.m. daily.

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Jonathan Kauffman

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