January 04, 2013

New Digs for the New Year: Farmers Market Vendors Set Up Shop

Ryan Farr, owner of 4505 Meats, wasn’t sure if he was ready to invest in a brick-and-mortar butcher shop, but when a 500-square-foot space became available on Mission and 15th—just two blocks from his family’s home—he knew the timing was right. He signed a lease in mid-November, and three weeks later, the shop opened its doors.

“I felt really good about it,” says Ryan. “We have an amazing, talented staff that’s really on fire right now, and everyone’s up for new challenges.”

Ryan is part of a crop of Ferry Plaza Farmers Market vendors who are making the risky leap from temporary tent to permanent shop. For these entrepreneurs, the farmers market has been the proving ground for turning their dream into an economically viable reality.

“We wouldn’t be where we are now if it weren’t for the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market,” says Ryan. “We learned a lot about what customers want and carved out our place in this culinary world.” After years in restaurants, Ryan got his start peddling his famous chicharrones at local bars and began selling local, pasture-raised burgers and dogs at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in 2008. “I had no idea what we were doing,” he recalls. “I just knew that I had a baby on the way and needed to make money.” Today, 4505 is at the Ferry Plaza three days a week and at four other markets around the Bay Area. By opening the butcher shop, he says, he has doubled the amount of meat he buys from local, sustainable ranchers like Magruder Ranch and Riverdog Farm.

Even though Ryan has set up permanent shop, he plans to continue selling at the farmers market that gave him his break. “Just to go there and be a part of a community, where everyone is going through the same thing—small farmers, ranchers, and food producers—it’s really a great support to lean on.”

Similarly, Fatted Calf Charcuterie joined the Ferry Plaza in 2005 after debuting at the Berkeley Farmers Market two years earlier. “Farmers markets gave us a start at a very low cost,” says co-owner Toponia Miller, noting that she and her partner, Taylor Boetticher, launched with a $10,000 budget. In the decade since, they’ve opened thriving retail spaces in Napa and Hayes Valley.

The storefronts have allowed them to better showcase their products and expand their sales beyond what was possible at farmers markets alone. Still, they remain committed to their Saturday stand at the Ferry Plaza, despite the occasional slow or rainy day. “We have a lot of customers who have been coming to us for so long,” she says. “We like that connection with the community and the farmers. And at the Ferry Plaza, we’re so visible to people from out of town. From a marketing perspective, it makes sense for us to keep doing it.”

Other Ferry Plaza fixtures that have expanded beyond their humble beginnings in the last couple years include Scream Sorbet, which opened a shop in Oakland, and Happy Girl Kitchen Co., which has a storefront, cannery, and café in Monterey. Last year, Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen and Namu both built restaurants in the Mission District.

Richie Nakano, who started Hapa Ramen as a pop-up at the Thursday market in 2010, is working on opening a restaurant on Fillmore. He raised $61,847 earlier this year through a successful Kickstarter campaign, which utilized video testimonials from local chefs and farmers market vendors to help share Hapa’s story.

For Richie, being at the Ferry Plaza has enabled him to take Hapa to the next level, in a city where new restaurants open frequently and competition is stiff. “Being in the market has definitely helped us build a loyal following,” he says. “A lot of the risk of opening a restaurant has been taken out, because people know our food and they know us.”

Serving Mexican fare with a fresh, local, and seasonal twist, Joe Hargrave incubated Tacolicious at the Thursday Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, and now has restaurants in the Marina and the Mission. By end of January, they plan to open a third location in Palo Alto. “It’s bizarre to think that in 2009, we had one employee—myself,” says Joe. “We’re going to have 200-plus employees by the end of next month,” he marvels, adding proudly that the restaurant’s revenue surpassed $250,000 in 2012.

In addition to creating jobs for the local food economy, Joe has found numerous ways to give back to the farmers market community that gave Tacolicious its start. Not only does he source many of the restaurant’s ingredients from the market, but he also donates proceeds from Tacolicious’s guest taco series to CUESA’s education programs and co-sponsors Hecho en San Francisco, an annual benefit for CUESA and La Cocina, a nonprofit small business incubator.

While the farmers market is no longer a large part of Tacolicious’s overall income, the stand remains a labor of love. “It is a massive part of who we are,” says Joe. “If you’re going to be doing any kind of food business in the Bay Area, the Ferry Plaza is the epicenter.”

He adds, “It’s not even work for us. It’s a pleasure.”

4505 Meats can be found at the Saturday, Tuesday, and Thursday markets. Look for Fatted Calf on Saturdays, Hapa Ramen on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Tacolicious on Thursdays.

Ryan Farr photo by Drew Altizer Photography.

About CUESA

CUESA (Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture) is dedicated to cultivating a sustainable food system through the operation of the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market and its educational programs. Learn More »