In Here/Say's series "When the Lights Come Up in the City," we tour three neighborhoods in partnership with Broke-Ass Stuart to learn how businesses and community leaders pivoted to success during the pandemic. Last week we explored North Beach. Next Up: Outer Sunset
It may be on the outskirts and off the beaten path, but there is something special about the Outer Sunset. Aside from being Karl the Fog's favorite place to hang around, the Outer Sunset is predominantly a residential neighborhood full of vibrant and colorful homes.
It's where thrill-seeking surfers go to ride the barrels of waves at Ocean Beach. It's currently the home of San Francisco's longest car-free thoroughfare, where hundreds of kids learn to ride bikes and cyclists cruise freely. It is also a community that recently experienced an explosion of creativity as residents worked to build places where people could safely shop and gather during the pandemic.
While the rest of the city's businesses either shut down or were in limbo, the Outer Sunset community took full advantage of San Francisco's hard economic reset and opened new businesses.
Here's a look at three new Outer Sunset businesses that made their grand debut in the community during the pandemic and have since built a fanbase.
Angie Petitt-Taylor is no stranger to the Outer Sunset. In 2014 she started the Outer Sunset Mercantile, which activates 37th Avenue between Ortega and Pacheco Streets. At the time, Petitt-Taylor was looking to create an open-air market that featured local craft entrepreneurs looking for ways to expand their customer base without the hindrance of owning a brick-and-mortar location. She accomplished that goal by gathering dozens of locals to showcase their talents and sell goods like jewelry, clothing and pottery.
When the pandemic hit, Petitt-Taylor saw an opportunity to double down on programming and give the Outer Sunset community what she felt they needed—a farmers market.
"There was just no other agenda other than to create a farmers market out here, which is one of my passions," said Petitt-Taylor. "But then there was this dilemma of bringing the community together in a pandemic when you're not supposed to be gathering."
Nevertheless, Petitt-Taylor told us that hundreds of people showed up at the market for its debut. While the crowd size made her nervous at first, she has since hired security to ensure that attendees follow safety protocols for COVID-19.
The farmers market features over twenty food vendors, including popular made-to-order meals like gumbo from Chef Dontaye Ball’s Gumbo Social and fresh produce from farmers like Kou Herr of Herr Family Farms. There is also live music and activities for youth.
Petitt-Taylor told us that the Outer Sunset Farmers Market & Mercantile has been so successful that she's considered popping up in other neighborhoods, but for now, her heart is focused on her community.
"It fills my cup every day when I hear how much it meant to people to be able to have this, that the kids could come out and still safely play after so many months of being isolated," said Petitt-Taylor. “It's been very special."
Before becoming a father and teacher, Nathan Tan was a native San Francisco kid obsessed with art and running around the city's streets with a spray can. Tan has always had a love for San Francisco, which is why he chose to raise his family in the Outer Sunset.
As a local artist, Tan's work has been featured in gallery shows, commissioned for murals and can be found on canvases in people's homes. He also has a fashion line called "New Skool," which features his art on screen-printed kids and adult apparel.
Tan told us that his art focuses on the evolution of San Francisco and is meant to make people feel nostalgic.
"I've seen the city change so much, and change is inevitable," said Tan. "I feel like one purpose with my work is documenting San Francisco, whether it's how it looks right now or how it used to look, and I like sharing that through my work."
Nate's art features paintings like San Francisco's classic Muni buses and downtown's cityscape, minus the Salesforce building, which Tan told us was "intentional."
"I've had art collectors tell me that my art reminds them of what it was like to be a kid in San Francisco," said Tan. "If my art makes them feel anything, then I did my job."
When the pandemic hit, Tan found a way to meld his love for San Francisco, family and art together by creating a studio in the basement of his home and teaching kids from ages five to 12 how to paint graffiti art.
Tan's online Zoom class dubbed "Uncle Nate's Creativity Time" was started to give kids who struggled mentally with the shelter-in-place order a creative outlet and opportunity to learn something new. What was only meant to be one class that he recorded on YouTube and posted on his Facebook became so popular that Tan now has twelve classes available online for kids to watch and learn from.
"It's fun, and I relate to kids well because I am a father,” said Tan. “I also really like teaching, so this has been a cool way to bring all of that together."
Outer Sunset resident Laura Seymour has many talents—none of which are hidden. She's a well-known stylist, interior designer and can brew a mean cup of coffee. Her latest discovered talent? The production of naturally fermented dough, a skill Seymour learned during the pandemic.
It's also the inspiration behind her new business DamnFine Pizza which made its pandemic debut last year and has become an Outer Sunset mainstay.
DamnFine Pizza offers classic pies like pepperoni, margarita and vegetarian. Adventurous options like the "Living La Vida Verde" feature asparagus, spinach, garlic, mozzarella, provolone, pecorino, house-made green sauce and microgreens. DamnFine also features a wide selection of wines, two of which are on tap, coffee and desserts like “DamnFine Tiramisu.” In addition, Seymour told us that she plans to expand the menu to offer items like salads and pastas.
When Seymour first moved to the Outer Sunset ten years ago, she said that she was afraid she'd be bored out of her mind because there did not seem to be much of a food scene.
"I lived in the Mission, which was the place to be, before moving to the Outer Sunset. But it's funny how things changed," Seymour told us. "The Outer Sunset is a place where you can find a mixture of different people, old and young," she added.
And while business has been steady, there was a time when the pandemic felt dark for Seymour. "It was the unknowingness of starting a business, but it's a perfect lesson on how to stay cool when bad things happen that are out of control, like a pandemic," she said.
Despite the uncertainty that the pandemic brought, Seymour is determined to make DamnFine Pizza an anchor business in the Outer Sunset by bringing something new into the neighborhood that she felt was needed.
"We need casual spots for dinner, date nights or even a place where you can have a glass of wine with your girlfriends and complain about work or whatever,” she said. "I don't want to do business anywhere else."