More than a year after it was supposed to debut, high-end specialty grocer Bi-Rite Market will officially open a location in San Francisco’s Russian Hill neighborhood in the spring of 2024.
The local, family-owned company—known for its bountiful produce selection, wealth of picnic supplies and ice cream shop catty-corner from Dolores Park—has been notably reluctant to expand, routinely turning down opportunities that didn’t feel quite right.
As The Standard previously reported, the forthcoming Bi-Rite at 2140 Polk St. between Vallejo Street and Broadway will be only the company’s third market, after the 83-year-old flagship on 18th Street in the Mission and location on Divisadero Street in the Western Addition that opened 10 years ago. The Creamery, also on 18th Street, rounds out the full “Bi-Rite Family of Businesses.”
The Polk Street address is currently the last location of Real Food Company, an upscale San Francisco natural food store. Part of the delay in opening, Bi-Rite founding partner Sam Mogannam told The Standard, is because Bi-Rite also opted to absorb an adjacent, 1,400-square-foot storefront, which had been a hair salon.
“That required a pretty involved legislative process, to go beyond the 3,999-square-foot limit on Polk Street,” Mogannam said. “We were able to work pretty closely with the Board of Supervisors.”
Construction issues added to the delay, but right now, the team is expecting to open in mid-spring, with a target of April. There will be some 50 to 70 employees to start, a figure that could increase to as many as 100 within a year. (Disclosure: This reporter previously worked as a bartender for the catering department for five years.)
Bi-Rite has passed in and out of the Mogannam family’s hands since its 1940 opening, with Mogannam and his brother buying it back in 1997. Notably, at a time when San Francisco’s reputation among some small business owners has diminished, Mogannam, a San Francisco native, signed a “multi-decade” lease.
“I’m always optimistic. I love this city,” he said. “We want to be in it for the long haul.”
While the store will be larger than the other Bi-Rites, the layout and focus on top-tier produce will be fairly similar.
“The kitchen will be cooking and creating amazing smells,” Mogannam said. “Just a little more room, so hopefully a more comfortable shop.”
Mogannam compares Bi-Rite’s slow rate of growth—”measured” and “thoughtful” are his preferred terms—to cooking one of his favorite dishes, a duck confit and sausage cassoulet. As it turns out, he had learned how to prepare the notoriously complicated Southern French delicacy at Kimball’s, a long-gone Hayes Valley supper club where he worked alongside the founders of the Real Food Company.
“You take the cassoulet, and layer the beans and sausage and build the layers and cover with bread crumbs and duck fat,” he said. “That’s the building blocks of what it takes to build a community. There’s no fast way of making cassoulet, and I love it as an analogy.”
Astrid Kane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org