Vanessa Lee, owner of the catering company Smoke Soul Kitchen, said it was “surreal” to see her collection of spice blends on store shelves for the very first time at the newly opened Lucky Bayview grocery store.
“I can’t even believe it,” Lee said, mentioning that one of the products features a portrait of her dad. “I love this one to death,” Lee’s father said, throwing an arm around his daughter’s shoulder.
The long-awaited full service store in Bayview Plaza at 3801 Third St. was officially open for business Wednesday, greeting the community with a clean, vibrant space decorated with art displays from local YMCA youngsters and deals including $0.99 per pound pork ribs.
Lucky Bayview—which is located in a space vacated by Walgreens back in 2019—held a grand opening celebration featuring appearances by Mayor London Breed, Board of Supervisors President Shamann Walton, community leaders and grocery executives. Former city administrator Naomi Kelly, who resigned last year amid a corruption probe, helped Lucky with community engagement and touted the location’s welcoming environment.
“It's not just about what people bring into this community; it's what people create in this community, for the community,” Breed said at the press conference. “This is your store. This is where you are welcome to shop.”
She noted other recent additions to the neighborhood, like the Southeast Community Center and the Southeast Family Health Center, meant to help build resources in the Bayview.
Residents often complain about having to leave the Bayview to get fresh produce and say the grocery could be a game-changer in an area the U.S. Department of Agriculture considers a food desert.
“I can actually walk here. This means that even folks who live in the campers around here can now come to a real grocery,” said Linda Williams, a Bayview resident who checked out the shop for the first time Wednesday morning. “I hope it does well. I’ll tell you I’ll be shopping there.”
New grocery stores in the Bayview neighborhood haven’t always fared so well: Fresh & Easy and locally owned Duc Loi’s Pantry were both opened to great fanfare before shuttering after a few years.
This time, community leaders are determined to make it work by sticking to local hiring commitments, stocking culturally appropriate products and learning from feedback. One example? The store started stocking oxtails due to a customer suggestion.
Lee and other local food makers were given the opportunity to showcase their products to Lucky executives and were aided in their efforts to get appropriate permitting with the help of the corporation and Bayview nonprofits. Other local vendors include Tallio’s Coffee & Tea, Bayview Pasta, Speakeasy Ales and Lagers, and Yvonne’s Southern Sweets.
Local hiring is also a focus, with the company engaging with nonprofit Young Community Developers to help with its workforce development. Officials said all but three of the store’s current staff come from the Bayview.
Walton described the long road to getting a neighborhood-serving grocery store in the former Walgreens location that shuttered back in 2019. At one time, the site was pitched as a potential cannabis dispensary location—an idea that triggered strong pushback in the neighborhood, including from Walton.
“This was a hard-fought battle for many years,” Walton said. “Our community was resilient, our office was resilient and we said we are not going to lose a pharmacy, lose a place that provided food and services to the community, and replace it with something that is not either similar or better.”
The Lucky Bayview’s 9,500-square-foot footprint makes it one of the smallest in the grocer’s network. But Bobby McDowell, vice president of store operations for Lucky California, said the company focused on tailoring its products to the community. Lucky Bayview is also the first of the grocer’s stores to have the neighborhood directly in the name.
“We love having that local name on the store, and we want to make sure the store continues to reflect that identity,” McDowell said, gesturing to a pile of vegetables sourced from Bayview wholesaler Earl's Organic Produce.
Lucky has been in San Francisco since the 1950s and operates two stores in the city, along with one other in Daly City.
In response to resident concerns about balancing the need for security with a pleasant shopping experience, McDowell said the layout of the store was designed to create more lines of sight for employees and limit opportunities for theft. The checkout counters can also be altered to be self service or staffed by clerks.
But the question remains about what will happen in the months and years after the ribbon is cut and TV cameras flicker off.
“It's going to be OK when we open up the store,” said DJ Brookter, executive director of Young Community Developers. “But when we come back next year and we come back the year after, this store needs to still be reflective of folks that are here. We vow to work alongside locals to make sure that that happens.”
Kevin Truong can be reached at [email protected]