One of my favorite lunch spots in San Francisco is a restaurant called Local Mission Eatery, a cozy little place that sources all of its ingredients from California. That's a difficult, but not terribly daunting, challenge in the state, which produces much of the food consumed by the rest of the country. But Local Mission Eatery restaurateurs Yaron Milgrom and Jake Des Voignes aren't just applying their locavore philosophy to one restaurant; they're building a local eating empire.
In addition to Local Mission Eatery, Milgrom and Des Voignes have a local seafood restaurant called Local's Corner and an upcoming local beer and wine shop called Local Cellar. As of this week, their crown jewel of locavore spots is open for business: a grocery store that makes almost everything it sells--except for items, like eggs and produce, that come from ultra-local producers.
At Local Mission Market, nearly every ingredient in every item comes from a maximum of 90 miles away. That ketchup? Made in the store from local tomatoes. The smoked salmon? That comes from salmon caught by local fishermen. The very few items that aren't made in-house or purchased from local farms, such as coffee, come from local vendors whenever possible. Essentials like spices and sugar are imported, but all sourced from reputable local importers.
I took a tour of the 2,700-square-foot space--a bright, airy warehouse that at various points had been a tobacco factory, a horseshoe factory, and a wallpaper factory--less than a week before Local Mission Market opened. The shelves were partially stocked, but the staff still had a long way to go before everything was prepped for launch.
"When my son was two, he would also ask 'Who made this?' about his food. I could answer all those questions at the restaurant," Milgrom explained to the tour group. "I wanted to do that on a retail scale."
And he did. As we walked through the space, I realized that Milgrom could answer the question for absolutely everything. The produce comes from well-loved local farmers. The shelves and refrigerated cases were empty when I visited, but anyone who goes to the market today will find them full of items for home cooks: fresh pasta, smoked herring, sauces, meat stocks, caramelized onions, and vinaigrettes. There are also plenty of prepared foods for people looking for a meal on the go.
A fishmonger and butcher stand behind counters in the center of the store. Behind them, you can see the cooks in the 1,100-square-foot kitchen preparing food. In the cheese case and at the dairy counter, there are staples like butter, milk, eggs, and cheese. Much of the cheese, Des Voignes pointed out, is made in-house. The bread and desserts found in the bakery section are also made onsite.
While the concept for the market harkens back to the way our grandparents bought food, it also has a tech-centric edge. In the bulk goods section, Local Mission Market does something that should probably be adopted by grocery stores everywhere. Instead of asking shoppers to wrap twist-ties around plastic baggies and then mark in tiny letters what's in the bag, the store has an iPad attached to a scale. Shoppers weigh their items, and a label is automatically printed out with the weight and price. Customers can also buy groceries online and either pick them up from a designated take-out window or get them delivered--locally, of course.
There is no detail at Local Mission Market that is not local-centric. The wood checkout stand is made from a San Francisco Black Acacia tree. The tote bags were crafted in nearby Sausalito and printed in San Francisco with non-toxic inks. Even the graphic design for the Local Mission Market logo comes from a neighborhood graphic design shop.
The market, which is like Whole Foods on steroids, might at first glance appear to be an expensive proposition for shoppers. Milgrom says it isn't. Since the store virtually eliminates its waste stream, reusing every physically imperfect piece of produce (a tomato skin might be dehydrated, ground up, and put in pasta, while the tomato may be used for sauce), products are reportedly comparable in price to what you'd find at other grocery stores in the area. There weren't prices available at the time of my visit, however.
For all of the items stuffed onto its shelves, Local Mission Market isn't as big as your local chain grocery store. It would be nearly impossible to turn the place into a chain--imagine the headache of sourcing local items throughout the year in hundreds of consumer markets, many of which don't have hospitable climates. But if it thrives, the grocery store could serve as an inspiration to food entrepreneurs across the country, and maybe even start to change the way that average shoppers buy food. Or at least make it easier for local food fans to get what they want.