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A long wait for a new Bayview market

Fresh produce at Duc Loi Market

For Bayview residents, stocking the kitchen with fresh produce, meats, staples and spices means having to go to several places to get what they need. There is no full service grocery store here, so people have to plan, travel, and get creative. 

"You would think that a big corporation like Safeway or Foods Co. would come closer in to this population," says resident Ross Rhodes. 

Like many residents in Bayview, traveling several miles and taking multiple buses to get to a one stop shop like Foods Co. or Safeway, has become the norm -- especially after Fresh and Easy Supermarket filed for bankruptcy in 2013 and shut its doors in Bayview.  Since then, the city has been working hard to fill the void.

“It has taken about three years, a very long time,” says San Francisco Supervisor Malia Cohen. She adds that she’s heard many excuses as to why grocers didn’t want to move in to this destination on Third Street.

“The mayor and I joined in penning a letter to over 180 retailers. And we reached out to many people as far as Atlanta, but there was no takers,” she says. 

The list of 180 retailers included places like Target, Whole Foods, Foods Co and many more. They all said no.

“And let’s be clear- Safeway turned us down on multiple occasions.  They said ‘thank you but no thank you.’  We are interested in another development- the one in the shipyard.  That conversation didn’t last long; it was really offensive so I made a personal commitment to really not spend time with companies or entities that couldn’t see the value of being in the Bayview community . . .  They are not doing us any favors. We are doing them a favor by allowing them to come in the community,” says Cohen.

Stores do want to move in, but Cohen says they are more drawn to new developments like the seven billion dollar project underway at the navy shipyard’s waterfront.   

For Cohen, the resistance didn’t make economic sense, especially since a grocery store is needed right now.

“When you look at the numbers-- the fact of disposable income, there is zero to very little competition, one would think it would be attractive to set up shop and do business in the neighborhood.”

Another reason Cohen thinks it's been so hard to get a grocer here is the demographics of this working class neighborhood --which is populated mostly with people of color. 

“I think there is a level of prejudice that still exists when thinking about the Bayview community. They don’t see it as the alive and thriving community that I see.” she says. 

The T line runs right through this busy area, connecting the neighborhood’s mix of family homes, restaurants, new businesses and apartment complexes. The historic Bayview Opera House has been restored, and houses in the area are selling at record breaking prices.  Finally, a new market called Duc Loi Pantry is moving in. 

“Duc Loi means 'Ethical Earnings', third generation from my grandpa to my Dad and then me.” says Howard Ngo. He and his wife are small business owners, and have another supermarket in the Mission district.  The City offered them a $250 thousand dollar grant and helped the family business secure a $4.1 million dollar loan to build in the new space.  

The name, Duc Loi, is not well known like a Albertson’s or Whole Foods. In fact, some wonder whether it will be able to offer the community what they actually want, like foods that are staples for the diverse kitchens in this area. Bayview is one-third African American, nearly one-third Asian and about a quarter Latino.  

“We are going to make sure whether they are Latino, Asian or African American, when they step in my store they are going to buy something," says Ngo. "There will be something for them. Ready for them.” 

Ngo also says he will have a suggestion box so customers can request items too.  And he's betting that his new employees will be his ambassadors, since the majority of them live in the Bayview. 

“I especially hired the neighbors employees, you say African Americans, and they support me.  And I will work with them and then we will gradually increase whatever the neighbors need for grocery or for food,” he says. 

But what about the many residents who were hoping for a major commercial grocery chain to move in? I asked them if they will go to a local market with an unfamiliar name like Duc Loi.

Gloria Hall says, “I’ve not familiar with that.  This is my first hearing so I would give it a try just to see what it’s like.” 

Howard Ngo thinks there are ways to get people familiar with the new name in the neighborhood.  His children are in charge of marketing and neighborhood outreach.  Vivian Zhu, Howard’s soon-to-be daughter-in-law, attends community meetings to ask residents what they’d like in this new store.

“They ask us if we are going to have fresh produce. It seems like that is a pretty big deal, fresh produce, so of course we will,” says Zhu, “They also asked if we will have a full service meat counter, which we are and they also wanted us to not carry so much pre-packaged stuff.”

Zhu also says they'll have a hot food counter and Peet’s Coffee is moving in.  But having access to fresh food options without having to travel for miles is a big deal for Bayview residents. 

I asked Supervisor Cohen to explain the current food climate in the Bayview. 

“Pre Duc Loi, we are making lemons out of lemonade. You have the Super Save and they have done their best, to the best of their abilities, to reconfigure their store so they are selling healthier food options.  There are about 13 liquor stores in the Bayview neighborhood and there are 4 of them that made a commitment to the community through a partnership with an organization called SEFA - Southeast Food Access.  This network of people that said ‘enough is enough.’” 

After an arduous battle to negotiate the opening of this grocery store, the question remains-- will Duc Loi be successful? Will it be a go-to market?

"I don't know anything about it, but I would definitely go there and pay a visit . . . Why not? We need something like this in our neighborhood," says resident Freddie Carter. 

Ross Rhodes agrees. "I give them all the props in the world. Coming into the community and making an imprint to make it better nutritional-wise . . . I believe a lot of folks would shop there." 

Duc Loi Pantry is scheduled to open in September of 2016.