I feel that too much of the discussion about the market hiatus has been about the Health Department. Why they closed us down, when they’ll let us re-open. While I understand and appreciate the concern for safety, I feel that the real focus of the market, the vendors, has been ignored. Public health is a something we take very seriously, but it is my sincere belief that it is less the stainless steel countertops and three-compartment sinks that makes food safe, but the care and attention of the producer. These small batch producers all have a deep care for what they are doing, and it shows in their products.
What we should be focusing on are the people who create this food, how they have started, and where they are now. The market has enabled them to start a business that they wouldn’t have otherwise started, and many have gone on to become legitimate business owners. We need to expand the ways that these small producers can get their products out to the public. I’ve asked vendors to respond to a few questions about how the market has affected their business, and over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing some of the vendor stories:
Sidesaddle Kitchen - Laura Miller
I feel enormously lucky that I found the Underground Market just as I was starting to get serious about Sidesaddle. Being able to meet other vendors, testing out products, and getting exposure to thousands of people every month was incredibly valuable. I never saw the market as a subversive endeavor, but instead as an opportunity that offered a sense of community and support that I couldn't find anywhere else. Aside from the obvious financial challenge of starting a food business, the process can be difficult and discouraging - I may have given up by this point had I not found the market. With contacts made at these events, I have finally gotten into a commercial kitchen and taken the steps to become a licensed operation. Forage successfully organized a logistical framework that is supporting a cultural movement at a grassroots level.
Ahram Namu Kimchi - Ahram Kim
When I first heard about The Underground Market, I didn't know whether or not I had a viable product. I had a homemade organic kimchi that I was sharing with friends and co-workers. Many were encouraging me to turn it into a business, but I didn't know the first thing about starting one. Nearly selling out of all the jars I'd prepared for my first market, made me realize that there was a demand for my product. It encouraged me to pursue something I have always been passionate about, but never dreamed that I could make a living from. That first market was a little over a year ago, and now I'm working out of a commercial kitchen and selling my product in three stores in The Bay Area. The Underground Market means the world to me. Without it, I wouldn't have my own business which has gone from a hobby to my major source of income. The market provided me with huge motivation to continue to pursue my business. I went "above ground" 10 months ago, but I still participate in The Underground Market because I love interacting with the public and getting their direct feedback. I also love the sense of community amongst the vendors. I've gotten so much good advice from other vendors, and always look forward to trading items and discovering the next big food idea.
San Francisco is a notoriously expensive city and the start-up costs of a business here seem really prohibitive. The pop-up restaurants, food trucks and The underground market are a reflection of our economic times and the high cost of rent here. Few people have the capital to rent a commercial space. When I first started out, I had nothing. The underground market helped me get to where I am now. It really is a food incubator for those like me who have an idea, but not the means to start a business. To even get to a point where you want to invest the time and money into starting a business, you need to first figure out whether there is a demand for your product, and the markets help you determine that before you've invested all your savings or quit your day job. In a city that's known for innovation and progressive ideas, it would be a shame to stifle something that has been so positive for not only the vendor's but also for the public. Please let the market continue to make a difference to budding entrepreneurs. Don't makes us take our dreams to Portland! WE LOVE SAN FRANCISCO!