sf

wild kitchen

Health Department Blues

01_Wild_Kitchen_Pop_Up_Restaurant_AndriaLo

Our ever evolving saga with the health department has a new chapter. Since June, when The Underground Market was shut down, we have been trying our best to work with DPH (Department of Public Health). We have all the permits we need, fill out the ever increasing number of forms that are required for the privilege of feeding people in our fair city, and jump through all the myriad hoops put in front of us.  I have been trying my best to come up with solutions to re-open The Underground Market that they're ok with, and at every turn we're rebuked. They seem to have no interest in supporting the food community in SF. Every step they take is a step to push anyone doing innovative food further underground. The most recent situation for us is with our upcoming Basque dinners this weekend. After filling out permits, sending in forms, getting a legit kitchen with a permitted dining room, we are still in danger of getting shut down. The space we are using apparently has an invalid occupancy permit the the fire department. This basically means that a form needs to be turned in to prove that people can safely be in the space. This is the same space we have held our events for months, without a peep about occupancy. Suddenly, a day before our event, we're told we're in violation. I can't see this as anything but a move to shut us down.

I realize they have a job to do, but while the city talks out of one side of its mouth about supporting small businesses, and getting people back to work, the very city organizations that deal with small businesses do everything they can to shut us down. If we desire any real change in the way our country eats, we need to do more than just swear off mcdonalds. We need to work together to create a situation where it's easier to serve good local food at a local scale than it is to serve processed crap flown in from all over the world.  We need to do more than just make an effort to shop at farmers markets, we need to work to make it viable for small producers to start businesses using local ingredients.  Thankfully we're moving in that direction, but certainly not there yet.

We are going ahead with our events tomorrow. Wish us luck.

wild kitchen

Health department blues

Our ever evolving saga with the health department has a new chapter. Since June, when The Underground Market was shut down, we have been trying our best to work with DPH (Department of Public Health). We have all the permits we need, fill out the ever increasing number of forms that are required for the privilege of feeding people in our fair city, and jump through all the myriad hoops put in front of us.  I have been trying my best to come up with solutions to re-open The Underground Market that they're ok with, and at every turn we're rebuked. They seem to have no interest in supporting the food community in SF. Every step they take is a step to push anyone doing innovative food further underground. The most recent situation for us is with our upcoming Basque dinners this weekend. After filling out permits, sending in forms, getting a legit kitchen with a permitted dining room, we are still in danger of getting shut down. The space we are using apparently has an invalid occupancy permit the the fire department. This basically means that a form needs to be turned in to prove that people can safely be in the space. This is the same space we have held our events for months, without a peep about occupancy. Suddenly, a day before our event, we're told we're in violation. I can't see this as anything but a move to shut us down. Its ridiculous that DPH can be so shortsighted on these issues.

I realize they have a job to do, but while the city talks out of one side of its mouth about supporting small businesses, and getting people back to work, the very city organizations that deal with small businesses do everything they can to shut us down. If we desire any real change in the way our country eats, we need to do more than just swear off mcdonalds. We need to work together to create a situation where it's easier to serve good local food at a local scale than it is to serve processed crap flown in from all over the world.  We need to do more than just make an effort to shop at farmers markets, we need to work to make it viable for small producers to start businesses using local ingredients.  Thankfully we're moving in that direction, but certainly not there yet.

We are going ahead with our events tomorrow. Wish us luck.

thoughts

Should the SF Underground Market be bigger?

market line

market line

The first and most obvious answer to this question is yes.  If one throws an event that draws more people than your space can fit, you move up. Bigger is of course better, and in all things, we want to be as big as we can get. Right? I'm not so sure.

It’s a question I get a lot. People tell me that we need a bigger space, and the running joke seems to be that we should move it to the Cow Palace. Its definitely something we think about not the Cow Palace – when I see the hour and half wait to get in, get angry emails from customers  (actually just got my first one a couple days ago), and patiently explain to vendors for the 20th time that in fact we can’t let anyone else in at the moment, lest we all die fiery deaths as martyrs for the local food movement (translation: we've reached fire code capacity).

We’ve done our best to make the market accessible to as many people as possible.  We started this past December in a small Victorian in the Mission (seven vendors and 150 customers), and moved to a warehouse on Capp St. (30 vendors and 700 customers)— both still not big enough.  When we approached SomArts I thought that was it. There was no way we could overfill that space. This of course hasn’t proven true.

The space we have now, SomArts, is in the range of 5000  feet. That's 35ft wide, and 144 feet long. It's a large space by any measure.

We pay several thousand dollars to rent SomArts for a night and by SF standards, that's very cheap. The next space up in size is about $10,000. That’s before shelling out for a cleaning staff, security, insurance, alcohol license, the band, equipment, and all the other less obvious costs that go into creating an event for 2,000 people.  I don't say this to complain, but to set the stage for a fact: If we got a bigger space, we would be forced to raise the vendor fees. As it is, the vendor fees don't cover the cost of the space, which is why you paid $2 to get in this month. In May, we lost money on the market because the event was free. We don't need to make a killing, but a market that loses money every month will not be around very long.

"But wait,” you say, "a bigger space would mean more people, more people equals more money, so no need to charge the vendors more.” Not necessarily. A larger space would definitely let more people enter at the same time, but the number of people coming in would not be guaranteed to go up by the amount we would need to make it worth the costs.

The current vendor fee is $50, a very low bar for entry into a commercial sales space like ours, but for some of our vendors it’s a stretch to pay that cost. Our vendors are making products that they are passionate about, but are also very expensive to produce. The profit margins are already slim, and it wouldn’t feel right to charge the $100-$300 per stall that a larger space would require.

I like the size it is. The market feels more like a big party, rather than a vast trade show. I like that we can fit upwards of 40 vendors inside and still have room for a couple hundred people, while at the same time being able to see the whole space in one sweep.

I like SomArts. We have a good deal of freedom at SomArts and the people who work there. They are very supportive of our ideas, and seem to genuinely want to make things work for us. No one working on the market has much professional event organizing experience; there are a million random things to think about when planning a market, so getting some help along the way is key. A larger commercial space probably would not offer that kind of support.

I like the idea that in creating a market for the SF food community to come to together, we are at the same time supporting a venerable SF non-profit event and art space. A space that hosts the kind of events that make SF what it is. They go out of their way to court and support burgeoning orgs (like ours) that would otherwise not be able to afford such a professional space, and for that they deserve our support. Every person that walks through their door helps them to get funding from grants as well as the city, so 2,000 people coming through each month at our market gives them some real leverage.

People do have to wait. I don't feel good about it (although most people I talk to seem pretty happy with the whole experience, meeting fellow food obsessives in line is always fun). It’s great that people come out to show so much support, and ideally we wouldn't make them wait so long to show that support.  Note: If you want to miss the lines, come during the day next month, there will be tons of room.

Next months SF Underground Market will again be at SomArts on July 24th(this time on a weekend!).  Although there is often a wait at night (hint: for a more relaxed time, come during the day).  I want to say that I really do appreciate that people wait as long as they do. That kind of support shows the vendors that there is a market for what they make, and encourages them to keep getting better at what they do.  I do believe that bigger is not always better, and there is a really intimate vibe now that I feel like we may lose if we expand. This doesn't mean it will always be there, but for the time being we're staying put.  Let me know what you think. You think we should move? Did you see anything at the last market that needs changing? Thanks for reading, and thanks for coming, see you all next month!

Thanks,

Iso

photo by Robin Jolin: robinjolin.com

Uncategorized

Its all coming together....Underground Farmers Market!

Underground Farmers Market

"What's that?" you say "I've heard of underground dinners, but an underground farmers market?". That's right. A market, and a live show, all rolled into one.  Think a farmers market, but at night, with music and drinks, and fresh roasted chestnuts roasting over an open flame.... What? The underground farmers market is a venue where you can taste the food that is being made in the kitchens of our fair city.  Call us voyeuristic, but this is a chance to peek into others' kitchens and share in their bounty.  Pickles, pies, meats, breads to feast on - all by "suggested donation".  But let's not forget the drinks and the music! Yes, we've invited the musicians.  I know, sounds like a party, not a market, but why can't you have both?  Come together, support our local producers, get some last minute Christmas gifts, and have some drinks to boot. This is about supporting our own homemade diy community, so come out and see what other people are making. The vendors are still to be selected, but from forageSF you can expect delicious fresh wild mushrooms, huckleberry jam, acorn flour, freshly baked acorn bread, and candy cap mushroom cookies. The other producers will be making jams, pies, soaps, bread etc...

Why? To sell at a farmers market, you need to produce your wares in a commercial kitchen. This is an impossible expense for many of us, so the underground farmers market lets all those home producers get their products into the light.  These are veterans, people who've been making their products for years, but only able to share them with friends. We thought we'd give them a venue to share with the whole SF food community.  We'll test all the vendors products, make sure they're delicious and safe, all for you to try.

What: Underground Farmers Market

When: Friday December 18th

Where: We're still deciding on a space, if you have one you think would work, please let us know.

Cost: Free!


Stuff Be a vendor

Volunteer to help out at the market