The History of Bi-Rite
Bi-Rite has been a San Francisco institution for nearly 80 years. Today, the 18th Street Market, originally built in 1940, features the building’s signature art deco façade and original glazed tiles that forever connect us to a time when San Francisco Mission District neighbors first gathered at the Market to connect with their community. It’s a storied history for the Bi-Rite Family of Businesses and the Mogannam family. Here are some of the highlights.
Brothers Joe and Bill Cordano built the market located at 3639 18th Street, San Francisco, in 1940. They continued to operate the market until 1959, at which point they sold and built another market in the Bayview neighborhood.
Two immigrant brothers, Jack and Ned Mogannam, purchased the 18th Street market in 1964, and began the work of making Bi-Rite a reliable, friendly neighborhood bodega. With many neighbors living paycheck to paycheck, the Mogannam brothers would often extend them credit so they could always be able to get fresh, good food.
Sam Mogannam grew up helping his dad, Ned, and uncle Jack in the market every day. He tackled whatever needed to be done, from delivering groceries to the seniors in the neighborhood, to helping buy the produce at the Wholesale Produce Market, learning to carefully distinguish quality and flavor from price.
After years of working in the market, Sam Mogannam chose to pursue a different path after high school. Graduating from San Francisco City College’s Hotel and Restaurant Management program, Sam then cooked in Switzerland for a year before returning to the Bay Area to cook at Oakland’s Market Hall and eventually open his own restaurant, Rendezvous Du Monde, in 1991.
But in 1997, when Ned Mogannam flatly told Sam that “You’ll never have a family if you stay in the restaurant business,” Sam and his brother, Raph, agreed to take over the family business. As long as they could do it their way.
In June 1998, Bi-Rite Market was reinvented. Featuring a kitchen in the center of the store, Bi-Rite became a new type of grocery store, one that featured fresh, farm-direct foods that were freshly-cooked and served with the hospitality of a restaurant. On that opening day, Bi-Rite Market was staffed with an incredibly talented, passionate team of six.
The grocery store continued to evolve throughout our first eight years under the leadership of the second-generation Mogannams, and Bi-Rite became an industry leader. Our shelves were filled with ingredients chefs coveted. Sustainability, farm-direct, and responsibly raised became requirements for our products. And service was more than simply friendly. We welcomed guests into our home, taking care of them, inspiring them to think about, taste, and truly enjoy good food.
In the early 2000s, Calvin Tsay popped by to help Bi-Rite on a project, but eventually realized this was his chosen family and joined the leadership team alongside Sam.
Meanwhile in 2002, two amazing pastry chefs, Anne Walker and Kris Hoogerhyde, started baking the most delicious sweets and selling them through Bi-Rite Market. These two phenomenal women quickly outgrew their borrowed kitchens and in 2006 the world-renowned Bi-Rite Creamery opened.
As the first ice cream shop to use local, organic dairy from the Straus Family Creamery (just 45 miles north of San Francisco) and make all recipes from scratch, Bi-Rite Creamery instantly became a San Francisco destination. Guests were especially enthralled with our signature Salted Caramel and Balsamic Strawberry flavors.
2008 was the year the Bi-Rite team took the conversations being had with guests on the market floor off-site, creating 18 Reasons, a physical space for neighbors to gather and meet the producers who were feeding them. Ten years later, 18 Reasons has evolved into a vibrant nonprofit community cooking school that hosts classes and dinners every night of the week and runs a Cooking Matters program, which offers nutrition and basic cooking classes for free to low-income kids, teens and adults throughout the Bay Area.
To better understand where our food comes from and the complexities our farmers and ranchers face to provide sustainable, responsible food, we started our own Farm in Sonoma in 2008. The small parcel grew, and the now three-acre farm is where more than 50 different crop varietals are grown using “beyond organic” sustainable farming practices.
Bi-Rite Market’s Eat Good Food cookbook and shopping guide was printed in 2011. Written as a tool to help guests become better shoppers, to eat healthier, and to understand the impact their decisions have on their own health, and the health of their community, the book is now in its fourth printing.
Responding to the community’s needs of increased accessibility to healthful, delicious food, we opened the second Bi-Rite Market on Divisadero Street in San Francisco’s Western Addition neighborhood in 2013. This slightly larger space also offers a Bi-Rite Creamery Scoop Shop so guests can grab their favorite seasonal scoop before heading to an afternoon in Alamo Square.
In 2013, Bi-Rite also expanded into the Bayview District, opening a commissary and catering kitchen to better serve the needs of our clients. From every day office catering to full-service events, Bi-Rite could now bring our seasonal, delicious menus to more people throughout the Bay Area.
Summer of 2015 marked the first time Bi-Rite Market’s staff included a third-generation Mogannam, Zoe. A seventh-grader at the time, Zoe brought her youthful exuberance to the team, and loved working with guests to select the tastiest stone fruit and tomatoes.
In October 2018, Bi-Rite expanded once again, this time to a new format: Bi-Rite Cafe at Civic Center Plaza. A significant milestone in the City’s multifaceted effort to activate the Civic Center, our cafe is a fun, lively space for anyone to sit outside and enjoy one of San Francisco’s most beautiful open space, while enjoying nourishing, delicious food.
What’s next for Bi-Rite? We’re on a lifelong mission of Creating Community Through Food, so we’ll continue to stay true to our values, to being stewards of a vibrant food culture, and being a destination for our neighbors to gather, share, learn, and grow.
And of course we’re eager to welcome third-generation Mogannam, Olive, to our staff in Summer 2019.