Bi-Rite Is Making Bank On All That Fancy Cheese, Wine, and Organic Produce

It's a $14M/year business, in case you didn't know.
It’s a $14M/year business, in case you didn’t know.

If you had any doubts about the success of Bi-Rite Market — which has been the anchor and spiritual center of the 18th Street gourmet ghetto since the dot-com era, but which called 18th Street home decades before that — look no further than the glowing profile of 43-year-old owner Sam Mogannam in the new issue of San Francisco magazine. “If we were in the Wild West,” says neighbor and friend Elisabeth Prueitt, who co-owns Tartine Bakery with husband Chad Robertson, “Sam would be the shopkeeper who would become the de facto mayor if they needed a replacement.”

But not only is Sam known as a swell guy who takes care of his vendors and takes a hands-on approach merchandising the store every day, he’s been a shrewd businessman who took the revenues of the store from $1 million in 1998 to $13.8 million last year. That’s $4,000 per square foot, compared to Safeway which averages about $500 per square foot.

Mogannam attributes part of the success to the European sensibility of the neighborhood market. “Europeans don’t have the space to put down 100,000-square-foot stores with 10-acre parking lots,” he says. “They’re more sensible. They only need one cereal, not the 120 a typical supermarket carries. All that variety confuses people, making it difficult to make good decisions.”

It also doesn’t hurt that it’s the closest decent food store to Dolores Park, which became the weekend destination of half the city starting about five years ago.

One more fun fact: Before Mogannam took over merchandising the wine and beer case in 1983 (when he was a mere fifteen years old), they sold Night Train Express, MD 20/20, and Ripple to Mission drunks; “on the advice of the store’s wine reps [he] brought in their strongest sellers—Sebastiani, Robert Mondavi, and Beaulieu Vineyard … sales soared.”

Cornering the Market [SF Mag]

Bi-Rite Is Making Bank On All That Fancy Cheese, Wine, and Organic Produce