The sweet smell of soul food, tacos and barbecue hovers over a once-vacant lot in the Bayview community southeast of downtown San Francisco.
Longtime residents are serving up food and smiles to familiar faces in the neighborhood as a vibrant open-air food marketplace known as Bayview Bistro emerges. Its growing base of regular customers live and work in the neighborhood, and they know the food-vendor proprietors by name. The locals dine on picnic tables and bleachers situated alongside a colorful mural that has become a community landmark.
The objective of Bayview Bistro is simple: create space and provide opportunities for restaurateurs with ties to the community to establish a business and cultivate a following. The community of diners who have called Bayview home for generations play an important part as well. Through their “eat local” investment, they are showing their support for sustainable businesses operated by fellow residents in the predominantly African-American neighborhood.
Inspired by a public-private partnership and the belief that food brings people together, Bayview Bistro launched in July 2019 with support from contractors working for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s Social Impact Partnership Program, the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, and community stakeholders such as FivePoint.
Two future mixed-use communities will be created by FivePoint in the Bayview area: Candlestick and The SF Shipyard. As vendors achieve success through the Bayview Bistro program, many of them aspire to become permanent food fixtures in their emerging community.
FivePoint is supporting a new Bayview Bistro Food Box weekly catering program and subsidizing permits for Bayview Bistro vendors through 2020.
FivePoint is also covering rent for kitchen space utilized by five Bayview Bistro vendors through a lease negotiation with Eclectic Cookery, which operates three commissaries in the community and provides full-scale support services on successfully operating a small food business.
Vegan Hood Chefs, a health-conscious Bayview Bistro vendor that offers soul food with a Caribbean influence, is an apprentice at Eclectic.
Ronnishia Johnson (pictured above), who operates Vegan Hood Chefs with co-owner Rheema Calloway, says the experience of working at Bayview Bistro and Eclectic Cookery has provided them with invaluable operational experience such as brainstorming recipes, menu development, cost and food analysis, bookkeeping, marketing, and finalizing catering permits and their status as city vendors.
“We are super grateful for the opportunity to work with Bayview Bistro staff and the wonderful people of Eclectic Cookery,” Johnson said. “What has been most rewarding is the sense of community we have gained. We are a culinary family, even in the busiest of moments, and are able to support and learn from each other.”
As word of mouth about Bayview Bistro grows, so do the dreams of local restaurateurs, like Johnson, who are working hard to become an established part of San Francisco’s renowned food scene. With the support of friends and food lovers in their community, those once-unattainable dreams are within reach.