This year, Forbes named Bi-Rite one of the Top 25 Best Small Companies in the United States, with the claim that the market is ‘setting the standard for grocery stores that champion locally sourced products grown by small producers.’ Much of that prestige has developed thanks to the store’s current owner, Sam Mogannam.
While Bi-Rite Market originally opened in 1940, it has been in the Mogannam family since 1964. Jack and Ned Mogannam, brothers, ran the business until 1989, when they were forced to sell. In the meantime, Sam Mogannam was growing up to become a Swiss-trained chef and spending some time working at San Francisco’s Jardinière. In 1997, Sam and his brother Raphael, who had spent their childhoods stocking the Bi-Rite shelves, took over the business, bringing it back into the Mogannam family. Sam has since become a widely known and respected face in the business world. In 2011, he published the book Eat Good Food, giving advice on how to identify the best food in any supermarket and featuring tons of recipes for how to use that food. (Watch the video below for a taste of what the book is all about.) In 2012, Fast Company named him one of the 100 most creative people in business, and he spoke about reinventing capitalism at TEDxPresidio.
In the meantime, Sam and Raphael had been reinventing their grocery store. Since they took over Bi-Rite, the market began using locally grown produce in its prepared foods. Overfished seafood was removed from the menu. They implemented a salmon smoker, a hummus station, and a beehive on the roof. All of the foods offered in the store are fresh and of the highest quality, such as local heirloom apples and raw-milk cheeses from small-batch producers. In addition to its shelves stocked with prime ingredients, the market offers a deli and meat counter selling ready-to-eat dishes like sandwiches, house-made soups, and a variety of sides, making it the perfect place to grab a meal to eat in the sun at Dolores Park.
In spite of its incredible food supply, Bi-Rite’s business practices are what really make it stand out. The company offers every employee health insurance, a 401(k) with a 4% match, and profit-sharing – even those who work only part-time. Bi-Rite helps cover the cost of farms overgrowing, too, helping tackle the major issue of food waste in America. The company also runs a farm in Sonoma, and Sam makes a point of keeping his grocery staff involved there to help them understand where the food is coming from and the work that goes into producing it. ‘Most people take farmers for granted,’ Sam explains to Huffington Post. ‘…[O]ur staff really get in there and experience what it’s like to drop a bunch of seeds into soil, to nurture them through unpredictable weather that can disrupt or destroy the plant at any point in the growing process, from sprouting to flowering, to fruiting to ripening, to harvesting to sharing it to eat with friends and family. This takes on a whole new meaning of knowing where your food comes from. It’s simply magical.’
Bi-Rite has drawn so much admiration that larger companies like Whole Foods have been known to send its own staff to the market to adopt its practices. Over time, the market has expanded its ventures quite a bit. In 2006, Bi-Rite Creamery and Bakeshop was opened just across the street from the market location. The market began a catering business, and a second Bi-Rite location was opened in Western Addition in 2013. Today, the staff has grown to over 300 employees, bringing in $44 million in revenue every year. Now, the company has even opened its own non-profit, 18 Reasons, a cooking school empowering the community to buy, cook, and eat great food.