About 13 years ago, I was growing tomatoes and Mexican herbs for my little stand at the Yountville and Calistoga farmers markets. I thought I'd try beans because my tomatoes were taking to long to ripen and then it seems as if I blinked and now Rancho Gordo has a store in the San Francisco Ferry Building!
I'd been approached before, first to open a small kiosk and later, for a full store. I wanted to do the kiosk but the beans are so heavy and I just couldn't imagine how to backstock all the product. If I was going for it, I wanted to go all the way. I knew I wanted my Mexican movie posters somehow incorporated and I knew I wanted to be able to offer all the great things we've been importing from Mexico.
Molly had been working for us since she was 16 or so. She'd come after school and file or bag beans. She was very sweet but I didn't pay her much attention. Slowly but surely, if a customer would come into the store and there was no one to help, Molly would jump at the chance. She's a very smart cookie and over time became one of our most valuable employees. She likes to cook (a gift from both of her parents) and the customers trust her. When she announced she was moving to San Francisco, making her manager of the store seemed logical and a gift.
Molly worked with Kornell, our numbers guy, and together they created a POS system, worked out all the computers, hired the staff and basically figured out how to run the place.
I knew I wanted the look of store to reflect our vintage aesthetic but I also knew this needed to be a mainstream store. The beans are confusing enough. I didn't want the environment to scare people off. I called my old friend Carrie Brown (of Jimtown) who is brilliant with colors and after I told her I liked a pallet of brick red, forest green and saffron yellow, she thought about it, saw the space and smiled. She came back with the current pallet, which is more of a tomato red, a celery green and a mustard yellow. My inner conservative wouldn't have chosen it in a million years but everyone loves it and I think it's very clever.
Jim, who works on our bean procurement with our farmers, balked at the price of some of the fixtures and finishes and ended up doing them all himself. I never doubted him but what he delivered at a fraction of the price makes me want to do a little happy dance.
As all the pieces were coming together, Elizabeh, who has been doing our Saturday market for years, decided she was done with Saturdays at the ferry building and then changed her mind when she thought of all the friends and customers she's known. She works with her brother Craig at their Ponsford's Place bakery in San Raphael (Craig is known as a kind of "bread whisperer" in key circles) and now you can find Elizabeth working for us and bringing in a new batch of their bean turnovers, which are delicious and happen to vegetarian.
So everything fell together, the staff at the ferry buidling have been great and our neighbors are incredible. We're already talking about ways of helping promote each other's business and it looks like we'll have local ice cream icon Humphrey Slocum just down the corner by Christmas.
Last night was an opening party and I can tell you it was a relief to finally see my friends and customers and have a glass to celebrate. It's been a fast trip, relatively, but I do feel like I've never worked so hard to be so lucky. But I have a great product, wonderful staff and enthusiastic customers so I really am lucky!