At the Bayview Bistro, Local Food Entrepreneurs Nourish Community Resilience
If you walk near Bayview’s 3rd Street corridor around lunchtime, you’ll catch whiffs of barbeque before noticing the Bayview Bistro. You’ll see Harold “Big H” Agee, the owner of Big H Barbeque, greeting almost everyone walking by, offering hugs and an infectious smile. His daughter and granddaughter are by his side, taking orders and assembling plates.
A lifelong Bayview resident, Agee has been sharing his love for barbeque through pop-ups and catering gigs for the past few decades but never occupied a regular space. That changed when Agee became one of the inaugural vendors at the Bayview Bistro, a new food hub for entrepreneurs with deep ties to the neighborhood. Since July, Agee has been at the corner of 3rd Street and Hudson Avenue three days a week with Soul Bowlz and Yes Pudding.
Before the Bistro, the privately-owned lot had been left vacant for the past decade. With the help of community demand, funding from San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s contractors and The Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development and management by Andrea Baker Consulting, the lot was transformed into a gathering space in July 2019. With a colorful mural, picnic benches, and plenty of space to come together over food, the Bayview Bistro offers local Bayview food entrepreneurs a platform for growing their businesses.
What makes the Bistro unique? Not just anyone can become a vendor. You have to be connected to the Bayview district, either by living, owning a kitchen, utilizing a commercial space, possessing a cottage food license or maintaining a brick and mortar presence in the neighborhood.
The place-based approach to selecting vendors intends “to make sure the local community that has been here for generations gets some of the first opportunities in the economic activity coming into Bayview,” says Tracy Zhu, the Social Impact Partnership Manager with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.
Alexis Woods, the current Bayview Bistro Hub Manager, is a lifelong Bayview resident and the former manager at Isla Vida, the beloved Afro-Caribbean restaurant in the Fillmore that recently closed after a year of rave reviews. As a new, black-owned business in a gentrifying, historically-black Fillmore district, Isla Vida’s closure cut deep, especially for Woods, who had poured her heart and soul into building a community there.
Bayview-Hunters Point has long struggled with economic disenfranchisement and harmful environmental conditions. Now, the tide of gentrification is rising, bringing closures of black-owned businesses and skyrocketing property values. For Woods, this is exactly why the Bayview Bistro matters: “Finally, there’s somewhere they haven’t taken over yet. We now have somewhere we can sit and we can be a community. That means something because that’s what it used to be.”
Still, the Bistro’s main goal isn’t to create a permanent space; the lot is slated for a mixed-use development project in a few years. Rather, Zhu says, it’s to find a way “to support growing small businesses to become sustainable in the long run.” This involves tailored technical help, which can “include menu creation and pricing, assistance registering as a city-approved vendor, and development of a marketing plan.”
And the growth is visible. As Agee’s customer base has grown via word of mouth among barbeque fanatics on social media, so too have his operations. He’s gone from being cash-only to adopting a POS system and frequent eater punch cards. “To be able to shift from an informal vendor to the owner of a registered business [is] a huge deal in raising vendor’s profiles and putting them in different professional realms,” Zhu comments.
As the vendors phase out of the Bistro, their next steps will vary based on the specific needs of their businesses. Nima Romney of Soul Foodz will start appearing at SoMA StrEAT Food Park and plans on building a website for her catering business. Quanisha Johnson of Yes Pudding is stepping back from regular sales to focus on her business strategy with the goal of selling at farmers markets before opening a brick and mortar. Agee plans on building up his catering menu and continuing event pop-ups. Eventually, he hopes to acquire a barbeque trailer so he can take his cooking to hotspots around town, like the newly constructed Chase Center.
As with most projects, there have been bumps along the way, including communication issues between stakeholders and a need for more foot traffic. But even with the challenges of building something from the ground up, Woods believes in it deeply. “It’s remarkable to be a part of the Bistro. No matter if it’s here for a year or if it’s here for five years,” she says. “Bayview is everything to me. My roots are in Bayview. I mean, who wouldn’t want to work right down the street from where they were born?”
Maybe that’s what makes the Bayview Bistro unique. It’s private-public partnership that believes in the power of food to strengthen community in a more radical way than any other food park in the Bay Area. It’s about people with connections to the neighborhood using food entrepreneurship to cement their rightful place in a rapidly changing Bayview, trying to come out of the transition better than ever.
As Harold Agee reflects, “To be starting my business in my community has been a beautiful thing. I just want to stick around and be a part of the change.”
About the New Vendors:
“Founded in 2018 by owner Nory Michelle, the concept of the Yo Soy Ceviche brand is traditional Peruvian recipes with a fusion twist.”
“Ronnishia Johnson and Rheema Calloway are The Vegan Hood Chefs. They specialize in turning soul food and American style favorites into delicious vegan meals.”
“Roman Rodgers grew up in the Bayview and started his business this year. Rome’s Kitchen specializes in Italian style soul food.”
“Ron Cain, resident of the Bayview, is the owner of Ron’s Pit Stop BBQ. He utilizes a food truck from Hunters Point’s Eclectic Cookery, San Francisco’s first and largest commercial kitchen.”
“Gerardo Rodriguez is the owner of Tacos Rodriguez and resident of Bayview Hunters Point. He specializes in Mexican food including tacos, burritos, and quesadillas.”