Sam Mogannam, founder of San Francisco's Bi-Rite, sees food as community

Joseph Schell/Special to The Examiner

Joseph Schell/Special to The Examiner

Sam Mogannam has come a long way from selling Twinkies and cigarettes on the weekends out of his family’s business. Today, he owns and has evolved that business and plans to continue to expand the Bi-Rite Market, fusing his love for food and passion for serving the Mission district.


As a self-proclaimed food lover, what was your mission when you founded the Mission Bi-Rite in 1998?

I love to feed people. Food has an incredible way of bringing people together, no matter where you are. It is what attracted me to becoming a chef, to opening a restaurant and what eventually led me back to Bi-Rite, the store I grew up in. Even though we did not articulate our mission as succinctly when we opened, it was clearly the same as it is today — creating community through food.

The Mission district market is located in a vibrant community. What’s your role in that community?

I actually started working in this community over 35 years ago; my family will be 50 years serving this community in 2014. Our role is to serve and to feed people. We do this literally and metaphorically. Bi-Rite Market, Bi-Rite Creamery, 18 Reasons and Bi-Rite Farms now provide about 130 jobs to many who live in the Mission. We support over 400 farmers, ranchers, cheesemakers, chocolatiers and other artisans of amazing food, most of which are small, locally owned and operated businesses.

How are plans coming for the opening of a second Bi-Rite Market on Divisadero Street?

Plans are coming along well. We finally have a layout and design we are excited about it. It took us a while, but I feel that is kind of the Bi-Rite way. We take our time with big projects and are conscious of every decision we make and how it will impact the overall experience with everyone that it will touch. The Divisadero store will have its own feel and personality.

Your first book just came out in October. What motivated you to publish such a work?

Sheer madness! No, seriously, I have always dreamed of writing a book, but always thought it would be another cookbook. The idea for “Eat Good Food” came about from a series of conversations I had with my co-author, Dabney Gough. She is a brilliant writer and knows me and the store well from the years she spent working with us in our kitchen. Together, we felt that what would serve the community best is a hybrid — a guide to shopping better, a cookbook with easy-to-execute recipes and the story of how we create community through food.

Bi-Rite is very much a family enterprise. Do you come from a food-loving family?

I do. My mother is an incredible cook. She came from Bethlehem and learned to cook from her mother and grandmother. I grew up in a household that lived to eat. My parents would stop on highways to pick olives. We would go to the farmers market to get our eggs. We ate so many different things: lamb brains, stuffed grape leaves that would take eight hours to roll by hand and be devoured in minutes, sumac roasted chicken — a recipe for which is in “Eat Good Food.” But we also ate lots of TV dinners, Shake ’n Bake — on the lamb brains as well — and bought Velveeta and Vienna sausages by the case.

What would you say is your greatest inspiration?

Without a doubt, my family has been my greatest inspiration. Love, passion and integrity — the core values that drive me today and are the core values of Bi-Rite — were learned from my family. My parents had nothing growing up; they barely had enough food to eat. They came here with nothing but a desire to work hard and to make it.

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