On its second day, Gus’s Market on the corner of 17th and Harrison was already bustling. The amply proportioned warehouse, the third market in the Vardakastanis family, is stocked with the usual rows of colorful produce, meats, dairy and other staples as well as craft beers and a whole corner full of wines. It opened last Thursday.
Lou Gonzalez, a customer, was checking out the russet potatoes and on his way to inspect the vegetables on Friday afternoon, already planning his weekend meal, which he suspects will be a pot roast.
“I’m Italian, we love to cook, we can’t help ourselves,” he said. So far he’d inspected the fish, which he deemed to be fresh-looking and for the most part well-caught. Now he was eyeing the tubers. “The red potatoes stick out to me,” he said.
The Vardakastanis family also operates Haight Street Market and Noriega Produce, in the Outer Sunset. Like its other two counterparts, Gus’s is stocked with conventional and organic or alternative products side by side to stay accessible to customers who aren’t looking for high-end almond milks or cage-free eggs.
“We try to stay competitive on pricing,” said Dmitri Vardakastanis. “If you wanna buy a $3.00 granola box or a $10.00 granola box, we want to have both.”
So why the Mission? Vardakastanis said customers had been asking for a market in that area, and it was well situated so as not to take anyone else’s business.
“We started looking at this area as a place where we’re not directly competing with anybody,” he said. “We have a relationship with everyone in the independent grocery world.”
But with all the space at 17th and Harrison, Gus’s is branching out into a few other services, boasting a sandwich and deli counter with a few picnic tables outside.
That’s actually what drew Gonzalez in from work at an electrical shop around the corner.
“My boss just came in with one of these sandwiches and I was like, whoa, I gotta get one too,” he said. “Look at the size of this sandwich!” he added, holding up a sandwich roughly the size of his face, marked with a sticker for $6.95.
Amita Amin, on the other hand, wasn’t drawn in by surprise. She lives around the corner and has been eagerly awaiting Gus’s opening for weeks. So far, so good, she said, while browsing the wine section.
“It looks nicely put together,” Amin said. She usually goes to Safeway for groceries, but determined the atmosphere at Gus’s was better. “The prices seem not super high, like I thought it would be… It holds up to its reputation of being a community stop.”
That’s what Vardakastanis is going for.
“People kind of come in now and hang out and talk. I mean, you’re talking with your neighbor pretty much,” he said.
Surrounded by offices, shops, and light industrial workplaces, Gus’s attracted plenty of workers on break early Friday afternoon. Alexander Reichert likely had the shortest trip – he was browsing for a beer to bring to his office happy hour, right upstairs above the store.
“We had a lot of noise from the construction, but it’s all well worth it,” he said. “This is a great group of people. The selection’s great.”
Appropriately placed directly next to the wine racks is a cheese counter, actually staffed with cheese enthusiasts. Rosemary Perez, wrapping a piece of “Midnight Moon” gouda, has vibrant descriptions of the product she peddles.
“The first time I tried it it was like a punch in the throat,” she said. “It was like, bam, flavor!”
Outside, Jon Weiss was filling in color on a 95-foot long and 16-foot tall mural of Mayan and Aztec pyramids in lush fields producing plentiful fruits and vegetables.
Weiss is an artist and muralist who created murals for the previous two Vardakastanis markets. For this project, with its size and layers to be done, he’s teamed up with muralists from the Precita Eyes Mural Arts center.
“It’s always interesting when you do stuff for stores or restaurants,” Weiss mused. “I like to keep it interesting, but it’s got to be about the store itself, and then you have to tailor it to the neighborhood a little bit.”
Hence the Latin American imagery and produce, he said.
A woman walked by, stopped, and exclaimed “Oh, it’s beautiful!”
“It’s nice to be out here and get feedback like this,” Weiss said.
The mural is expected to be completed in the next two weeks or so.
Meanwhile, Gus’s is stocking up on organic, free-range and non-GMO turkeys and getting ready to serve pre-made sugar yams and sage stuffing, special Thanksgiving offerings.