Old School SF Grocery Reopens with New School Appeal

Steven and his father, Pedro. Photo by Lola M. Chavez

If you didn’t know that the Casa Guadalupe market has been on Mission and 25th streets since 1997, you certainly wouldn’t guess from its smart new awning, shining floors, or organic produce.

These are the result of a year’s closure and a $225,000 renovation – and a family approach to reinvigorating a two-generation business. In fact father, co-owner Pedro Gil, and son, 17-year-old Steven Gil, give conflicting accounts of the revamp, because each prefers to credit the other with the innovations.

“Everything is his ideas,” the elder Gil said of the new store. Those ideas include offering organic as well as conventional produce and meat, rearranging the wine rack, and adding a vast and varied selection of ice creams.

“The whole establishment is run by my father and my uncle,” the younger Gil said later, “[Pedro has] 20-plus years of experience for him, I’m just fortunate enough to be under his tutelage.”

But the collaboration seems to have been fruitful. Pedro Gil said he was skeptical when his son told him to include two whole fridges full of ice creams, but they are particularly popular. The wine aisle is topped by an elegant row of real wine barrel halves, which Pedro Gil said made the whole store smell like wine when it first opened, but which look stately above a garland of synthetic grape leaves. Pedro and Steven are engaged in an active discussion about which cuts to offer at the meat counter and how to arrange them to distinguish themselves from the many other reputable and established groceries in the Mission.

Exterior. Photo by Lola M. Chavez

Exterior. Photo by Lola M. Chavez

Branching out into new kinds of products can be daunting. Next door at Mission Pie, Karen Heisler knows this full well and has talked with the Gils about their new concept.

“My sense from Pedro is that he’s always been really motivated to be able to provide choice,” Heisler said. “How do you do that in a way that the customers can read and understand, and not be confused by, and then feel good about having the choice and not bad about what choice they’re making?”

Creating and growing relationships with new wholesalers can also be challenging, Heisler acknowledges. At Casa Guadalupe, it’s the 17-year-old Gil who is reaching out to new suppliers.

“I’m just strictly going to the vendors and saying, hey, you should contact me,” said Steven Gil. “We were just talking to one of our distributors … about how we can get in touch with the owners to come to the store to do a sampling.”

For customers new and returning, the appeal is in the engaging presentation and the variety of goods offered at Casa Guadalupe. Several customers commented on the cleanliness and the mixture of both ethnic and American fare.

Imelda Castellon said she’s been coming to the store since it opened.

“When they closed to renovate, I kept coming, asking, when will they reopen?” she said. “The owners are very gentle with the people, friendly. When it’s closed, I say, oh my god I miss it.”

Castellon lives a block and a half away, and comes by maybe two days a week. She likes the new, healthier options and organic foods. On her way out the door, she explains that she sometimes visits Casa Guadalupe for organic products and then stops by the family’s other grocery a block away for more conventional goods.

Photo by Lola M. Chavez

Photo by Lola M. Chavez

Kelly LaFleur, on the other hand, just moved in across the street a few months ago. She is on the hunt for ingredients for a crab recipe. There is no seafood to be had here, but Casa Guadalupe is still a good resource for her other needs.

“I love it, it’s great. All the meat is really good, the produce is great, there’s organic cheeses milk, all the options for milk,” she said.

In one drizzly afternoon, the store attracts plenty of customers looking in for a quick errand. One woman is stopped short by the satsumas stacked outside – at 99 cents a pound, they beat out their $2 per pound kin she just saw down the street by a long shot. Miguel Perez, a proud Mission resident, stops by for his favorite kind of coffee. Mona Milani, a recent arrival in the neighborhood, drops in for corn husks for tamales. There are none, but she is directed to the other store.

It’s a shift, and it’s more welcome to some than others.

“I’m glad to see that it’s new,” said Mariaynez Carrasco, who works nearby and is from the neighborhood. “It is a little unfortunate that they’re catering to gentrifiers, not the locals.”

But inside, there appear to be as many locals as newcomers.

Scanning the array of cheeses and dairy products, she laments that she no longer knows where anything is. Then:

“I’m looking for queso fresco and –– ooh, found it!”

But Angelica Rodriguez, another nearby employee who also knew the store before its reinvention, has a favorite item that she stops by for every day, and that says she wouldn’t have found here before the renovation: Sparkling Yerba Mate tea.

“There’s a lot more options now,” she said. She has another part-time job, at Whole foods. And still, “This is my go-to for grocery stores around here.”

Photo by Lola M. Chavez

Photo by Lola M. Chavez

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3 Comments

  1. Michael

    “…catering to gentrifiers, not the locals”. I guess they had to work in a barb somewhere.

  2. Paul

    Come on… this?

    “It is a little unfortunate that they’re catering to gentrifiers, not the locals.”

    NEWSFLASH: we all are humans, put on pants on one leg at a time, pay our taxes, and love our neighborhood.

    Love thy neighbor, so said Jesus.

  3. Congratulations to the Gil family. They sound and look like the nicest people and I wish them great success with their new store and their lives in general. The pics are beautiful and 99cents for Satsumas, my mandarin of choice, is unbelievable. If I lived anywhere in SF that’s where I’d be shopping.

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