A 57-year-old grocer who brought a strong sense of community to his markets was killed by a driver in the Bayview Friday morning, leaving his family, staff, and customers to mourn the loss of the man they knew as “Gus.”
Konstantinos “Gus” Vardakastanis was struck by the driver of a silver sedan near Jerrold and Toland streets at 2:17 a.m. and died at the scene, police report. It is likely that he was attending the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market. The driver fled the scene.
Gus’s Market, on Harrison and 17th streets in the Mission, was named after Vardakastanis, a Greek immigrant entrepreneur whose family operated three groceries in San Francisco.
“We’ve always wanted to try to incorporate our dad’s name into the business, because he’s been such a stronghold for us and he’s worked his butt off, and he’s still in the business, and he still wakes up at one in the morning to buy produce cause he loves it,” Vardakastanis’ son Dimitri told me in 2015 as the family was getting ready to open the Mission market.
Gwen Kaplan, who works at Ace Mailing nearby and is a member of the Northeast Mission Business Association, knew Vardakastanis from his market in the Haight. When the family began exploring opening a store in the Mission, the local business association offered its support, she said.
“We’re in shock,” Kaplan said. “He was just lovely … a pillar of the community, the glue that binds everybody together.”
She remembered Vardakastanis chatting with customers, taking an interest in what they were buying — “You’d pick up something … and he’d say, ‘What are you going to do with that flour?’ And you’d say, ‘I’m making some cake,’ or ‘I’m making some bread,’” Kaplan said.
“He was everyone’s brother, cousin, uncle.”
Gus’s Market operated as usual on Friday, though staff mourned the loss.
“We all knew Gus; it’s a family,” said one worker.
“It’s a shock to a lot of people, myself included. He was a great man to know,” said a store manager.
Even those who did not know Vardakastanis personally acknowledged the high quality of the markets he ran.
“This is a brilliant store,” said customer David Ransom. “He just ran a good business. … It’s horribly sad.”
Police investigators are looking for a silver sedan with windshield and front end damage. They’re asking anyone with information to call the SFPD Tip Line at (415) 575-4444 or Text a Tip to TIP411 and begin the message with SFPD. Tipsters can remain anonymous.