The sale marks the end of Milgrom’s efforts to get a foothold in the Mission
Local Cellar, the last of four businesses owned by Mission resident Yaron Milgrom, has been sold to the Gemini Bottle Company, owned by Philadelphia lawyer Hope Pomerantz and operated primarily by her son’s partner, Dominique Henderson, who lives down the block from the shop.
The new shop will open its doors for the first time this Saturday. Its sale brings an end to Milgrom’s Local Mission Group, a mini-empire that began in 2010 with the Mission Local Eatery on 24th Street. Within four years and a four-block radius, Milgrom opened Local’s Corner in 2012, the Local Mission Market in late 2013 and Local’s Cellar in 2014.
The Eatery and the Market won accolades for locally sourced and made food, but Milgrom had less success in managing the challenges of operating in a neighborhood in the midst of gentrification.
Unlike other new businesses, his became the focus of the neighborhood’s frustration and his fortunes never recovered from an incident in 2013 at Local’s Corner in which his staff was accused of denying service to long-time resident Sandra Cuadra. One by one, his enterprises have closed or been sold, first Local’s Corner in in 2014 and then the Local Eatery in December of 2015. In 2017, the Local Market closed.
Milgrom said he has no regrets about selling his last business. He’s stepping away from food and the restaurant business completely he says, to focus on “non-food related projects,” including marital management.
“Selling Local Cellar was what I wanted to do. Running a business in San Francisco is really hard and after nine years, I was personally, emotionally and psychically worn out.”
He was reluctant to step down until he found people to take over the shop.
“It took a while for everything to come together, and to get the timing right. The people who are taking over the business are deeply connected with wine. I’ve known them for five to six years, “ Milgrom said.
Milgrom, who acknowledged that his time in as a Mission business owner was tumultuous, feels a sense of gratitude about his now-shuttered businesses.
“Without the experience of running those businesses, I wouldn’t have been able to connect with the community and raise a family,” he said.
The Gemini Bottle Co. will continue in the same vein as Local Cellar, selling high-end organic wine, spirits and beer. Henderson said the store’s offering with a new focus on a range of international wines, tasting sessions each Saturday from 3 to 6 p.m. and a wine club that will start in February, according to Henderson, a sommelier who works with restaurants A-16 and Rich Table.
Henderson will also have plenty of help from Leslie Miller-Dancy, a chef and colleague of Henderson, who will run the retail operations. Ben Tinker, another Mission resident and employee of Local Cellar, will continue working behind the counter.
Milgrom, who decided to sell the business last year shortly after Local Mission Market closed, approached Pomerantz a few years ago. Pomerantz, who owns a winery in Oakland, encouraged Henderson and his mother to take on the business together. “Alex has known Yaron for eight years,” said Henderson. “He owns a winery and has way too much to do, so we approached his mom, and said, ‘let’s do this!’”
Henderson described the business model as collaborative, and one that will be based on neighborhood needs.
“We’re selling wines and craft spirits that are naturally made, from organic vineyards, that are affordable,” said Henderson. “We know this is a neighborhood spot, and we want to serve our neighbors. We’re going to have a suggestion box for the regulars to see what they’d like to see in here.”
The transition in ownership began in earnest earlier this month, after Hope Pomerantz applied to the California Department of Alcohol and Beverage Control for transfer of the two licenses owned by Local Cellar.
The opening of the new bottle shop is the latest shift for the corner store, which has been in continuous operation since 1906. The store has held an Irish-owned grocery and liquor store, a German bakery and, later, a neighborhood market.
Public records show that Irish immigrant Jonas J. Callanan built the three-story building in 1906, and was its first occupant. Callanan applied for the store’s first liquor license in June of 1906.
In 2014, Milgrom purchased the liquor license from owner Ibrahim Muhawieh who, as owner of Jefferson Market, held the license for almost 50 years. At the time of the transfer, Jefferson Market was under investigation by the ABC for repeated violations of the state’s Retail Operating Standards.
Henderson grew up hearing about Jefferson Market. Her father lived in the Mission District in the ’70s, and used to visit it as a teenager.
“My dad used to come here so he could buy beer,” she said gesturing to the empty store. “He’d come here get a salami sandwich and a beer. He said they didn’t card minors!”
Milgrom said that when he opened Local Cellar, he wanted it to be a place that he would go. “People were happy that I was here. They told me they had to run past Jefferson Market, and that they couldn’t let their kids walk by this place.”
Even though the name of the store has changed, the local nature of the place has not. During the renovation this month, tile was removed from a pillar, which stands on the threshold of the store. Henderson and Pomeranz were startled by what was underneath: a hand-painted sign emblazoned with the logo “Neighborhood Stores, Incorporated.”
The sign is a reminder of the days when the corner was a grocery, and member of a small merchants association, Neighborhood Stores, Inc., active in the Pacific Northwest from about 1912 to sometime during the mid 20th-century.
According to an advertisement in the San Francisco Examiner in 1929, the association represented more than 1,000 “progressive, independent” grocers and old Wellman Foods, a San Francisco wholesale grocer founded in 1851. Henderson and Pomerantz love the sign, and the reminder that this small store has always been a local concern.
“We wanted to preserve the authenticity of the building,” said Henderson. “This is such a cool neighborhood. I’ve been hanging out in the Mission since I was kid because of my family. It’s very fortunate that we’re able to have a business that’s close to where we live, and that we love doing.”