More Than Superheroes at Mission: Comics & Art

Written by Jesse Mallare

One step into Mission: Comics & Art, and visitors are transported into a space that is part-book store, part-art gallery. The vivid artwork from the murals and storefronts of the Mission have seemingly jumped onto colorful pages, posters, and book covers.


In 2009, native San Franciscan Leef Smith founded Mission: Comics & Arts to celebrate local artists, storytellers, and inquisitive minds of all ages. Casual readers and hardcore comics fans alike will appreciate the extensive selection of classics, popular manga, indie picks, and cartoon collectibles.

Supporting the San Francisco community is a central tenant of Mission: Comics & Art. Part of the shop is dedicated to highlighting local artists that are either inspired by comics or have a strong narrative in their art. The store also partners with New Door Ventures to employ local youth and help transition them into the job market.

Despite the popularity of superhero movies from DC and Marvel, Smith asserts that there isn't an increased interest in superhero comics among younger readers. "It's easy to be superhero fans; it's harder to get people to read, especially kids. There are so many other things competing for kids' attention, so many screens, so many games." Smith cites fun, relatable texts, like "Smile" from SF cartoonist Raina Telgemeier, as more resonating with young comic fans.

Smith has witnessed the neighborhood undergo significant change, watching customers grow up right in front of his eyes. Having lived in the Mission for nearly 20 years and grown up in the Excelsior and Outer Mission neighborhood, Smith admitted that it’s been difficult seeing the income disparity and exodus of artists in recent years. Still, he remains hopeful for the Mission:

"I hope the Mission continues to be a diverse neighborhood with diverse ethnically, diverse economically, diverse in all ways that it continues to be a mixing point. One of the things I really like about my store, it is one of those places where all parts of the neighborhood are welcome. Comic fans cross all boundaries. And we need more open spaces in the neighborhood that are open to everyone."

So what's upcoming for Mission: Comics & Art? This Friday, July 7th, the monthly art show continues with a magazine release for local artist Christine Villanueva. Also, Smith will host a pop-up at Alamo Drafthouse for the new Spider-Man: Homecoming film. Follow the latest releases and news from Mission: Comics & Art by following them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Save the Date: June 7th SFHC Showcase + Fundraiser hosted by the Mission Creek Merchants Association

Save the Date: June 7th SFHC Showcase + Fundraiser hosted by the Mission Creek Merchants Association


Our cool friends MCMA (Mission Creek Merchants Association) are taking strides to help provide a safe area for the homeless living on the streets of SF, by hosting an event for the Saint Francis Homelessness Challenge. Their contribution of these shelters, helps to protect those who are unable to afford a roof over their heads. With your support and donations, MCMA can make this vision come true. Please read for further information on the shelter shortage crisis, and see what you can do to get involved!

Southern Exposure: Recapturing Memories of the Black Ark

We're biased, but we think our little slice of the city is the best. The neighborhood is teeming with creative organizations that give us a fresh perspective on art and community. Take for instance the art gallery, Southern Exposure. They have put together a new series called Recapturing Memories of the Black Ark is a sculptural installation by renowned visual artist Gary Simmons.

The work serves as both literal and metaphorical platform for music and performance. A diverse selection of Bay Area musicians will activate the installation through the month of April in the gallery.

The installation runs until April 29th so make sure to drop by soon! For more info check out their website

Our Neighbor: Gus's Market

We sat down with Dimitri Vardakastanis of Gus's Market to learn a little about their family's history and the market's symbiotic relationship with the community. 

As a first generation Asian-American, I’m interested in hearing about the Vardakastanis immigration story. What brought the family from Greece to San Francisco? Quite a few people from the island of Greece our parents were born, Zakynthos, immigrated to San Francisco including one of my grandfather's brother. So they decided to come here since they would knew a few the weather was mild.


How did Gus and his wife Georgia decide on a business in grocery and produce? Our family were and still are farmers in Greece so working with agricultural products was nothing new. Since they were in a big city where they could not grow or farm, they decided to go into the business of selling fruits and vegetables along with other goods to accompany.


How did the Haight Street Market come into fruition? and Noriega Produce? Our grandfather ,Dimitri, and father ,Gus, loved the foot traffic and the feel of the Haight Ashbury. They felt the culture of the Haight Ashbury then would take well to the type of market they wanted to open. Noriega Street since it was close to the beach and had a small town with a ton of families in the neighborhood.


With the first two markets in operation for over 30 years, what would you say has changed the most about the local grocery business and about San Francisco? We've always felt that you didn't need to have some 40,000 sqft space to operate a "full service" market. We operate smaller spaces with a ton of products that can fulfill a persons and/or families everyday needs. In the early years of our businesses people really still drifted to box stores with larger footprints but people started to learn that they could purchase their grocery needs closer to home for similar prices and support a local business all at the same time. Also organic practices and consumer popularity grew.


What core mission or values of your business remain timeless and true after all these years? Providing our patrons with the best products, great customer service, and passing on savings. 


Gus’s Market, your most recent addition to the family, is located in the Mission. How did you decide on this location, as well as the store’s ambiance? Through the years we've had a fair amount of customers that moved to different parts of the city but we received numerous requests to look at possible locations on the eastern side of the Mission. The more we looked, the more we realized there was real void. It's a great neighborhood that also borders another neighborhood, Potrero Hill, where we've also received a ton of requests for a store. Ambiance- We really wanted to deliver a market that showcased the products, employees, and our family. Once we decided to rebrand our stores and name them after our father we knew that keeping that feel and look was going to be key to not only our message but to keeping our father happy!

All your markets have a homegrown family-oriented feel to them. How do you reflect this back in to the products you carry on your shelves? We're so lucky to be located in a city and state that offers so much at arm's reach. We take pride in stocking all sorts of amazing products made locally but also some great, artisanal products from other parts of the United States.


Tell us about the Varda Vineyards: how did that side of the family business begin, and what wines can we expect at the 20th Street Block Party this weekend? At the block party we will be offering our Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc. When our family immigrated here they still kept the agricultural spirit and hoped to one day keep that tradition going. So when my brother and I brought up the idea of a vineyard Mr. Gus was all about it! The Syrah is all estate grown from our vineyard to Sonoma. The Sauvignon Blanc is also from Sonoma but in the Dry Creek region of the Valley. Both well structured wines at great price points. For more info check out the website at


What advice would you give to those who want to start a business in their local community? Don't let hard work scare you away!


Written by Kim Reyes.

Our Neighbor: Norm's Market

Norm's Market first opened in 1957 by Naim Totah. As an immigrant with very little to his name, he took a small corner store and made it into a neighborhood gem that became a special addition to the neighborhood. His family lived across the street and soon became major members of what would become the "best corner in the mission".  By showing respect, hard work, and a true love of the community, Norms Market became a favorite of the neighborhood. The store took care of the community and the community always watched out for the store and it's family. 


As the many years have gone by, the structure of the neighborhood changed many times. But one thing has remained constant, the store. Naim Totah retired and passed the business on to his son Bob who also grew up working in the store. He, in turn, passed the business down to his son, Meemo Totah. Through the tech boom and deflation, Norms Market has stood the test of time. 

The values that kept Norm's around for almost 60 years are still the values that keep it going strong today. We take care of the neighborhood and will continue to do so. Thank you to the community for all its support through the years and here's to many more successful years for our neighborhood.  We are happy to participate in the 20th Street Block Party and look forward to many more community gatherings!

Our Neighbor: Sightglass Coffee

We believe that knowing the story behind your coffee is a powerful link from the cup to the wider world.

Sourcing green coffee is at the heart of what we do here at Sightglass. From the farmer who cultivates the coffee plant to the roaster who determines how best to express its unique attributes, there are countless people throughout coffee’s journey that help shape and develop it. Our objective as a coffee roasting company is to develop and build relationships at origin and recognize the intentions of the people who have contributed to producing our coffees, both large and small. We roast all coffees in house, in small batches, taking meticulous care to draw out the finest, most nuanced characteristics of each. We take pride in our work, striving to deliver excellence in every cup served on bar and every box that leaves our shelves.

In 2009, we began with a small, rickety service-cart in San Francisco’s SoMa district. Equipped with a few Chemex pots and a leaky espresso machine, we served coffee to the neighborhood just behind a roll-up garage door of a warehouse. People came to visit us, and remarkably, even came back. Two years and many coffees later, the entirety of this warehouse would become our production roastery, a dynamic and unconventional coffee bar, a community gathering space, and our company headquarters. We’ve evolved to comprise a nexus of distinctive shops, an incredibly dedicated, talented and unwavering staff, and an unparalleled network of partners within our wholesale program.

In 2014, we opened our doors to a vibrant community within San Francisco’s Mission district. This well-loved stretch of 20th Street, between Alabama and Florida, has since been the home of our second coffee bar and roastery. Nestled cozily between our friends at Southern Exposure, Trick Dog and Salumeria/Central Kitchen, our 20th Street café was designed to serve the beautiful neighborhood in which it resides. We source and roast exclusive coffees in-house on a vintage 1969 5-kilo Probat, and even serve up unique espressos that can only be found at this location. It’s an intimate, thoughtful space—open and spacious, warm and inviting. We’d love to share it with you.

Come by and grab a cup with us, everyday from 7AM – 7PM. See you soon.