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 people....plus 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 www.vardavineyards.com
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.