2011 Small Business Awards - Page 2

The Guardian's annual small business awards celebrate the entrepreneurs who keep this city lively

The La Cocina crew: Daniella Sawaya, Natalie Conneely, Caleb Zigas, Margarita Rojas, and Matt Skov

Though the center now fields applications from all socioeconomic levels as street food becomes chic food, its original purpose remains: to provide a foot up to the women who are pushing to make life work in a new country with their families. "It's important for us to remember that our mission is to provide an entry into business," Zigas says.

La Cocina's small business award pick: As the diplomatic Zigas says: "The consumers who purchase from small business owners." (Caitlin Donohue)

2948 Folsom, SF. (415) 824-2729, www.lacocinasf.org




The repair folks: Sophia Chicas, Norbert Alvarenga, Luis Frias, Joao Santos, Ricky Saavedra, Henry Wong, and Hans Art. Photo by Ben Hopfer

Hans Art got his start in business in 1970, when one of his Noe Valley roommates couldn't get his car started — and was therefore unable to get to his job delivering erotic ice cream concoctions to stoners and musicians at midnight for the legendary restaurateur Magnolia Thunderpussy.

"I was your classic hippie mechanic," Art recalled. "I came out there with my screwdriver, adjusted the points, and the guy was on his way. And it occurred to me that this might not be a bad way to make a living."

His business plan: An index card with his phone number on the wall in Bud's Ice Cream. His goal: Flexible hours, plenty of time off and "a great way to have an alternative lifestyle." That didn't last long: "Pretty soon I was the hardest working hippie in San Francisco."

More than 40 years later, Hans Art Automotive is one of the city's most beloved car repair shops, a successful small business that still has a bit of the old hippie ethic.

"I have lots of customers with very moderate incomes," Art said. "I tell them what's needed now, what can wait four months ... I pare it down so the service is affordable. We're very non-pushy."

It's certainly working: more than 95 percent of his customers are regulars. "We want you to have a regular mechanic, the way you have a dentist," he said. "Our advertising is mostly word of mouth."

These days Art works from a cramped office above the shop floor, supervising around 10 employees who take extraordinary care in their work. "There are 800 opportunities for us to screw up every day," Art noted. "If we avoid 799 of them, a lot of people would think that's great — unless your car is the one we missed."

He's up against much bigger outfits in a business with low margins and constant changes in technology that require expensive investments — and that easy lifestyle is still elusive — but Art is a survivor. "I think I've made payroll more than 3,000 times," he said. "For a small business, that's quite an accomplishment."

Hans Art's small business award pick: He couldn't pick just one — Art went with Michael Bruno Luggage, Noe Valley Bakery, and Tuggy's Hardware.(Redmond)

3121 17th St., SF. (415) 621-6400, www.hansartautomotive.com




Kate Sofis. Photo by Ben Hopfer