Our 2012 Small Business Awards - Page 3

Honoring the local, independent entrepeneurs who make the city a better place to live, work, and play

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Kelly Malone of Workshop and Indie Mart, our 2012 Woman in Business
PHOTO BY MIRISSA NEFF

"I think the challenge for San Francisco is to take care of the venues that its got," says Don Alan of the ever-shrinking live music scene here. Alan has contributed enormously to the preservation of live rock in the City by the Bay with his raucous Hemlock Tavern space in Polk Gulch (1131 Polk, SF. 415-923-0923, www.hemlocktavernsf.com) on the site of former gay bar the Giraffe. He's also a preservationist of dive bar ambiance, opening Mission District favorite Casanova Lounge, full to the brim of attractive indie young 'uns on the make.

Alan got his rock start in the on community radio in Madison, WI, soon coming to SF and opening storied live bluegrass and jazz cafe Radio Valencia. "We opened the Casanova while we still had Radio Valencia and we realized that a bar format would work better for live entertainment than a cafe format," Alan says. "We opened the Hemlock in 2001 after we closed Radio Valencia. I was really excited about having a space like this. I was very interested in having a kind of old Wisconsin tavern feel because that's where I grew up. It was perfect for me, finding a space that had a small venue so we didn't have to be concerned about getting 200 people in every night, so we could book the kind of music that we wanted and to have a big enough bar to support that."

"But basically this is a subsidized entertainment operation. The money is made at the Hemlock's bar and the culture happens in the back room with the shows. The culture wouldn't happen without this up here." So go buy a beer or eight, already, and then take in one of those rarer-and-rarer raging shows. (Mirissa Neff)

EMPLOYEE-OWNED BUSINESS AWARD

MANDELA FOODS COOPERATIVE

"In high school, all I wanted was there to be a place to find fruits and vegetables," says Mandela Foods Cooperative (1430 Seventh St., Oakl. 510-452-1133, www.mandelafoods.com) worker-owner James Berk. "I never thought I'd be the one that could provide that. It's an interesting place to be in."

Before the store opened, Berk's native West Oakland was a food dessert. A dependence on convenience stores for nutrition was leading to rampant bad health in his community, so when the opportunity arose to be a part of a for-profit, organic-heavy grocery store in Mandela Marketplace, he took it. Responding to the neighborhood's request, the shop employs and is owned by community residents. These worker-owners make all the shop's decisions in group meetings, aiming for consensus when it comes to many essential issues.

Now, nearly three years after opening its doors, Mandela Foods Cooperative is a neighborhood staple. The majority of customers live within a radius of a few blocks and come to snap up bestselling items like orange juice, coconut water, and kale (a vegetable Berk said he had never heard of before working at the store.)

Ready-made food is also popular, from full plate meals to sandwiches that neighbors drop in to buy, despite a Subway next door. Though the shop's focus continues to be on organic, naturally-produced foods, worker-owners see a need for a greater diversity of products: cheap staples alternating with more spendy products geared towards sustainable foodies. Business is stronger than ever right now, too — Berk says the small shop is on pace to break even this year.

So how is it banding with your neighbors to bring the rest of the block ingredients for a healthy diet? About as positive as you'd imagine it to be. "There's a unity here that I'm not accustomed to," says Berk. (Caitlin Donohue)

ARTHUR JACKSON DIVERSITY IN SMALL BUSINESS AWARD

CHERYL BURR, PINKIE'S BAKERY AND CITIZEN'S BAND