SAN FRANCISCO — While many affluent newcomers take potshots at the residents of the mid-Market area, baker John Akins has done business by making their lives better.
After more than a decade and a half in the UN Plaza Heart of the City Farmers Market, Akins has signed a seven-year lease to open FoodPlus in the former Manor House at 210 Turk St. It is his second sit-down restaurant.
Akins has operated Cafe Golo in the Marina district for six years at 1602 Lombard St. The University of Utah alum and ex-Marriott manager has blended into mid-Market since becoming the first non-farmer vendor on U.N. Plaza. “I’ve never looked down on the people who live and work here, whether they’re a federal judge or someone looking for a job. Everyone needs to eat and I’m here to serve them.”
Alemany Market was Akins’ launching pad for his artisan baked goods. He did both Alemany and UN Plaza for a decade before opening Cafe Golo, an instant and consistent hit for breakfast and lunch in the Marina.
FoodPlus, as designed with landlord Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corp. , meets the needs of residents in a “food desert,” with limited options for fresh and healthy foods. Akins has used the produce from his fellow farmers market vendors for his entire career and plans to provide additional vegetables and fruit so that patrons can get the produce between markets. Another distinctive feature will be designated time and space for social workers, parole officers and other professionals to meet with residences in a comfortable dining setting as opposed to institutional settings.
Customers will also be able to get meal plans, so that they will have guaranteed access to healthy meals.
Akins has even more ideas for making the eatery a neighborhood asset. He plans to provide cooking lessons to nearby after-school programs and hire as many local residents as possible. It is a model he thinks will work in other food deserts. Some of his long-time customers are providing seed funding for the eatery.
Helping Akins design the business plan and format was Ibis Partners chief economist John William Templeton, founder of blackrestaurant.net. Templeton coordinated the Harvest Pantry Ministry jointly for St. John’s Presbyterian Church and Congregation Emanu’El in the inner Richmond for three years until recently. He found it was much more like running a supermarket than he expected. “Although the food is free, individual items need to be marketed and customer choice has to be taken into account.” That experience went into designing menus for the new venue.
Akins begins renovation after the holidays and expects to open FoodPlus early in 2014.