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But thanks to gentrification, the large families who used to come in on a Saturday night to buy $40 worth of pan dulce have disappeared, while the hipster crowd seems to pass by his store, writing it off as just another Latin business they ignore en route to Dynamo Donut. Maldonado has seen his original vision of La Victoria becoming a stylish cafe, art space, and community center serving many of the Mission's overlapping populations eclipsed by the newcomers.
Last summer, Manuel Godino of Venga Empanadas came to Maldonado, asking if he could share La Victoria's fully permitted kitchen space and sell his Argentine empanadas in the bakery cases. Soon after, Wholesome Bakery's Harper showed up, too. She had been joining the cart meetups, selling the vegan, wheat-free cookies, pies, and cakes she was baking in her kitchen.
2937 24th St.
San Francisco, CA 94110
Region: Mission/ Bernal Heights
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Jaime Maldonado of La Victoria Bakery
Roger Feely of Soul Cocina
Mandy Harper of Wholesome Bakery
Last fall, Harper was approached by Debra Resnik, a businesswoman who was opening a marketplace for small, local vendors at 331 Cortland in Bernal Heights. Harper jumped at the chance of renting a stall there — but she needed a commercial kitchen to do it.
Harper heard about Venga's deal with La Victoria, and she and Maldonado worked out a similar arrangement, in which she paid monthly rent in return for kitchen time. "This was a lot better than the hourly commercial kitchen I worked out of," she says. "Personally, I like Jaime's vibe on it, the way he doesn't count hours, and it's a great atmosphere." Harper even recruited two other microvendors to share her small stall at 331 Cortland, which opened three weeks ago.
Harper encouraged Feely to approach Maldonado, too. With his DJ background, Feely has emerged as one of the street-cart movement's organizers, throwing parties like his roving Outside In music and food events, which have drawn up to 1,200 people. He wanted to do a big event at La Victoria, and so he and Maldonado worked out a deal in which a bunch of street-cart vendors would pay enough to cover the musicians. The Sweet Corazón de la Mission party took place February 13, featuring a dozen street-food vendors, and partygoers packed La Victoria's red-walled room.
That marked the beginning of Feely and Maldonado's relationship. Feely began renting kitchen space to prep all of his food. A Thursday dinner Feely started holding at La Victoria has turned into a Wednesday and Thursday night popup, with Maldonado and his wife serving, Feely cooking, and anywhere from 20 to 100 diners, many of whom come for Soul Cocina's vegan-friendly menus. Saturday night, La Victoria hosts another regular street-cart gathering. That one has had mixed success, depending on who's cooking and how many Twitter followers they have, but it has also become a slot for new carts to debut.
Maldonado is currently renting kitchen space to Venga, Soul Cocina, and Wholesome Bakery, plus another small baker (Sour Flour) and a new Filipino food truck (Hapa SF). La Victoria's primary bakery production is from 2 to 8 a.m., so Maldonado still has room to expand the community of microvendors. He has bought new convection ovens and installed more tables and shelves, asking his tenants to help him reconfigure the space. "We can [eventually] fit eight to 10 people in the back," he says, "as long as we can have a certain number of morning people and a certain number of evening people."
With almost two decades of experience managing a 60-year-old business, Maldonado also tries to impart common sense to his band of entrepreneurs fueled up on Twitter buzz. Big plans and spreadsheets are great, he says. "But just because you sell 20 today, it doesn't mean you're going to sell 40 in a month," he warns them. "Business moves more slowly than that."
Soul Cocina and Crème Brûlée Cart are still hitting the street circuit, but Harper has retired her cart since 331 Cortland opened. "The street carting was wonderful, and a really good catalyst to get my name out there," she says. "But I don't have the time anymore, and besides, that isn't my ultimate goal. I want to have a legitimate company. I want it to grow and do lots of good things."
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