The food hall that opened in the spring of 2021 on a beleaguered corner of the Tenderloin, the La Cocina Municipal Marketplace, never succeeded in drawing in enough customers to justify the expense for private security and other costs. And now it is set to close on September 1 and become commercial kitchen space.
The former post office building at the corner of Golden Gate and Hyde is pretty much in the thick of the Tenderloin's general chaos, and it has been since before the nonprofit La Cocina announced it would be locating its seven-stall food hall there. The experiment, which the city hoped would help bring eager foodinistas to this corner, did not pan out — and the vendors there say they basically never attracted a dinner crowd. The promise of good food was never strong enough to overcome the intimidation factor of the drug market and general misery one has to walk through to get there.
The Chronicle's Heather Knight laments the loss of the market today, citing problems like a police department "asleep at the wheel" as causes. But vendors in the market seem resigned, like Wafa Bahloul, the Algerian immigrant chef behind the Kayma stall. "We worked very hard — every business here, not just me — to bring more people here, to let people know about this amazing place," Bahloul tells Knight. "But what happened outside versus inside was totally opposite. The best solution was to just shut the doors."
One portion of the market will remain near the entrance door, and that's the La Paloma bar, with a space for vendor pop-ups as well, the Chronicle reports. But the remainder of the space will be given over to the up-and-coming vendors in La Cocina's incubator program — which provides opportunity and kitchen space to low-income, immigrant women to start food businesses. A rep for La Cocina tells the paper that their Mission District commisary kitchen is "bursting at the seams" and they need all the space they can get.
The Municipal Marketplace opened to widespread news coverage in April 2021, after pandemic-related delays. La Cocina touted it as "an innovative model of conscious, community-led development, offering economic opportunity for women entrepreneurs, jobs for Tenderloin residents, and delicious and affordable food for community members and those looking to eat with purpose."
In addition to Kayma, the resident vendors on opening were Creole "bodega" Boug Cali, pupusa and tamale specialist Estrellita’s Snacks, Senegalese restaurant Teranga, and Mexican stalls Los Cilantros and Mi Morena. Nepalese vendor Bini's Kitchen was added later.
Ultimately, La Cocina's marketplace was never meant to be a permanent fixture; it is just fading out early. The nonprofit has a lease through 2025, with some of its costs being subsidized by the city, and the former post office site is eventually going to be developed as housing.
La Cocina was born nearly two decades ago, in 2005, and has grown into a influential, positive force in the local food scene. In addition to its now defunct but hugely popular Street Food Festival, which showcased many of its kitchen-incubator clients, the non-profit has numerous success stories to tout including acclaimed Nyum Bai chef Nite Yun; James Beard-nominated Reem's chef Reem Assil; and Azalina Eusope, whose Malaysian food products under the name Azalina's have been sold at Whole Foods, and whose newest restaurant Azalina's is set to open in the Tenderloin next week.