Exciting Updates at the La Cocina Municipal Marketplace, Where You'll Now Find Jay Foster, Marketplace Manager!

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The new La Cocina neon sign at the Municipal Marketplace is lit! Photo courtesy of Jay Foster.

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Jay Foster doing his magic (while at Isla Vida). Photo: Melissa de Mata.

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A selfie from Jay Foster with the new sign. Photo courtesy of Jay Foster.

Some uplifting news over here (my favorite): I know many of you listened to Jay Foster’s episode of On the Fly (our second-most-listened-to episode!), and it was a particular kind of heartbreak to hear about the discrimination he was subjected to in the workplace as a Black man and skilled restaurateur seeking work at an executive level. It was a rough episode, and one that has stayed with me, which is why I am particularly thrilled to learn about his new position as Marketplace manager for the upcoming La Cocina Municipal Marketplace in the Tenderloin. It’s the perfect position for him, in many ways. (Shout-out to La Cocina executive director Caleb Zigas on this hire!)

Right now, Jay is working closely with the six La Cocina entrepreneurs who will be opening kiosks in the Marketplace, and as of this week, they will start moving into the building. The Marketplace will be the country’s first women-led food hall, and the lineup includes BOUG Cali (a West Coast Creole shack from Bayview’s Tiffany Carter, known for her gumbo and po’boys), Estrellita’s Snacks (Salvadoran pupusas, tamales, and tostadas from chef Maria del Carmen Flores and her daughter Estrella), KAYMA (Algerian dishes—from soups to flatbreads to couscous, and baked goods and coffee—from chef Wafa and Mounir Bahloul), Los Cilantros (Mexican homestyle dishes from Dilsa Lugo, including her pozole and tamales, all gluten-free and featuring many vegan dishes, too), Mi Morena (chef Guadalupe Moreno brings her Mexico City guisados, handmade tortillas, and chilaquiles to the heart of SF), and Teranga (you may know chef Nafy Ba Flatley’s baobab drinks and energy bars, but she will be cooking her healthy Senegalese dishes here). In time, chef Bini Pradhan will be bringing Bini’s Kitchen Nepalese momos and stews and more. You can read about each business on this profile page. There will also be a bar—Jay is talking to some consultants right now.

Jay is so “blessed and honored and joyful” to be working with the entrepreneurs as they make these next steps into formalizing their businesses. He is honored to learn their stories and their family histories that are so entwined in these recipes and dishes—each entrepreneur has their own heritage and unique story, and they are all so committed to the upcoming work. You can look at my previous post from a couple years ago for a backgrounder on the project.

The plan is to start cooking in mid-February, and they’re look at early spring for an opening. It has been a long and arduous journey to get this project funded and built out—we all owe many thanks to Linda Tay Esposito, who tirelessly worked on the project for the past two-and-a-half years, managing the entire build-out, fundraising, and financing, all the way to permitting. Whew. What a superwoman. She has passed the torch to Jay, who is in awe of everything she got done and how deftly she navigated city bureaucracy. (She is currently consulting, if you’re looking for a powerhouse project lead and more.)

I was teasing Jay about being back in the Tenderloin—after 15 years of running farmerbrown at Turk and Mason, now he’s just a few blocks away, at 101 Hyde Street at Golden Gate Ave. As he says, “The Tenderloin won’t let me go!” He also has a long-view perspective on the neighborhood. When he opened farmerbrown, he mentions, “how everyone always thought the neighborhood would get better.” And instead, things are actually much worse, especially due to the pandemic, from the blatant drug dealing to the extreme suffering on the streets. Jay tells me more people have died from drug overdoses than Covid-19 the past year in the neighborhood. One of the city’s most notorious open-air drug markets is right around the corner from the Municipal Marketplace.

Jay knows it’s going to be a journey, but they are so committed to being a vibrant part of the neighborhood, to serve the community, and offer employment opportunities as well as provide affordable, nutritious, and delicious meals, especially for the many residents living in nearby SROs. In fact, Jay hired back his former doorman, Damian, who knows many folks in the neighborhood, and was a big reason farmerbrown didn’t get vandalized and tagged for the 10 years he ran the door.

I look forward to updating you as the project takes shape, but for now, I am so thrilled to see this next phase happening of this visionary project, with Jay leading the helm.