By Ron Donoho / Photos by Lyudmila Zotova
Angelo Bracci spies a first-timer strolling through the new San Diego Public Market in Barrio Logan and lures him to the Fresh Start Foods stand with a free cup of gazpacho.
"I'm required by the state of California to warn you that this gazpacho is so delicious, it may be addictive," Bracci says.
Twice each week, Fresh Start Foods and several dozen other vendors set up temporary stands inside the former Frasier Boiler building on National Avenue, giving birth to the panoply of freshness that is Public Market, now open for business Wednesdays and Sundays (9 a.m. - 2 p.m.).
The 92,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor Public Market is the brainchild of Dale Steele and Catt White, who raised nearly $150,000 through Kickstarter.com to help launch the project. White runs farmers' markets in Little Italy, Pacific Beach and North Park. The White/Steele plan: to be open for business six days a week, to convert the indoor temporary stands to permanent vendor booths and to make visiting the market a habit for locals and a destination for tourists.
"Things are zooming along, we are fast-tracking," says White of the two-acre downtown plot (several blocks from Petco Park) she and Steele took over last year. "We're seeing regional appeal, and we're looking to get day-trippers from Orange County and Los Angeles."
The best-case scenario for Public Market: permanent booths in the indoor area (Bread & Cie, Venissimo Cheese, Temecula Olive Oil and Stone Brewing Co. are eyeing leases) are all taken. And in an adjacent courtyard, farmers' market-style stands also fill up.
Fresh Start Foods owner Fran Lovello hopes to get a permanent stall. "It's convenient to be in one place," she says. "To take out the transporting everything and the setting-up time would be a plus."
Lovello says the public market concept reminds her of a similar one in her hometown of Buffalo, New York, where vendors sold things like sausages and breads. "It was a community meeting place; it was good for the neighborhood," she says.
Proponents predict San Diego Public Market will become the next Pike's Place. That iconic Seattle fish market got prominent placement, you may recall, in a major movie scene involving Tom Hanks and Rob Reiner. Cross your fingers the local market gets scouted when Hollywood green-lights the script for a sequel called Sleepless in San Diego.
In the meantime, try the free gazpacho.