LGBTs Reap Benefits from New Whole Foods Store

by Matthew S. Bajko
Saturday Nov 9, 2013

From employment to donations for several local nonprofits in the Castro, the new Whole Foods Market that opened this week on upper Market Street is already producing tangible benefits for the city's LGBT community.

The national grocery chain had a soft opening at its latest location Monday afternoon and held an official bread-breaking ceremony with city officials and neighborhood leaders Wednesday morning to christen the 28,000 square foot store at the corner of Dolores and Market streets. The company's seventh store in San Francisco, it announced in 2008 that it had signed a lease in the ground floor of the new housing development known as 38 Dolores.

Featuring a shoe shine stand, oyster shuck station, a hot foods-to-go bar with Paleo diet selections and Nepalese cuisine from Bini's Kitchen, shoppers will also find several brands from local LGBT food purveyors. The store carries chicken fingers and other offerings from the lesbian-owned Hip Chick Farms based in Sebastopol.

The gay-owned We Love Jam company, launched in 2002 by San Francisco resident Eric Haeberli and his business partner, Phineas Hoang, is also being carried by the Market Street store. They started selling their jams in Whole Foods five years ago, with several of their products carried at the company's Noe Valley location.

"We are approved for the northern California stores. Each store has its own buying discretion," said Haeberli, whose jam was included in gift bags handed out during sneak peek tours of the new location over the weekend.

According to company officials, more than 75 of the 210 team members employed at the Market Street Whole Foods were hired through a job fair held in late September at the LGBT Community Center nearby at 1800 Market Street.

"I feel like Whole Foods, at heart, is very much trying to help its community and its environment," said Kurt Gouldman, 33, who is transgender and attended the job fair at the LGBT center in search of new work. "I was impressed with the job fair. It opened up possibilities and opened up a sense of hope in me."

Prior to being hired as a full-time grocery worker by Whole Foods, Gouldman had quit working as a barista at a national coffee chain due to being miserable in his job. He is now applying for a construction apprenticeship program he also learned about through the LGBT center's workforce development program.

"I didn't even want to go to the job fair but I made myself go. I really felt hope for the first time after going to that," said Gouldman, who moved to the city three years ago and then started transitioning his gender.

Whole Foods helped sponsor the LGBT center's Economic Empowerment Week this year, providing both cash support and food donations for the event. It has designated the nonprofit facility to be one of five beneficiaries of the Market Street store's Week of Giving promotion next week.

Four times a year each Whole Foods Market donates 5 percent of a day's net sales to a local nonprofit. To celebrate its grand opening, the new Market Street store will donate 1 percent of net sales each weekday from November 11-15 to a different community-based agency.

One percent of net sales Wednesday, November 13 will be donated to the LGBT center. In a separate giving program, the store's sushi department will also give $2 from every rainbow roll sold to the LGBT center throughout the month of November.

"We are very excited and very honored. They have been one of the center's partners over the last couple of years, well before the opening of this Castro store," said Rebecca Rolfe, the center's executive director. "They have been very supportive of us and the LGBT community."

The company's relationship with the LGBT center started about five years ago and grew out of its store on California Street at Franklin. In addition to food donations, three Whole Foods stores in the city donated a percentage of their sales to the center as part of a 2012 Pride week promotion that netted $17,000, said Rolfe.

"That is a huge sponsorship for us," she said. "Their financial support of us is great and we truly appreciate it."

Another beneficiary of the Austin, Texas-based grocery chain's largess has been the city's GLBT Historical Society. Whole Foods donated the appetizers served at the archival group's annual gala last month, an estimated $5,000 in-kind contribution for the nonprofit that operates the GLBT History Museum on 18th Street in the heart of the Castro district.

"Over the summer we had a meeting with Whole Foods, showed them the museum, and asked them to support us," said Paul Boneberg, the society's executive director.

The historical society will also financially benefit through the new store's Nickels for Nonprofits initiative, where customers who bring their own bags can choose to donate their five-cent refund per bag to a selected charity. The GLBT Historical Society and the Boys and Girls Club of SF will each receive 50 percent of the nickels raised through January 19.

"Our sense is that will also generate meaningful income for us," said Boneberg. "We think it is most appropriate that large businesses in the Castro upper Market area support the local institutions. We are grateful to Whole Foods for doing that and we need that level of support."

National retailers and chain stores that come before Castro groups seeking their support to open outlets in the gayborhood are routinely asked about their past support of LGBT causes and what plans they have to contribute to the local LGBT community.

"It is really important for businesses that want to do business in San Francisco to be investing resources in our community and our institutions," said gay attorney Rafael Mandelman, who co-chairs the LGBT center's board of directors. "It is good that companies like Whole Foods recognize that, and we are very grateful for their support."

The Market Street store, so far this year, has also been a lead sponsor of the Castro Street Fair and worked with a Dolores Park stewardship group to clean trash from the popular open space.

It is contributing toward the Castro's annual Christmas tree and has teamed with LGBT senior services provider Openhouse to sponsor a breakfast it is hosting in December. Other giving has been directed to Mission High School's urban garden program; local food business incubator La Cocina; and 826 Valencia, a writing program for middle and high school students co-founded by author Dave Eggers and educator N'nive Calegar.

Whole Foods employees say the company has long encouraged its store leaders and employees to be engaged in their communities. The Market Street store team expects to build long-lasting partnerships with a number of local nonprofits now that it has opened its doors.

"We try to look at what an organization is trying to accomplish in the community that aligns with Whole Food's core values, such as quality food and quality living," said Ali O'Sullivan, who oversees the Market Street store's community outreach.

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