Preview: The Divisadero Bi-Rite

Barring any last-minute hiccups, we're less than a month away from the opening of the long-awaited Bi-Rite on Divisadero. A few days ago, co-owner Sam Mogannam took us around the space for a preview of what's to come.

Crews were still hard at work finishing up both the exterior and interior of the building at 550 Divisadero. Outside, they were uncovering original details from the 1931-era facade, including terracotta tile work that had been hidden by a bad paint job years ago. They also exposed transom windows running the width of the storefront, which had been obscured by signage. The building in June 2011...

...and now:
One change Bi-Rite had to make was lowering the market's floor to the level of the sidewalk. Originally it was 5 or 6 inches higher, Sam says, and thus not A.D.A. compliant. Another change they initiated was the addition of a second entrance. Not only does it add symmetry, but it serves an important function: maintaining order between those craving ice cream and those shopping at the market.
When you enter the store, you'll find a view not unlike Bi-Rite's original location on 18th Street. Registers on the left, shelves in the middle, and refrigerators in the rear.
But there will be some key differences. For starters, although the space isn't much larger in terms of square footage, it's significantly wider, Sam notes. So not only will the shopping be a little less elbow-to-elbow, but the shelves will be wider and allow for more products. There will also be room in the front of the store for two tables featuring a mountain of seasonal produce. Facing right, there's the ice cream counter. This is another difference from 18th Street, where the Creamery is located across the street and down the block from the market. Here, the scoop shop and market are under one roof.
The scoop shop will be open the same hours as the market (9am to 9pm, to start), and will feature the standard Bi-Rite lineup of flavors. However, they're looking to create a special sundae (and sandwich) just for the Divisadero shop — if you have ideas, just submit them by this Friday. Progressing further down the right-hand side of the store, there's a cheese counter, which will feature both pre-wrapped wedges and wheels, and cheese cut to order (another difference from 18th Street).
There's also a deli counter, a butcher area, and a grab-and-go section that will offer sandwiches, entrees, wine and beer for all your Alamo Square or Panhandle picnicking needs. In the rear of the store is the cooler section, which will have your regular selection of dairy and such, plus some end-cap tables where vendors will be able to offer samples of their products.
During our visit, they were testing out the array of products that will fill the shelves at the heart of the store.
They had brought over a selection of their best sellers from the 18th Street store, as well as some staples like corn starch that they'll have to carry regardless of how well they sell. At launch, the shelves will only be 75-80% full, as they determine which items work for the neighborhood, and which don't. They say the added space will make it easier for them to add new products; on 18th Street, adding something new meant removing something from the shelves. Here, they'll have two of everything facing the customer, making substitutions easier.
Finally, you'll check out at one of four cash register stations at the front of the store, and be on your way. Sam says the store will have a staff of 65, all but 8 of which have been determined.
Overall, the space feels roomier, with high ceilings, a skylight, and wider aisles than 18th Street, but Sam expects that feeling to change once it's filled with products. Still, he feels good about the energy they're creating in the place. "If you're going to spend eight to ten hours a day in a space, it better feel good," he says. And having been on 18th Street for 15 years, he says they're ready for the new challenge. "Taking all that learning, and applying it to something from scratch, that's what's exciting for us." Bi-Rite has some inspections this week, and if those go well, an opening date will be announced in the next few days. Sam tells us he'd like to aim for 3/13/13, if for no other reason than that it's a palindrome, but they'll know for sure soon. We'll keep you posted.

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Preview the divisadero bi rite