Munchies

How Pizza Is Fighting Hunger in a San Francisco Food Desert

Bayview's Craftsman and Wolves has implemented a pay-it-forward system for customers to purchase slices for someone in need. Every pre-purchased slice is represented by a Post-it note that gets placed on a wall of the shop, then redeemed by someone who...

by Natalie B. Compton
Jul 23 2016, 6:00pm

All photos by the author.

On a sunny San Francisco afternoon, I hopped on the T train in the Bayview neighborhood to find some guy snorting white powder through a straw. The passenger next to him was transferring weed from a huge bag into a huge jar.

Despite the perfect weather backdrop, the view outside of the train was bleak, perhaps because Bayview has been "plagued by generational poverty, turf violence, land-hungry developers, poisonous air and water, and most frustratingly, marginalization by the rest of the city."

Bayview's glaring issues didn't stop William Werner from opening up shop in the neighborhood four years ago. While his chef-driven pâtisserie and cafe, Craftsman and Wolves, was located in the Mission, Werner needed a more affordable place for the business' commissary kitchen. Bayview offered just that.

Bayview is a historically troubled and neglected San Francisco neighborhood.

Bayview is a historically troubled and neglected San Francisco neighborhood. All photos by the author.
Craftsman and Wolves' Bayview space initially served solely as a commissary kitchen. Craftsman and Wolves' Bayview space initially served solely as a commissary kitchen.

"When we first came out here to this building—which is literally a block deep and a block wide, it's massive, it was a 7Up bottling facility—we were actually one of the first tenants," Werner told me. "This space was vacant, that space was vacant. Vacant, vacant, vacant. This entire area had sat vacant for years neglected."

More businesses moved into the area as time went on, yet it was difficult to get to know the neighbors.

"You'd see them but there was still no sense of community because there was nowhere to eat or to even get a coffee," Werner said.

Bayview was a food desert, a particularly pressing problem for the neighborhood's residents. And then there was the issue of those who couldn't afford food even if it was available.

"There's a men's homeless shelter about two blocks away and in the last four years we've met a lot of the residents, homeless, and less fortunate," CAW Director of Marketing and Operations (and Werner's wife), Sarah Logan, said.

"We'd give them a baguette or whatever we could or whatever we had left, but we knew we needed to do something that made sense for this particular neighborhood."

The quick fix wasn't working for anyone. The Craftsman and Wolves team started brainstorming more sustainable solutions, from creating a credits system to baking special products.

William, Sarah, and their son, Owen Levi, at The Den.

William, Sarah, and their son, Owen Levi, at The Den.

"We actually almost did little bao buns and I was like, 'Why are we making bao buns?'" Werner said. "I think it was a pizza day and I thought, Why don't we just make pizza?"

The CAW team had been longtime fans of Rosa's Fresh Pizza in Philadelphia, a pizza parlor that invented a pay-it-forward system for customers to purchase slices for someone in need. Every pre-purchased slice is represented by a Post-it note that gets placed on a wall of the shop, then redeemed by someone who needs it. You can even donate slices online.

"We didn't create it, but we loved that program," Logan said of the pay-it-forward model. "It was perfect, it made sense."

Post-its waiting to be redeemed by Bayview residents.

The pizza program has grown in popularity rapidly thanks to word of mouth. The pizza program has rapidly grown in popularity thanks to word of mouth.

The team had already been doing pizza days for staff meal, baking rectangular pies topped with seasonal produce from farmers markets. This year, the team opened up a tiny cafe, The Den, in the front of the commissary kitchen building. Now the public can enjoy slices for $3 or on the house—or rather on the kindness of others.

The CAW team put up some signs advertising the program, but word of mouth helped quickly spread the message to the community.

"Everyone's been stoked about it," Logan said. "There are always Post-its up, people are always putting up Post-its, people are claiming them every single day."

He adds, "You don't have to feel awkward asking for handouts or anything. You see a Post-it, grab it, and redeem it. It's no big deal—that's why it's there."

The Den currently serves a vegetarian pizza daily (like asparagus, ricotta, and pesto) and offers an additional meat option on Fridays. As demand goes up, they may offer more varieties throughout the week.

A big fat slice of vegetarian pizza, served on a compostable plate.

A big fat slice of vegetarian pizza, served on a compostable plate.

In San Francisco 2.0, gentrification usually hurts OG inhabitants struggling to keep up with the tech boom. Werner and his team are taking a road less traveled by not only helping those in need, but also by doing so with refreshing humility.

"It was just something I felt was the right thing but also necessary," Werner said. "I think anybody in this situation should be thinking about that. You can't just open a shop here and sell our fancy pastries and neglect the environment we're in. There has to be a recognition of your area."