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Bi-Rite Market Is Reinventing Grocery Shopping

By S. Mathur

In choosing Bi-Rite Market for the 2016 list of Forbes Best Small Companies, the most important criteria were not financial success, though that counts. The list identifies small companies that are transforming their industries in a positive way, providing services to customers and supporting their employees and the community. Located in San Francisco, Bi-Rite is transforming the world of grocery shopping by setting standards for local sourcing and working conditions.

"We are a values and purpose driven business," owner Sam Mogannam, said. "The Forbes list is all about companies that care about more than just profit, the companies selected care about their people, the impact on the planet and how their purpose makes life better for those in their community. We were selected because we have a great work environment for our staff, providing great benefits and opportunities; because of our environmental mission and sourcing standards; and because of our community impact work."

Bi-Rite has been a family business since 1964. Mogannam returned to it after spending years away, training as a chef in Switzerland and working in the restaurant industry.

"It was a key part of my childhood experience, having spent 11 years working in the market after school and on weekends," he said. "I left to pursue a career in the restaurant businesses and fell in love with cooking. After 12 years away, 7 of those owning my own restaurant, I returned to Bi-Rite with a chef's perspective and re-imagined it to what is today, a store for cooks, food lovers and those who care about where there food comes from, each of whom come to us because they want a delicious and authentic experience."

With its concerns for local and ethical sourcing of food, working conditions and environmental impact, Bi-Rite is widely recognized as an industry leader. Another reason to shop at Bi-Rite is simply that the food is delicious. Mogannam's favorite offering is the Olympia.

"It's a riff on a sandwich that our friends at Olympia Provisions in Portland serve at their restaurant," he said. "Elias Cairo, the founder, makes extraordinary charcuterie. I love that it reminds me of the subs I grew up with: sliced meats on a roll with lettuce, Italian dressing and pepperoncini. Every city has a version of this."

Bi-Rite pioneers better working conditions for staff. All staff, including part-time workers, have health insurance, a 401(k) with a 4 percent match and profit-sharing. The company is also committed to educating consumers about the food they eat, where it comes from, who produces it, and its environmental impact. A related nonprofit is dedicated to offering free and subsidized healthy cooking and nutrition classes to the public.

The company continues to grow and the Bi-Rite Creamery & Bakeshop opened in 2006. There also a catering service, and the company runs its own farm in Sonoma county.

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