This corner store has been the heart of an SF 'hood for 52 years
Outside Ted’s Market during the afternoon lunch rush, one of the corner store’s many regulars approaches owner David Zouzounis with a friendly greeting and a surprise — he alerts Zouzounis to the fact that he appears in the film “The Last Black Man in San Francisco.”
Zouzounis responds incredulously, then learns about a scene where the characters flip through “South of Market,” a book of photos that memorialized the neighborhood from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.
In the photo from 1982, Zouzounis stands alongside his father Ted behind the counter rocking a mustache worthy of a major league catcher. Nearly forty years later, he’s clean shaven and spry, quick with a handshake and a joke for nearly every customer.
That personality, passed down from his father along with the keys to the business, has made Ted’s Market an anchor of the community since 1967. Inside the small shop located at 11th St and Howard St, black-and-white family photos hang on the wall, plus a picture of actor Will Smith posing with David’s mother Penelope during the filming of “The Pursuit of Happyness” (see the photo in the slideshow above).
A diverse line of customers still snakes along the deli counter at all hours to pick up groceries or a huge selection of sandwiches like daily steamed pastrami and house-roasted tri-tip on bread from Wedemeyer Bakery. They cater for everyone from City Hall to UCSF to the Folsom Street Fair (they were their very first food vendor) and support a long list of charitable organizations.
The sandwiches have become a favorite of notable San Franciscans like former Mayor Ed Lee, for which the store also served as an informal town hall (and the site of his final press conference before his death).
“People would stop him and complain about something or whatever, and he’d stop and listen to them,” says Zouzounis, who notes Mayor Lee typically ordered turkey curry, but opted for pastrami the day of the press conference. “I thought he’d never come in again after one guy took him aside and screamed at him. I said, ‘please don’t scream at the mayor, he’s just getting a sandwich.’”
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Concert promoter Bill Graham also stopped in regularly when he worked across the street. His offices moved after a fire and he passed away decades ago, but their relationship continues thanks to one of The Fillmore’s most beloved traditions.
Graham fled Germany as a child, stopping in an orphanage in France located next to an apple orchard that the kids would raid between meals. The experience inspired him to put out apples after shows, supplied by Ted’s (except during some punk shows, when the crowd can’t be trusted with potential fruit projectiles).
The current neighbors don’t have famous names, but are just as well known around the shop. The Arc San Francisco located next door serves hundreds of developmentally disabled people, for which Ted’s plays an integral part of their routine and sometimes offers part-time employment.
“So many of them go to Ted’s, everyone knows them” says Matthew Tarver-Wahlquist, executive director of The Arc of San Francisco. “It’s served as a hub for the whole neighborhood. At any given time you’ll have police officers, construction workers, tech workers, people from all over the neighborhood,” he says, adding that before calling the police in emergencies, they’ll just walk to Ted’s to look for officers standing in line.
Behind the counter serving them you’ll find Claudia Morales, who’s been heading the kitchen for 17 years (she recommends the tuna sandwich). Her favorite thing about Ted’s is simply the sense of family.
“They opened their arms to me right away when I started. I was a few months pregnant and needed a job,” says Morales, describing an unconventional interview process in which Zouzounis offered her a position no questions asked. “I let him know I was three months pregnant, and he goes – ‘don’t worry about that, there’s some women that work better when they’re pregnant!’ I started training the next day.”
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Although many San Francisco family businesses struggle with passing on their legacy, Ted’s is in good hands thanks to Zouzounis’s daughter Miriam. She not only helps around the store, but serves on the board of the Arab American Grocers Association, which represents more than 400 stores and recently formed a 501 (c)(6) to collaborate with other communities.
“It’s been politically active and fighting for economic rights for years, even holding a picket line with Cesar Chavez,” says Miriam, who rattles off a list of issues facing the industry. “People don’t know that we’re collecting cans and bottles, but give the CRV redemption value out of pocket because San Francisco defaulted on its recycling centers.”
Advocacy isn’t the first thing people think of when it comes to corner stores, but it speaks to how much of a pivotal community role a place like Ted’s fills. On holidays, customers without family nearby would come just to chat with Penelope. Back when Ted ran it, he’d extend lines of credit to customers (after his death, David found a shoebox of generously forgiven debts).
“I guess you could say my Dad financed a lot of people, and my Mom was a therapist to a lot of people,” says Zouzounis. “They saw these people every day and enjoyed that.”
And although the area around Ted’s has changed dramatically over the past 52 years, walking into Ted’s today you see the same thing as when it was photographed back in 1982 — a smiling family behind the counter, asking how they can help you.
Ted's Market is located at 1530 Howard St in SOMA. It's open 6 a.m.-6:30 p.m. on Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. on Saturday, and 9 a.m. -5 p.m. on Sunday.