Saturday, October 19, 2013

Elliott Johnson's informal food business

Elliott Johnson gets an assist from Gabriel 
in this Footprints' photo from 2008.
This story first appeared in a 2008 print edition of Bayview Footprints.

While Elliott operates a business that is informal in some ways, others could learn a lot from him. He's found a way to bring fresh fruit to a neighborhood that is short on food retailers, he keeps his overhead low, and he brings personality and warmth to one of Bayview's most unique and enduring businesses.

If you've spent time in the heart of Bayview, you know Elliott Johnson. You may not know him by name. But if someone mentioned "the watermelon man," you would know exactly who they meant.

Some changes are better than others. Elliott has seen the drug trade on the intersection decline, due in part to his presence. At the same time, older customers are passing away all too quickly, as new residents move into the neighborhood.

"That's sad," Elliott said. "But we have to keep up with the changes. My Hispanic customers already outnumber African American customers. That's when I put my daughter into a Spanish immersion class, and learned enough of the language myself to do a watermelon sale entirely in Spanish. My new customers love their sandia," he added with a smile.

The watermelons Elliott is selling now are from Arbuckle, a town about two and a half hours north of San Francisco. Elliott sets out before daybreak to harvest ahead of the unforgiving heat, then drives back to be at his Bayview post by noon. That makes for a long day, but the watermelons are as fresh as they come.

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