Vicky Boyd, staff writer
Vicky Boyd, staff writer

Walk the loading docks of the San Francisco Produce Market at 4 a.m., and it’s reminiscent of the old TV sitcom, "Cheers," “where everybody knows your name.”

Some of the merchants on the market are following in their fathers’ and grandfathers’ footsteps selling produce, and those long-time relationships have been passed down from generation to generation. Other merchants may be the first generation, but they’ve been around for a while and know the regulars.

Eavesdrop for a few minutes. If the conversation isn’t about what produce items are in season or how many cartons a buyer wants, it drifts over to the San Francisco Giants baseball team or 49ers football team, depending on the time of year.

Ike Joh, owner of Colusa Market in Kensington, Calif., comes to the market about four times per week to buy produce for his retail grocery store because it’s “more fresh, more organic and more friendly.”

“This market, people treat me like a human being,” he said. “My store isn’t a produce market, but I sell a lot of produce.”

Joh said he receives the same warm hospitality whether he’s just looking at items or actually buying.

Roberto Cortez, who owns produce markets in Concord, Calif.; Walnut Creek, Calif.; and Moraga, Calif., shops the wholesale market daily.

“The main reason I’m here is to look for all the different variety,” he said. “It’s family. It’s like going back to high school. You see the same guys ever day.”

Henry Sehuin, a produce buyer for Monterey Market, Berkeley, Calif., said he also visits the market daily because of the wide variety and the friendliness of the merchants.

“I like the salesmen who are here,” Sehuin said. “Everybody is so friendly — they invite you to come every day. I feel really comfortable at this market.”

Much like the San Francisco region is a melting pot of cultures, so, too, is the market. Several languages can be heard as buyers and merchants talk business.

Because of that, Scott Salisbury and partner Larry Balestra, owners of S+L Wholesale Co. on the market, hired Sarah Du and Mabel Zhen to help with sales.

“Most of the Asian customers are not very bilingual, and it’s important for them to be able to communicate openly,” Salisbury said.

The arrangement has worked out well, he said, with the saleswomen providing personalized attention to those buyers.

Now all the market needs now is Cliff the mail carrier and Norm with his reserved bar stool and the produce market will truly be Cheers.

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